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BLACK HISTORY: Edward Alexander Bouchet, First Black Person To Earn Doctorate From A U.S. University

Research by: Vernon R. Heard

Born in 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut, Edward Alexander Bouchet graduated valedictorian from Hopkins Grammar School in 1870. That same year, he began his studies at Yale University. He completed his bachelor's degree in 1874. Bouchet made history two years later, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States. After earning his doctorate in physics, he taught at the School for Colored Youth in Philadelphia for more than 25 years. He died in 1918.

Edward Alexander Bouchet is best known for becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States (1876). His father William, a former slave, worked as a servant and later as a porter at Yale University. He also acted as a deacon at the Temple Street Church in New Haven.

The youngest of four children, Bouchet attended New Haven High School from 1866 to 1868. He continued his education at the Hopkins Grammar School, where he studied mathematics and history in addition to learning Latin and Greek. Bouchet graduated completed his Ph.D. in physics—making him the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States—in 1876. With this accomplishment, Bouchet joined a select group of academics; only a handful of other people had earned that same degree in the country's history by this time.

Despite his impressive achievement, Bouchet could not land a college professorship due to his race. He instead went to work at the School for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. For more than 25 years, Bouchet taught chemistry and physics at one of the few institutions that offered African Americans a rigorous academic program. But the school changed its direction in 1902 to focus on offering vocational training.

After leaving the school, Bouchet held a variety of jobs. He worked for Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri, and later for the St. Paul Normal and Industrial School in Virginia. From 1908 to 1913, Bouchet served as principal of Lincoln High School.

In poor health, Bouchet retired from work and returned to his hometown of New Haven. He died there in 1918. Since his passing, Bouchet has received numerous honors. Yale University installed a tombstone to remember him in 1998, and the school's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences established the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society in his name. Yale also gives out the Bouchet Leadership Award to academics who help advance diversity in higher education.


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