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Edward Alexander Bouchet, First African American to Earn a Doctoral Degree

February 24, 2010
by Haley A. Lovett
Edward Bouchet was the first African-American graduate of Yale University. He later became the first African American to earn a doctoral degree, and only the sixth person in the Western Hemisphere to earn a doctorate in physics.

Biographies of Edward Bouchet

Edward Bouchet was born in New Haven, Conn., on Sept. 15, 1852.

Yale marked the 150th anniversary of Bouchet’s birth with speeches and award ceremonies focusing on the topic of higher education opportunities for minority students. An article accompanying the announcement of the events titled “Celebrating the Legacy of the First African American Yale Graduate” provides details about Edward Bouchet’s early life in New Haven. Bouchet’s father was a servant who was later freed. Bouchet graduated high school the valedictorian of his class, graduated college with highest honors and later became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.

Dr. Scott Williams, a professor of mathematics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, provides a Web page with lots of detail about Bouchet's life including the names of the people and institutions he was involved with. Bouchet was given money to attend school and earn his Ph.D. by a Philadelphia philanthropist. After he graduated he could not find a job working at a higher education institution, so Bouchet instead worked for the next 26 years at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia.

More About Edward Bouchet

The “Biographical Record of the Class of 1874 in Yale College,” published in 1912, has updates on graduates from that class, Edward Bouchet included. In it he writes about his accomplishments since graduation, and mentions which of his former classmates he most frequently encounters. Full text of the book is available online.

In 1998, Rosa L. DeLauro spoke in the House of Representatives in honor of a new burial monument to commemorate the lifetime achievements of Edward Bouchet. Until then Bouchet's gravesite had been unmarked.

In 2005, Yale and Howard University together founded the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which aims to “recognize outstanding scholarly achievement and promote diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professionals.”

Also in his memory, the American Physical Society has established the Edward A. Bouchet Award, given out once yearly to someone who has made a significant contribution to the field of physics, and who belongs to an underrepresented minority group.

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