Edward Alexander Bouchet – First African-American to Earn a Degree from an American University

0 Posted by - March 4, 2023 - BLACK EDUCATION, Black History, BLACK MEN

Edward Alexander Bouchet was an American educator and physicist and the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. degree from a reputed American university. Bouchet was born in New Haven, Connecticut on September 15, 1852. His parents, Susan Cooley and William Francis Bouchet were quite prominent among the small African-American community in the New Haven. His father, William Francis Bouchet was a deacon in the church and was also employed as a janitor at the Yale College. While his mother Susan used to do laundry of the Yale students. William and Susan always had the confidence to see his son Edward join the student body of the Yale College. This aspiration was not a joke, as no African-American has ever got the opportunity to study through the Yale College.

Edward Bouchet started his schooling from a segregated primary school located in New Haven and during 1870, he finished his secondary school education at the Hopkins Grammar School. Bouchet was an outstanding student and accomplished his academics that included managing as the valedictorian for his high school class.

Consequently, in 1870, Edward got the opportunity of a lifetime and became the first to break the “Color Code” at the Yale College. Bouchet opted for very intense curriculum with courses in Latin, French, Greek, and German. However, he always wanted to study mathematics and science. At Yale College, he attended classes in physics, mechanics, and astronomy with a resulting GPA of 3.36 in his first year. Bouchet made a difference and showed a GPA of 3.52 in mathematics that made him receive summa cum laude honors in his entire undergraduate course until graduation in 1874. He proudly stood sixth in his class. He became the first African-American who was elected into the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, but sadly the honor got delayed because Yale’s chapter kept inactive for many years. By the time he was rewarded, another African-American, George Washington Henderson from the Vermont University, preceded him into the society.

During his time in Yale College, Bouchet got the opportunity to study from one of the most outstanding professors of science. When he completed his doctoral thesis on “Measuring Refractive Indices,” Bouchet stood amongst the six only people in the whole country to hold a doctorate in physics. Despite his intense efforts and academic accomplishments, racism still followed him while he was starting his career as a research scientist. He spent most of the precious time administrating and teaching segregated African-American schools. Edward Alexander Bouchet died on October 28, 1918, due to long term illness in his hometown New Haven, Connecticut.

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