Thomas Nelson Baker Jr. was a famous American educator who was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the Ohio State University. Born in 1906, in Massachusetts, Baker was the third child of Reverend Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker Sr. and Elizabeth Baytop Baker. He had two sisters, Edith and Ruth, and one brother, Harry. Baker’s father was a slave by birth but fortunately earned a Ph.D. from Yale in 1903, just a few years before the birth of Baker.
In 1929, Baker studied chemistry and earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He continued postgraduate studies and in 1930, received his Master’s degree from Oberlin College. He then started off with a healthy career as a teacher and taught at many historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) just to support himself and his family. From 1930 to 1931, Baker remained an instructor of chemistry at the Tougaloo College and provided his teaching services at the Talladega College from 1931 to 1932. Baker spent most of his professional career serving as the professor of chemistry and worked as the department chairman at the Virginia State College, which is now known as the Virginia State University. He spent almost 40 years in this college and provided his utmost teaching services until he retired in 1972. In 1957, Baker was listed in the American Men of Science and was a member of some great organizations such as Sigma XI, Phi Beta Kappa, and the famous American Chemical Society.
In 1931, Baker thought to excel in his academic statistics and pursued his Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the Ohio State University. He spent his three summers at the Ohio State University, and after getting two fellowships, he was able to attend his graduate school on a full-time basis. He was awarded one fellowship from the General Education Board to attend from 1937-1938, and a great University fellowship to attend from 1938- 1939. In 1941, Baker successfully cleared his doctoral thesis on “The Molecular Size of Glycogen and Mannan A” and was then awarded a Ph.D. degree from Ohio State University.
Baker married Ruth Modena Baker in 1936 and had two sons, Thomas Nelson Baker III and Newman Taylor Baker. Like his father, Thomas Nelson Baker III also earned a Ph.D. in chemistry but from the Cornell in 1963. Sadly, Thomas Nelson Baker Jr. died on April 27, 1977, in Colonial Heights, Virginia, due to some severe illness. He was 75-years-old at the time of death.