Edward Bouchet (1852 – 1918) was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from an American university and the first African-American to graduate from Yale University in 1874. He completed his dissertation in Yale’s Ph.D. program in 1876 becoming the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. (in any subject). His area of study was Physics. Bouchet was also the first African-American to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Edward Bouchet was born in his house in New Haven, Connecticut to parents William and Susan Cooley Bouchet. At that time there were only three schools in New Haven open to black children. Bouchet was enrolled in the Artisan Street Colored School with only one teacher, who nurtured Bouchet’s academic abilities. He attended the New Haven High School from 1866–1868 and then Hopkins School from 1868-1870 where he was named valedictorian (after graduating first in his class).
Bouchet was unable to find a university teaching position after college, most likely due to racial discrimination. Bouchet moved to Philadelphia in 1876 and took a position at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY). He taught physics and chemistry at the ICY for 26 years. The ICY was later renamed Cheyney University. He resigned in 1902 at the height of the W. E. B. Du Bois–Booker T. Washington controversy over the need for an industrial vs. collegiate education for blacks.
Bouchet spent the next 14 years holding a variety of jobs around the country. Between 1905 and 1908, Bouchet was director of academics at St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Virginia (presently, St. Paul’s College). He was then principal and teacher at Lincoln High School in Gallipolis, Ohio from 1908 to 1913. He joined the faculty of Bishop College in Marshall, Texas in 1913. Illness finally forced him to retire in 1916 and he moved back to New Haven. He died there, in his childhood home, in 1918, at age of 66. He had never married and had no children.
The American Physical Society (APS.Physics) confers the Edward A. Bouchet Award on some of the nation’s outstanding physicists for their contribution to physics. The Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute was founded in 1988 by the late Nobel Laureate, Professor Abdus Salam under the direction of the founding Chairman Charles S. Brown. In 2005, Yale and Howard universities founded the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society in his name.