Edward Alexander Bouchet
(1852-1918)

Edward Bouchet was the first African American to graduate from Yale in 1874. He was also the first African American to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Yale and the first African American to earn a doctorate from an American university when he earned a Ph.D. in physics in 1876.

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Following graduation from Yale, Bouchet taught chemistry and physics for 26 years at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. He taught in high schools and colleges for much of the remainder of his career, serving as U.S. Inspector of Customs at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition from 1904-1905 and principal of Lincoln High School in Galipolis, Ohio from 1908-1913. Bouchet died at the age of 66 in 1918. He was buried in the family plot -- without a tombstone.
 

After graduation, Dr. Bouchet's demonstrated brilliance and credentials did not afford him the opportunities (such as positions in research, or at top universities) typically available to people of his unusually high level of education.  He spent the rest of his life as a well-respected teacher. 

He taught chemistry and physics for many years at the Institute for Colored Youth, a Quaker institution in Philadelphia.  Later on, Dr. Bouchet taught at St. Paul's Normal and Industrial School in Virginia, served as principal of Lincoln High School in Galipolis, Ohio, and was a professor at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas.  He also held the position of business manager for a hospital in St. Louis and worked for a short time as a U.S. Customs Service inspector.   He retired from college teaching  in 1916 and lived in New Haven for the last two years of his life.  

A former student of Dr. Bouchet's described him this way:  "...He was a fine Christian gentleman , a consummate scholar, one who seemed very knowledgeable in all areas and yet was extremely modest and a person who set a wonderful example of politeness and graciousness for the community. ...Certainly it is impossible to assess the far reaching influence of Dr. Bouchet upon the hundreds of persons whose lives he touched." 


Tombstone pays belated tribute to achievements of first black Ph.D


Edward Alexander Bouchet (1852-1918) was the first African American to graduate from Yale College, the first in the nation to be nominated to Phi Beta Kappa, and the first to earn a Ph.D. in the United States. In fact, he was the sixth person in the western hemisphere to earn a doctorate in physics. But when he died, he was buried without a tombstone.

That omission will soon be corrected.

Bouchet will receive belated honors on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 11 a.m. when a tombstone is unveiled above his grave at Evergreen Cemetery, 92 Winthrop Ave. The public is welcome to attend the ceremony.

Bouchet's father, William Francis Bouchet, was born into slavery in 1817. The elder Bouchet came to New Haven in the 1840s as the personal servant of John B. Robertson, a Yale student from Charleston, South Carolina, and after obtaining his freedom, worked as a porter at the College.

Edward was the youngest of four children and the only boy in the family. Before coming to Yale, he attended Sally Wilson's Artisan Street Colored School and Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, where he was valedictorian of his class, graduating in 1870 -- five years after the Civil War.

Bouchet's mother, Susan, is believed to have laundered clothes for her son's classmates, and his father worked for a time as a janitor at Yale. They lived on Bradley Street, in a black neighborhood.

Despite his isolated social situation and the challenges of his working class background, Bouchet earned his bachelor's degree with highest honors from Yale in 1874 and his Ph.D. two years later, in 1876, with a dissertation titled "Measuring Refractive Indices."

Despite Bouchet's credentials and talents, no university would hire him -- nor could he find work at any research facility. Eventually he accepted an offer to teach at the School for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, where there was no library and no laboratory for Bouchet to continue his work. He remained there for 26 years and then moved to Summer High School in St. Louis, Missouri. For a time, he was business manager for a hospital in St. Louis. He later moved to Virginia, where he was director of academics at the St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, before becoming principal of the Lincoln High School at Gallipolis, Ohio. He never married.

Bouchet returned to New Haven on his retirement, and became active in St. Luke's Church. When he died in 1918 at the age of 66, he was buried in the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery -- without a tombstone.
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