Edward Bouchet

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Edward Alexander Bouchet
Edward A. Bouchet.jpg
Bouchet c. 1912
Born(1852-09-15)September 15, 1852
DiedOctober 28, 1918(1918-10-28) (aged 66)
Alma materYale University (PhD)

Edward Alexander Bouchet (September 15, 1852 – October 28, 1918) was an American physicist and educator and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from any American university, completing his dissertation in physics at Yale in 1876. On the basis of his academic record he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In 1874, he became one of the first African Americans to graduate from Yale College.[a][4]

Although Bouchet was elected to Phi Beta Kappa along with other members of the Yale class of 1874, the official induction did not take place until 1884, when the Yale chapter was reorganized after thirteen years of inactivity. Because of the circumstances, Bouchet was not the first African American elected to Phi Beta Kappa, as many historical accounts state; that honor belongs to George Washington Henderson (University of Vermont). Bouchet was also among the first 20 Americans (of any race) to receive a Ph.D. in physics and was the sixth to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Yale.[5][6]

Early life[edit]

Bouchet at Yale, c. 1874

Edward Bouchet was born at home in New Haven, Connecticut, to parents William Francis Bouchet and Susan (Cooley) Bouchet in 1852.[7] His father had been brought to New Haven from Charleston, South Carolina, in 1824 as the enslaved valet of a young plantation owner and Yale student. William Francis was emancipated by his owner when the latter graduated from Yale, and he then went to work as a janitor and later porter at Yale, and served as a deacon of the Temple Street Church, the oldest black church in the city.[8][9] Edward's mother took in the laundry of Yale students.[8] He was the youngest of four children and the only male.[10] Two of his sisters were Fanny Bouchet Turner and Georgie Bouchet.[7]

During the 1850s and 1860s, there were only three schools in New Haven that accepted black children. Bouchet was enrolled in the Artisan Street Colored School, which had only one teacher, Sarah Wilson. She nurtured Bouchet's academic abilities and aspirations. He attended the New Haven High School from 1866 to 1868 and then Hopkins School from 1868 to 1870, where he was named valedictorian.[10]


Word of Bouchet's talents reached Philadelphia and Alfred Cope of the Society of Friends and Institute for Colored Youth. Cope wanted Bouchet to teach at the Center after finishing his studies and paid for his time at Yale in order to facilitate this partnership.[11] Bouchet ranked sixth in his class on graduation from Yale.[7] Bouchet's doctoral thesis centered on measuring the refractive indices of various glasses.[12]

Professional life[edit]

After earning his PhD, Bouchet was unable to find a university teaching or research facility position due to racial discrimination.[8] He moved to Philadelphia in 1876 and took a position at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), where he taught physics and chemistry for the next 26 years.[10] 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 black people.

Bouchet spent the next 14 years holding a variety of jobs around the country. Between 1905 and 1908, he 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, when arteriosclerosis forced him to retire.


Upon retirement, Bouchet moved back to New Haven. He died there in his childhood home at 94 Bradley Street in 1918 after a six-week illness caused by high blood pressure.[13][7][12] He never married and had no children.[14] He was buried in an unmarked grave at New Haven's Evergreen Cemetery. In 1998, Yale University placed a headstone on Bouchet's grave.[8]


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.[15]

The Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute (EBASI)[16] was founded in 1988 by the late Nobel Laureate, Professor Abdus Salam, under the direction of the founding chairman Charles S. Brown.[17] The current chair of EBASI is Professor Milton Dean Slaughter.

In 2005, Yale and Howard University founded the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society in his name.


  1. ^ He was long thought to have been the first African-American graduate of Yale College, but investigations made public in 2014 suggest that that distinction actually belongs to Richard Henry Green, who was awarded his bachelor of arts degree in 1857,[1][2] or possibly to Randall Lee Gibson or Moses Simons.[3]


  1. ^ Kaminer, Ariel (February 28, 2014). "Discovery Leads Yale to Revise a Chapter of Its Black History". The New York Times. New York, New York.
  2. ^ Bass, Carole; Mark Alden Branch (March 2014). "Yale College's first black grad: it's not who you think". Yale Alumni Magazine. New Haven, Connecticut.
  3. ^ Branch, Mark Alden (March 7, 2014). "Before Green and Bouchet, another African American Yale College Grad. Maybe". Yale Alumni Magazine. New Haven, Connecticut.
  4. ^ Donaldson, James (1988–1989). A Century of Mathematics in America. Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society. p. 453. ISBN 0-8218-0136-8. OCLC 18191729.
  5. ^ Biography of Dr. Edward A. Bouchet
  6. ^ Physicists of the African Diaspora
  7. ^ a b c d "Bulletin of Yale University: Obituary Record of Yale Graduates" (PDF). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University. 1918. pp. 919–20. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d "Dedications: Edward Alexander Bouchet 1852-1918". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 64: 1. 2009.
  9. ^ "Edward Alexander Bouchet". Biography. Retrieved 2020-11-20.
  10. ^ a b c Edward Alexander Bouchet Bio
  11. ^ Bechtel, HK (2002), "Edward Alexander Bouchet: The master teacher and educator", in Mickens, Ronald E. (ed.), Edward Bouchet: The first African American doctorate, Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 45–70, ISBN 9789810249090
  12. ^ a b "Edward Bouchet". Physics Today. Yale University: 919–20. 2017. doi:10.1063/pt.6.6.20170915a. Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  13. ^ Physicists of the African Diaspora
  14. ^ Physicists of the African Diaspora
  15. ^ American Physical Society, Edward A. Bouchet Award Archived June 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "EBASI Council Member Initiating Document" (PDF).
  17. ^ Brief History of the Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute