Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet

Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet was an African American mathematician and physicist who was the first African American to graduate with a PhD in the United States. Born a free man in New Haven, Connecticut, he came from a well-known family. While his primary school was segregated, he graduated as valedictorian of his high school class at the prestigious Hopkins Grammar School. While he was not the first  African American matriculant admitted to Yale College, now Yale University, he was likely the fourth. He excelled in math and graduated summa cum laude in 1874. While his undergraduate degree is unknown, he also studied languages, mechanics, physics, and astronomy, and became the first African American graduate and first African American elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Unfortunately, his induction was delayed due to Yale’s chapter being inactive, and by the time he was inducted he was the second African American.

He earned his PhD (1876) in Physics from Yale, becoming the first African American to obtain a PhD in the United States and the sixth person with a Physics PhD. His thesis was titled “Measuring of Refractive Indices”. He was not able to have the academic research career that he desired due racism. He ended up teaching math and science at segregated high schools, starting at the Institute for Colored Youth. He taught at the ICY for 26 years before the school was turned into a vocational and technical college. The change was in part due to Booker T. Washington and other leaders at the time, that thought a votech and technical training were a better path forward for Black individuals. He subsequently taught at 3 other schools before returning to New Haven. While he taught many children, he did not leave behind many books or notes. He died in 1918 in after facing a long illness.


  1. https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200706/history.cfm
  2. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/people-african-american-history/bouchet-edward-alexander-1852-1918/
  3. https://connecticuthistory.org/edward-alexander-bouchet-the-first-african-american-to-earn-a-phd-from-an-american-university/
  4. https://www.tgs.northwestern.edu/diversity/retention/bouchet-honor-society/biography-of-edward-a.-bouchet.html
  5. https://www.biography.com/scientists/edward-alexander-bouchet