He was the first African American to graduate from Yale in 1874. (He earned his bachelor’s degree with highest honors.) 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. His doctoral dissertation was titled, “Measuring Refractive Indices.”
Bouchet was also among 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.
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—undoubtedly due to racism. 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.
He never married and had no children.
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.”
Each year, the American Physical Society bestows the Edward A. Bouchet Award upon an African American, Hispanic American or Native American physicist who has made remarkable contributions 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.
The 2016 Edward A. Bouchet Award recipient was Pablo Laguna, Georgia Institute of Technology.
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