Celebrating the Legacy of the First African American Yale Graduate

Yale University will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary alumnus, Edward Alexander Bouchet, throughout the 2002-03 academic year, beginning this month.

Yale University will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary alumnus, Edward Alexander Bouchet, throughout the 2002-03 academic year, beginning this month.

Bouchet was the first African American student to graduate Yale College (Class of 1874), and the first African American in the United States to earn a Ph.D. degree when he received his doctorate in physics from Yale in 1876.

Bouchet’s 150th birthday comes at a time of considerable growth in the number of minority students at the Graduate School. “There was a 63 percent increase in the number of underrepresented minority students (African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American) matriculating in master’s degree and doctoral programs at the Graduate School this semester- Fall 2002-compared to last year,” notes Liza Cariaga-Lo, assistant dean of diversity at the Graduate School. “Bouchet’s birthday also coincides with the inauguration of the Yale Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program, a new initiative aimed at increasing the numbers of underrepresented minority students entering research careers in the biomedical sciences. Bouchet would have been gratified to know that his legacy of scholarship and research is being carried on.”

On Wednesday, September 18, Yale will celebrate the life and work of Bouchet with a program in Battell Chapel, noon-1:30 p.m. The keynote speaker will be Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He will be joined by Dr. Adolphus Toliver, Director of the National Institutes of Health’s Minority Access to Research Career (MARC) Programs. Bouchet Leadership Awards in Minority Graduate Education will be presented to Hrabowski and Dieter Soll, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale. Hrabowski will deliver an address titled “Educating Minorities for Research Careers: Overcoming the Odds.” Yale a capella singing groups will perform and a birthday cake will be served.

Hrabowski, president of UMBC since 1992, has spent much of his professional career addressing the question of why there are so few minority students and faculty-particularly African Americans-in the sciences, mathematics and engineering. He is co-author of “Beating the Odds, Raising Academically Successful African American Males” (Oxford University Press, 1998) and “Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women” (Oxford University Press, 2001). Hrabowski is a consultant on these issues to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education and universities and school systems nationally.

Soll has been instrumental in the recruitment of minority students to higher education since the early 1970s, when he spearheaded a program that brought students from Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Mississippi, to Yale for a summer of research. Over the years, he has provided research opportunities for numerous minority students in his laboratory and has been “an untiring advocate for minority students here at Yale and through his work with the National Institutes of Health minority programs,” says Cariaga-Lo.

Yale’s first African American student, Edward A. Bouchet, was born on September 15, 1852, on Bradley Street in New Haven, the son of William Francis and Susan Bouchet. His mother was a Connecticut native, and his father, born in South Carolina in 1817, came to New Haven as the “body servant” of a Yale College student. Freed when the student graduated, William Bouchet remained in New Haven where he worked as a porter at the Palladium Building and at Yale.

Edward attended the Artisan Street Colored School for his primary education and Hopkins Grammar School for secondary studies, graduating as valedictorian of his class in 1870. When he earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale College four years later, he was accorded highest honors and was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa-the first of his race to be nominated to that society.

Continuing the year-long celebration of Bouchet’s 150th birthday, Ruth Simmons, the 18th president of Brown University, will deliver a Chubb Lecture in Room 127 of the Law School, 127 Wall St.reet, on September 25 at 4:30 p.m. Simmons became the first African American to head an Ivy League institution when she was appointed in 2001. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1973 in Romance languages and literature.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325