Education During Slavery

Who was the first African American to attend Yale University?

Edward Alexander Bouchet (1852–1918), the first black to attend Yale, graduated in 1874. He was also the first to receive a doctorate from an American university when he was awarded the doctorate from Yale in 1876. The Institute for Colored Youth of Philadelphia, with which he was subsequently associated for twenty-six years as a teacher of chemistry and physics, supported his graduate work in physics. Bouchet was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and attended the oldest of four primary schools for blacks in that city. He was later able to attend the private Hopkins Grammar School, from which he graduated as valedictorian. He continued to be an outstanding student when he entered Yale College in 1870, which no doubt served to call him to the attention of the Institute for Colored Youth. While teaching there he became actively involved with the affairs of Philadelphia’s black community. He also maintained a connection with Yale through his membership in the Yale Alumni Association. Bouchet, along with other faculty members at the Institute, was fired in 1902, on the grounds that the facility’s academic department was being closed. The school did move and then reopened as what would eventually become known as Cheyney Training School for Teachers. In its new location, the curriculum followed the model of the Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes (as they were called then), with an industrial arts focus that Bouchet found unpalatable.

Between 1902 and 1905, Bouchet held various positions, including teacher at a public high school, business manager of Provident Hospital, and U.S. Inspector of Customs at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. He spent the next three years as director of the academic department and teaching courses in several subjects at St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Virginia. He also served as principal at a high school in Gallipolis, Ohio, and faculty member at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, before retiring for health reasons in 1916. Bouchet returned to New Haven and died less than two years later. In 1998 Yale unveiled a granite memorial at his previously unmarked gravesite in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery.


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