St. Elmo Brady
In 1916 St. Elmo Brady became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.
In 1916 St. Elmo Brady became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, although blacks had obtained doctoral degrees in physics and biology in the nineteenth century. Brady was born on December 22, 1884, in Louisville, Kentucky. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree from Fisk University in 1908, Brady taught at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1912, he was offered a graduate scholarship by the University of Illinois. Years later, Brady told his students that when he entered graduate school, “they began with 20 whites and one other and ended in 1916 with six whites and one other.”
Brady completed a Master of Science in Chemistry in 1914 and carried out his Ph.D. thesis work at Noyes Laboratory under the direction of Professor Clarence Derick, writing a dissertation in 1916 titled “The Divalent Oxygen Atom.” While at the University of Illinois, Brady became the first African American admitted to Phi Lambda Upsilon, the chemistry honor society. In November 1916, The Crisis, the monthly magazine of the NAACP, selected Brady as its “Man of the Month.”
After completing his graduate studies, Brady taught at Tuskegee from 1916 to 1920. Because of a lack of research facilities, Brady accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 1927 he moved to Fisk University and after his retirement from Fisk in 1952, he taught at Tougaloo College. Brady left an impressive teaching legacy, including the establishment of strong undergraduate and graduate programs in chemistry at the historically black colleges and universities where he taught.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks