Graduate School: Reflecting on our Past
Science Research at Howard University, 1910-1960, and the Development of the Ph.D. Program
By Paul F. Hudrlik and Martin R. Feldman
Reprint from 2007 Quest Magazine, a previous publication of the Howard University Graduate School
Paul Hudrlik, Ph.D. and Martin R. Feldman, Ph.D.
Paul F. Hudrlik, Professor of Chemistry, accepted a teaching appointment at Howard
University in January 1977. His research interests are synthetic
organic chemistry, organosilicon chemistry, and molecular
recognition. He has supervised the research of more than 15 Ph.D. students at
Martin R. Feldman, Professor of Chemistry Emeritus, served on the Howard faculty from 1963 to 2003. His research areas were physical organic chemistry, chemical education, and the history of chemistry. He was the research adviser to eight Ph.D. graduates at Howard.
In recognition of the 150th Anniversary of Howard University, HUGS Research Magazine reprints two articles commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the Ph.D. program at Howard University by Professors Paul F. Hudrlik and Martin R. Feldman for the school's Quest Magazine.
For the first 50 years there was little emphasis on scientific research at Howard. In the early years there was an emphasis on the classics. Not until 1875 did the University begin to emphasize the sciences as well as the classics (Dyson, p.157). The first courses in chemistry and physics were taught by faculty in the medical school. There were courses at the graduate level, and there were master's degrees, but these were not generally in the sciences. The first M.S. at Howard, which required a research-based thesis, was awarded in chemistry in 1923.
Of course, it was difficult to conduct science research without adequate laboratory facilities. The Science Building, later named Thirkield Hall, was built in 1910, at a cost of $90,000. Biology was on the first floor, physics on the second floor, and chemistry on the third floor. The chemistry building was built in 1934-36 at a cost of $626,300. (Dyson, p. 105). The biology building, now named Just Hall, was built in 1954.
The Graduate School was organized in 1934. There was always the intention to establish a Ph.D. program, but many faculty members felt there were inadequate resources to support a Ph.D. program, and many departments did not have the critical mass of research-oriented faculty to establish a viable graduate program. The Ph.D. program was finally approved for the Chemistry Department in 1955, and the first two chemistry Ph.D. degrees were awarded in June 1958. Three more Ph.D. degrees in chemistry were awarded in 1959.
In 1959, Ph.D. programs were approved for physics, zoology, and physiology; the first Ph.D. degrees in these disciplines were awarded in 1961, 1963, and 1964, respectively. In 1962-63, Ph.D. programs were also approved for pharmacology, history, government (now called political science), and English; and in 1969-70, Ph.D. programs were approved for African studies, psychology, and biochemistry. Since then, many more Ph.D. programs have been approved.
Dr. Charles H. Thompson (1896-1980)
One of the key figures in the development of the Ph.D. program was Dr. Charles H. Thompson (1896-1980), Dean of the Graduate School from 1943 to 1954, and 1955-1960. He was born in Jackson, Mississippi, received his Ph.D. in education from the University of Chicago in 1905 (the first black in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in that field).
He was at Howard University from 1926 to 1966, serving as Head of the Department of Education, Dean of Liberal Arts, and Dean of the Graduate School. He founded the Journal of Negro Education. In 1955, when the Chemistry Department submitted the petition to begin the Ph.D. program, the Graduate Council was deadlocked. Dean Thompson had to break the tie so the petition could go forward. [Logan, p 419] Dr. J. Leon Shereshefsky, Head of the department, invited a panel of three distinguished chemists to be "external visitors". When these chemists gave a favorable report, approval by the Graduate Council and the Board of Trustees was assured. [Logan, p 420]
A few of the key scientists in chemistry, physics, and biology who were active during the years leading up to the Ph.D. program are highlighted below.
Robert Percy Barnes (1898-1990)
Robert Percy Barnes (1898-1990) was born in Washington, DC, and attended Dunbar High School.
He went to Amherst College, where he graduated in 1921 (Phi Beta Kappa), and taught there for one year as the first black faculty member at Amherst. He joined the Howard University faculty in 1922, and earned the M.A. (1930) and Ph.D. (1933) degrees from Harvard University. At Howard, he became full professor by 1945, and retired in 1967. He was an organic chemist who studied the chemistry of alpha and beta diketones, and published about 40 papers. From 1950 to 1958, he was invited to serve on the National Science Board to develop a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences. He was the advisor for three of the early Ph.D. students in chemistry, including Harold Delaney, one of the first two Ph.D. recipients at Howard.
Percy Lavon Julian
Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975) was born in Alabama. He attended DePauw University in Indiana, lived in the attic of a fraternity house, and worked there as a waiter.
He graduated in 1920, Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian. For two years he taught at Fisk University, and then went to Harvard for his M.S. in 1923. He wanted to continue his graduate education, but was unable to get a teaching assistantship at any of the major universities, so he taught at West Virginia State College, then Howard. In 1929 he received a fellowship which enabled him to attend the University of Vienna, where he completed his Ph.D. degree in 1931. He then returned to Howard as Head of the Chemistry Department from 1932 to 1934, and designed a new chemistry building. He left Howard and taught for one year at DePauw, then left the academic world to take a position at the Glidden Company (1936-1953) as chief chemist and director of research. In 1954 founded his own company, Julian Laboratories, which he sold in 1961 to Smith, Kline, and French for $2.3 million. Julian was a brilliant and productive organic chemist. In 1934 he synthesized physostigmine, used for treatment of glaucoma. At Glidden, he specialized in the production of sterols, which he isolated from soybean oil. His work reduced the cost of sterols, and thus reduced the cost of cortisone, used in the treatment of arthritis. He wrote numerous scientific papers, and had more than 100 patents. He received many honorary degrees and awards, including the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1947. He was the first African-American chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.
J. Leon Shereshefsky (1897-1996) received his Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University, and joined the Howard chemistry faculty in 1930. He served as Acting Head of the department from 1934 to 1938, then as Head from 1938 to 1958. He was a major influence on the department in pushing for approval of the Ph.D. program in chemistry, and hiring many new faculty. His research specialty was the physical chemistry of surfaces. He was the research advisor for five Ph.D. students, including Bibhuti R. Mazumder, one of the first two at Howard.
Kelso Bronson Morris (1909-82) was born in Beaumont, Texas, and attended Tuskegee Institute and Wiley College in Texas. He did his graduate work at Cornell, earning the M.S. in 1937 and the Ph.D. in 1940. He taught at Howard from 1946 to 1979, and served as Head of the department from 1965 to 1969. He wrote more than 40 scientific publications and three books. It has been estimated that he taught more than 10,000 students. He was the research advisor for five Ph.D. students, who studied the chemistry of molten salts.
Lloyd N. Ferguson (1918-) was born in Oakland, California. When he was about 12 years old, he was able to get a chemistry set and started experimenting in his back yard. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, earning his bachelor's degree in 1940, and the Ph.D. in 1943. (He was the first African American to earn the Ph.D. in chemistry at Berkeley.) He taught for two years at North Carolina A&T University, then came to Howard in 1945. He became full professor in 1955, and served as Head of the Chemistry Department from 1958 to 1965, when he left Howard to join the faculty at California State University, Los Angeles (1965-1986). He conducted research in organic chemistry, and wrote six major textbooks in that field. At Howard, he led the department during the first few years of the doctoral program, and was the research advisor for five Ph.D. students.
Moddie D. Taylor
Moddie D. Taylor (1912-1976) was born in Alabama, and went to Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri. He did his undergraduate work at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, graduating with a B.S. in chemistry in 1935 as valedictorian.
He taught at Lincoln University while doing part-time graduate work at the University of Chicago, where he earned the M.S. degree in 1939 and the Ph.D. in 1943. For two years he worked for the top-secret Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago. He joined Howard University in 1948 as an associate professor, became full professor in 1959, and served as chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1969 to 1976. His research interest was the chemistry of the rare earth metals. He wrote a chemistry textbook, and in 1960 was selected by the Manufacturing Chemists Association as one of the six best chemistry teachers in the country. He was the research advisor for three Ph.D. students.
Moddie D. Taylor
Herman R. Branson (1914-1995) was born in Pocahontas, Virginia, and attended Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh, then Virginia State University (B.S. 1936).
He earned the Ph.D. degree in Physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1939. (He was the first African American to earn the Ph.D. in physical science from Cincinnati.) He taught physics, chemistry, and mathematics at Dillard University in New Orleans. In 1941 he was invited to lead the Physics Department at Howard University. In 1944 he was promoted to full professor. He served as Head of the Physics Department for 27 years. He left Howard in 1968 to become the President of Central State University in Ohio, and in 1970 he became President of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he stayed until he retired in 1985. He returned to Howard in 1992 to be the director of a science and mathematics research program. His research was in biophysics, mathematical biology, and protein structure. He studied how the body uses raw materials such as phosphorus, and studied sickled red blood cells. In 1948 he began collaborating with Linus Pauling on the structure of proteins. This work led to the identification of the helical structures of proteins. He had more than 100 scientific publications. In 1975 he was elected to the Institute of Medicine.
Halson V. Eagleson (1903-1992) was born in Bloomington, Indiana. He attended the University of Indiana, where he earned the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. (1939) degrees. He was the fourth African American to earn a Ph.D. in Physics. He taught at Morehouse College (1927-35), Clark College, and Howard University (1947-63). He served as Head of the Physics Department from 1961 to 1971. After retiring from Howard, he taught part time at the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia.
Ernest Everett Just
Ernest Everett Just (1883-1941) was born in Charleston, SC. He received the B.A. degree in 1907 from Dartmouth, where he received many honors (including Phi Beta Kappa his junior year).
He received the Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1916. In 1907 he was invited to join the faculty of Howard University as a teacher of English. Within a few years he began teaching biology, and in 1912 became full professor and the Head of the new Department of Zoology. He took a leave of absence from Howard to complete the Ph.D. degree at the University of Chicago in 1916. In addition to teaching courses in zoology, he also taught physiology. Beginning in 1909 he started working summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. During the next two decades he did most of his research there. As his reputation as a cell biologist expanded nationally, it became increasingly difficult to conduct research. In 1929 he left the US "because of racist attitudes", and spent the remainder of his professional career in Europe. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1941.
Just was a modest man who was also a brilliant scientist. His interests were in cell biology and embryology. He was particularly interested in fundamental research on egg fertilization. He published more than 70 papers and two classic textbooks. He was the first recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal, in 1915.
Harold E. Finley
Harold E. Finley (1905-1975) was born in Florida, and got his B.S. degree from Morehouse College in 1928. He attended the University of Wisconsin, where he received the M.S. degree in 1929, and the Ph.D. degree in 1942.
He served as the Head of the Zoology department from 1947 to 1969. During this time the Biology building was built. He was the first African American president of the American Society of Protozoologists, and the first African-American president of the American Microscopic Society. He served on the editorial boards of several journals.
Thomas Wyatt Turner
Thomas Wyatt Turner (1877-1978) was born in Hughesville, Maryland. He did undergraduate work at Howard University (A.B. 1901), then taught biology at Tuskegee Institute, then taught at public schools in Baltimore.
He completed the master's degree (1905) at Howard University, and the Ph.D. degree (1921) at Cornell. He was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Cornell. He taught at Howard University from 1913 to 1924. He served as Acting Dean of Education from 1914 to 1920, and the first Head of the Botany department from 1920 to 1924. From 1924 to 1945 he taught at Hampton Institute, and had to retire in 1945 because of glaucoma. He was an expert on plant physiology and pathology, and the effects of mineral nutrients on plants; he also conducted research on cotton breeding. Dr. Turner was also active in the NAACP and was involved in many social issues.
Charles Stewart Parker (1882-1950) earned his B.S. degree in 1905 from Trinity College, Mississippi, his M.S. degree in 1922 from Washington State College, and his Ph.D. in 1932 from Pennsylvania State. He came to Howard University in 1925, and led the Botany department until he retired in 1947. He discovered many new plant species, some of which are named after him. He conducted research on many diseases of plants.
Marie Clark Taylor (1911-1990) was born in Sharpsburg, PA. She attended Dunbar High School in Washington DC, graduating with honors in 1929. She attended Howard University, where she received her B.S. in 1933, and her M.S. in Botany in 1935. After teaching high school for six years, she went to Fordham University, where she received the Ph.D. degree in 1941. (She was the first woman of any race to get a Ph.D. in science at Fordham.) She taught high school a few more years, then joined the Howard University Department of Botany in 1945. She married Richard Taylor in 1948. She served as Head of the Botany department from 1947 until she retired in 1976. During this time the department expanded. She was deeply involved with the design and construction of the new Biology building in the 1950's. Her research interest was plant photomorphogenesis.
From the first two Ph.D. graduates in 1958, to the ever-increasing number of graduates each year, totaling more than 2400 so far, Howard graduate alumni have become national and international leaders in their disciplines. Today, the Graduate School is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as among the nation's leading research institutions, based on research funding and number of Ph.D. graduates which now number approximately 100 annually. The research tradition at Howard has developed beyond every expectation during the last fifty years, and should continue to progress well into the future.
We are grateful for helpful conversations with Drs. Lafayette Frederick, Felix Friedberg, Leslie Hicks, and Michael R. Winston. We thank Ann-Marie Adams for her library research.
W. Dyson, "Howard University, the Capstone of Negro Education, A History, 1867-1940", Graduate School, Howard University, Washington DC, 1941.
R. W. Logan, "Howard University: the first hundred years, 1867-1967", New York University Press, New York, NY, 1969.
M. Feldman, "Chemistry at Howard, 1867-1927" http://www.chem.howard.edu/
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