Pioneering Black Chemists in Ohio

Sabrina N. Collins, an assistant professor of chemistry at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, has published an informative study on some of the earliest African American chemists in Ohio.

The article, published in the Bulletin for the History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, identifies Thomas Nelson Baker Jr. as, in all probability, the first Black scholar to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Ohio State University. Dr. Baker was a native of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at Oberlin College. He completed his Ph.D. in 1941. Baker was a full professor of chemistry at Virginia State University from 1944 to 1972. He died in 1977. His father, Thomas Nelson Baker Sr., was born a slave but earned a Ph.D. at Yale in 1903. His son, Thomas Nelson Baker III, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cornell University in 1963.

Dr. Collins’ article also identifies Ruth Ella Moore as the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1933. She also held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State University. Dr. Moore taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Collins is a graduate of Wayne State University. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Ohio State University. She conducted postdoctoral research at Louisiana State University. Dr. Collins told JBHE, “I believe there is a serious gap in the literature on the contributions African Americans have made to science, so I have developed a passionate hobby of telling our stories. I guess I can be classified as a Chemist-Historian in my spare time!”

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  1. Linda Batty, retired librarian-archivist of Baker Sr. and lll alma mater Northfield Mount Hermon school in Mass. has authored a book (unpublished) on Thomas Nelson Baker.

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