LOUISVILLE, Ky. (FOX 56) – Saint Elmo Brady once told students he was teaching, when he was in graduate school there were 20 whites and one other, and when he graduated in 1916, there were six whites and one other.

Thanks to Science History, The University of Illinois, and blackpast.org for their information and contributions to this story.

Early life and teaching career

Brady, born on Dec. 22, 1884, in Louisville, was the first African American to ever earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

He was the oldest of three children and left to attend Fisk University at the age of 20.

He graduated from Fisk in 1908 and immediately began teaching at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he was mentored by both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.

His other teaching stops include a teaching position at Howard University, Fisk University, and Tougaloo College.

Brady went on to become highly regarded for his impressive teaching career at four historically African American colleges.

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He made the difficult decision to return to Tuskegee to begin his teaching career, where he would not have the use of all the modern equipment he enjoyed in graduate school.

“Here I was an ambitious young man, who had all of the advantage of a great university, contact with great minds, and the use of all modern equipment. Was I willing to forget these and go back to a school in the heart of Alabama where I wouldn’t have even a Bunsen burner?” Brady once said, according to Samuel Massie, who was a student and collaborator of Brady’s at Fisk University.  

Brady was credited with energizing the chemistry curriculum and establishing new programs for young African American scientists.

“He’s just an amazing person,” said Vera V. Mainz, secretary/treasurer of the American Chemical Society Division of the History of Chemistry.

Brady’s story of overcoming adversity serves as an inspiration to chemists alike, but especially to African American students aspiring to become chemists. His grandfather was born into slavery in Maryland in 1816 and by 1850, he was listed as a freedman in Louisville.

Brady’s personal life, legacy, and death

Brady’s life was more than just chemistry and teaching. He married a lady named Myrtle Travers and the two had two sons, Robert and St. Elmo Brady Jr., the latter worked as a physician.

Brady died on Christmas Day in 1966 in Washington D.C. at the age of 82.

Massie was one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Other Kentucky history

The first ovariectomy and successful abdominal surgery

On Dec. 25, 1809, Dr. Ephraim McDowell removed a 22.5-pound ovarian tumor from Jane Todd Crawford. This was the first recorded ovariectomy and successful abdominal surgery.

McDowell lived and practiced in Danville.