For day 14 of our Black History Month celebration, we recognize: Dr. Marguerite Williams!
Dr. Marguerite Williams was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in geology.
Born on December 24, 1895, in Washington, D.C., Williams became a pupil of the famed African-American biologist Ernest Everett Just. In 1923, Williams graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in geology.
After earning her degree, Williams began working as an assistant professor at Miner Teacher’s College in Washington, D.C., where she became the chair of the Division of Geography from 1923-1933. During her tenure, Williams was given a leave of absence from the college to pursue her master’s degree at Columbia University.
Upon earning her master’s degree from Columbia, Williams continued teaching at Miner before receiving her doctorate in geology from Catholic University in 1942, making her the first African American (male or female) to earn a Ph.D. in geology. Williams’ dissertation was “The Study of the History of Erosion in the Anacostia Drainage Basin.”
After earning her Ph.D., Williams was promoted to a full time professor at Miner College, shifting her career focus from research to teaching. In 1955, Williams retired.
Though the date of Williams’ passing remains largely unknown, her accomplishment of being the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in geology is still honored and celebrated today.