‘FIRST AMERICAN FEMALE TO EARN DOCTORATE IN CHEMISTY!’
…is what the newspaper headlines should have announced the day after Dr. Rachel Lloyd (1839–1900) became the first woman from the United States to receive this degree. But, sadly, her name was not splashed across the front page news, and few across America even knew what a historical moment it was for the scientific community. Dr. Lloyd earned her Ph.D. in 1887 at the University of Zürich, Switzerland and would continue on to become the first female Director of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). For many years, however, few people would know about Dr. Lloyd’s great accomplishments.
During a time when women were discouraged from studying the sciences, Rachel Lloyd was the definition of a pioneer, jumping into uncharted territory as a female chemist pursuing higher education. After earning her degree, she came to Nebraska to teach and began her analytical research on accurate methods of testing the sugar content in sugar beets. Her research helped revolutionize the beet farming industry in Nebraska, and she continued to teach at the university for seven years.
Women would continue to fight against the social current over the next century to find their place in the sciences, and while Dr. Lloyd’s social and historical impacts on the scientific community were not fully celebrated during her lifetime, a few colleagues in 1916 knew just how important it was to preserve her legacy for future generations.
It was these very colleagues who left a token of the past in the form of a copper time capsule and a dated cornerstone on the university’s chemistry building. Dr. Mark Griep, an Associate Professor of Chemistry at UNL, learned about this time capsule when he was searching for a second photograph of Dr. Lloyd for his research, and he eventually gained permission to have the capsule opened in May of 2014. Enclosed were various newspapers and photographs from the years surrounding 1916 and of the chemistry department that existed at the time. Somewhat alarmingly, a variety of chemicals were also stored in the time capsule. However, beneath the oxidized and molded bottles of chemicals, a truly defining signature of the time was found: a biography about Dr. Lloyd’s life and legacy, recounting her impact on the scientific community and containing a photograph of her to commemorate her image at UNL. Staff at UNL the biography, which is now available to everyone.
This discovery reignited the impactful spark of Dr. Lloyd’s legacy, and Dr. Griep was inspired to submit Lloyd’s work to be recognized as an American Chemical Society (ACS) National Historic Landmark.
Wholeheartedly agreeing that Dr. Lloyd was worthy of such an award, ACS recognized her work as a National Historic Chemical Landmark on October 1, 2014 with a banquet and celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The event was led by Dr. Griep, and several other influential people—such as Harvey Perlman, the chancellor of UNL, and former ACS President Marinda Wu—were also in attendance to help the current chemistry department honor a true trailblazer. Amongst the countless research professors and graduate students present, I was one of few undergraduates in attendance, but we all shared the same proud smile. As someone who helped to break the mold of gender discrimination, Dr. Lloyd reminds younger generations about the many obstacles that had to be overcome in order for students to study freely regardless of their identity or background. Many of today’s undergraduate programs would not be in existence without the founding men and woman who pushed the boundaries to allow for equal opportunity in the scientific field. At the commemoration of Dr. Lloyd’s work, I believe that Dr. Mark Griep said it best: “We are all Dr. Rachel Lloyd!”.
American Chemical Society. Rachel Lloyd, Pioneering Woman in Chemistry, to Be Named a National Historic Chemical Landmark [Press release]. Sept. 26, 2014. http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2014/september/rachel-lloyd-pioneering-woman-in-chemistry-to-be-named-a-national-historic-chemical-landmark.html (accessed Oct. 7, 2014).
University of Nebraska–Lincoln. In Memoriam: Rachel Lloyd, Ph.D. http://unlhistory.unl.edu/legacy/rachellloyd/rachellloyd.html (accessed Feb. 1, 2014).
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Department of Chemistry. Rachel Lloyd ACS National Historic Landmark. http://chem.unl.edu/calendar/RachelLloyd.shtml (accessed Oct. 7, 2014).