African-American Pioneers in Science

St. Elmo Brady (1884 - 1966)

St. Elmo Brady Photo

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



Louisville, Kentucky


B.S. Fisk University.
M.S., Ph.D. Chemistry, University of Illinois.

  • St. Elmo Brady
  • African-American pioneer in chemistry
  • First African-American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry (1916)

Chemist St. Elmo Brady was born on December 22, 1884 in Louisville, Kentucky. Brady was the eldest child of parents Thomas and Celesta Brady. In high school, he excelled as a student graduating with honors. He went on to attend Fisk University where he studied under Thomas Talley (a very promiment african american chemistry professor of the time). He earned his B.S in chemistry in 1908 and shortly afterwards joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). At Tuskegee, he was mentored by George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. In part due to his relationship with these men and his talents, Brady was offered and accepted a scholarship to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois in 1912. It was there Brady earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry - thus becoming the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

After earning his Ph.D., Dr. Brady returned to Tuskegee to teach and conduct research. His research included work on the determining the structure of organic acids, methods of determining properties of alkaloids and infrared spectroscopy (the study of the interaction between matter and infrared light). This latter research resulted into the formation of the Fisk Infrared Spectroscopy Research Laboratory and the Fisk Infrared Institute.

In addition to conducting research, Dr. Brady continued his career in academia serving as professor and chemistry department chair at both Howard University and Fisk University.