Bouchet spent most of his career at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he taught Physics and Chemistry for 26 years. He resigned in 1902 at the height of the W. E. B. Du Bois-Booker T. Washington controversy over the need for an industrial vs. academic education for Blacks. He resigned because ICY's college preparatory program was discontinued and the school was moved to Cheney, PA as a vocational and teacher-training school; the name was changed in later years to Cheney State College. By the turn of the century, a new set of ICY managers emerged, more receptive to the industrial education philosophy of Booker T. Washington than to academic education for Blacks. In their efforts to redirect the school's programs, the all-white board fired all the teachers including Bouchet in 1902 and replaced them with instructors committed to industrial education.
We often hear of the DuBois-Washington controversy but fail to put it in historical context. Yes, Washington was a sincere believer in self-help but didn't mind getting funds from philanthropist to that end. And here lies the rub. As Washington preached his industrial education, he became the conduit for all educational philanthropy. Black colleges that once were academic educational institutions, in order to receive funding had to alter their programs or received Washington's blessings. Otherwise they were doomed. This in part, is at the center of DuBois-Washington controversy. Lets look at some facts: DuBois initially enthusiastically accepted Washington's Atlanta Compromise philosophy as sound advice. He said in 1895 that Washington's speech was a word fitly spoken. In fact, during the late 1890s, there were several remarkable similarities in the ideas of the two men, who for a brief period found issues on which they could cooperate. For example, both Washington and DuBois tended to blame Blacks themselves for their condition. They both placed emphasis on self-help and moral improvement rather than on rights. Both men placed economic advancement before universal manhood suffrage. The professor and the principal were willing to accept franchise restrictions based on education and property qualifications, but not race. Both strongly believed in racial solidarity and economic cooperation, or Black nationalism. They encouraged the development of Black business. They agreed that the Black masses should receive industrial training. So what happened? Funding is what happen.
Not only was Washington the only recognized political leader of Afrika America, he was its educational leader. His political support, and financial connections proved important to many Black colleges and high schools across the country. More importantly, he was a leading advisor to major philanthropies, such as the Rockefeller, Rosenwald and Jeanes foundations, which provided funding for leading Black schools and colleges. In 1903, Andrew Carnegie, perhaps the wealthiest man in the world increased Tuskegee's endowment to $600,000, a sum equivalent to $350,000 today, placing Tuskegee in a class by itself. By Washington's death in 1915, Tuskegee's endowment was 1.5 million dollars. During this same time the overwhelming majority of educational philanthropy went to industrial education. And as Washington through his supporters those powerful interest who believed in the Hampton style education, grew more influential, monies to academic schools were severely curtailed. DuBois was keenly aware of this because his work at Atlanta University was a casualty, suffering from decreased funding. No, the DuBois-Washington controversy was not only about the philosophy of education but its funding as well. DuBois came to see industrial education and its funding as a guise, a ruse, to maintain the second-class citizenship of Blacks. And this defunding of academic education is what drove Bouchert from Cheyney State College (CSC).
After leaving the CSC, Bouchet spent the next 14 years holding a variety of jobs around the country. Between 1905 and 1908, he was director of academics at St. Paul's Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Virginia (presently, St. Paul's College). In 1908 he became principal of Lincoln High School of Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained until 1913, when an attack of arteriosclerosis compelled him to resign and return to New Haven. He joined the faculty of Bishop College in Marshall, Texas in 1913. Illness finally forced him to retire in 1916 and he moved back to New Haven where he died in his childhood home, in 1918, at age of 66. He had never married and had no children.
Racial discrimination left Bouchet unable to find a university teaching position after college. No white college considered him for a position on its faculty even with his qualifications. Segregation subsequently forced Bouchet rather than do research into physics, he spent his career in high schools with limited resources and poorly equipped labs. Completely excluded from any means of utilizing his education and talent, Bouchet languished in obscurity. The ascendance of industrial education served to limit his opportunities as his academic training in the natural sciences made him unattractive as a candidate at the increasing number of Black institutions that adopted a vocational curriculum. He was over educated to the white world; And became unknown to the Black world.
Funny how the first person of Afrikan descent to earn a Ph. D. degree in physics could have a difficult time finding University work. He did his dissertation geometrical optics. Finished 6th in his Yale class but was still underemployed. However, unknown he may be he is not forgotten. The American Physical Society confers the Edward A. Bouchet Award on some of the nation's outstanding physicists for their contribution to physics. The Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute was founded in 1988 by the late Nobel Laureate, Professor Abdus Salam under the direction of the founding Chairman Charles S. Brown. In 2005, Yale and Howard universities founded the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society in his name.