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Rachel Lloyd Earns Landmark

by Linda Wang
November 17, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 46

Credit: U of Nebraska, Lincoln
This reproduction shows the only image of Lloyd known to exist.
Image of Rachel Lloyd, first female Ph.D. chemist.
Credit: U of Nebraska, Lincoln
This reproduction shows the only image of Lloyd known to exist.

In 1887, at the age of 48, chemist Rachel Lloyd became the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, and only the second woman in the world to achieve this distinction. Her pioneering role in advancing women in chemistry was recognized last month by the American Chemical Society as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The landmarks program ( recognizes seminal events in the history of chemistry and seeks to raise awareness about the contributions of chemistry to society.

The ceremony took place at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where Lloyd taught from 1887 until 1894. “Lloyd was a pioneer who broke new ground in our science,” said ACS Immediate Past-President Marinda Li Wu at the event. “She left a far-ranging legacy for the thousands of women, myself included, who would earn their doctoral degrees, conduct research, and mentor future students. Her story is an inspiration to all of those who overcome challenges and barriers in the pursuit of their dreams.”

A passionate teacher, Lloyd aspired to become a professor. But at the time, no U.S. universities had accepted women into doctoral programs in chemistry. Lloyd eventually earned her Ph.D. from the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, which was one of the few universities that accepted women into graduate programs in chemistry. She joined the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, as an associate professor of analytical chemistry, becoming the first woman to teach and conduct research at a coeducational university.

Lloyd also became the first woman to publish research in a major chemistry journal in the U.S. Her research on determining the concentration of sucrose in Nebraska-grown sugar beets contributed to the establishment of a commercial sugar industry in the state in 1890.

Lloyd’s time at the University of Nebraska launched a period of advancement for women in chemistry at the university. Between 1888 and 1915, 10 of the 46 graduate students in the chemistry department were women.

Lloyd was also involved in a number of scientific associations. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served on the science committee of the Association for the Advancement of Women. She was the second woman to be admitted to ACS.

During the landmark celebration, the university revealed the contents of a 1916 time capsule excavated from a cornerstone of Avery Hall, the former chemistry building. The capsule included a previously undiscovered biography of Lloyd. The following day, the university’s department of chemistry and the ACS Nebraska Section hosted the “Dr. Rachel Lloyd Memorial Conference on Women in Science,” featuring a panel of women chemists describing their paths to a scientific career.

“Lloyd persevered in her career despite numerous obstacles—many levied upon her due to her gender—and she did not accept the prevailing attitudes of contemporaries who would have prevented her from pursuing her chosen profession as a teacher and researcher in the field of chemistry,” Wu said.

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