Willie Hobbs Moore: First African-American Woman to Earn a Ph.D. In Physics

Willie Hobbs Moore was born on May 23, 1934 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She and her sisters were the Hobbs family’s first generation of college graduates. Moore left for the University of Michigan College of Engineering in 1954, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court decided against de jure segregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case. She earned three degrees from the University of Michigan: her Bachelor’s in 1958, her Master’s in 1961, and her Ph.D. in Physics in 1972. When she received her doctorate, she became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Physics, almost 100 years after Edward Bouchet, the first African-American to earn his Ph.D. in Physics in 1876. Moore’s doctorate was completed under the direction of the noted infrared spectroscopist, Dr. Samuel Krimm and focused on a theoretical analysis of secondary chlorides for polyvinyl chloride polymers. Her research has been published in a number of scientific journals including the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy, the Journal of Chemical Physics, and the Journal of Applied Physics. She held engineering positions at Bendix Aerospace Systems Division, Barnes Engineering Company, and Sensor Dynamics Inc. and later became an executive with Ford Motor Company, working with the warranty department of automobile assembly. She was also very active in STEM education for minorities. She died at the age of sixty in 1994, in Ann Arbor, MI. In 1995, she was awarded the Edward A. Bouchet award at the National Conference of Black Physics Students posthumously. Dr. Moore’s trailblazing life will be remembered in how she paved a way for so many.

Source: Center for History of Physics at AIP

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