Carolyn Beatrice Parker

February 2, 2020

The National Society of Black Physicists honors Carolyn Beatrice Parker. Ms. Parker is the first African American woman known to have gained a postgraduate degree in physics. Her legacy of academic achievement in physics inspired generations of African American women in physics.

carolyn beatrice parkerCarolyn Beatrice Parker (1917–66) was a true hidden figure. Raised in a family of scientists, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1937 and a master’s in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1941. From 1943 to 1947, Parker worked on research and development for nuclear weapons as part of the Dayton Project, a division of the Manhattan Project. After World War II, she earned a master’s degree in physics from MIT and completed her coursework for her PhD. But before she could complete her doctoral program, she died at age 48 from leukemia, an occupational hazard for Dayton Project workers. Parker is the first African American woman known to have gained a postgraduate degree in physics.

Ms. Parker's Legacy - African American Women in Physics (AAWIP)

Ms. Parker served as an inspiration for generations of women African American physicists. Dr. Willie Moore Hobbs became the first women to complete her doctoral degree in physics. To date, there are nearly 100 African American women that have completed their doctoral degree in physics. In an effort to keep track of all the women that received doctorate degrees in physics, Dr. Jami Miller created the African American Women in Physics (AAWIP), an organization devoted to honoring the women that paved the way and inspiring future generations of African-American women physicists.