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Tue, 12.24.1895

Marguerite Thomas Williams, Geologist born

Marguerite T. Williams

*Marguerite Thomas Williams was born on this date in 1895.  She was a Black geologist. 

From Washington D.C., Marguerite Thomas was the sixth of six children born to Henry C. and Clara E. Thomas. She attended Washington Normal School #2, later known as the Normal School for Colored Girls (and then accredited by congress as Miners Teacher College in 1929).

She graduated from the two-year teacher-training program in June 1916 with a scholarship to Howard University.   Dr. Kelly Miller of Howard University delivered the address to the graduates, and a song, written by Thomas for the occasion, was sung.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1923, where she was mentored by African American biologist Ernest Everett Just. While earning her bachelor’s degree, Thomas worked as an elementary school teacher. 

After finishing her degree, she returned to the Normal School to teach as an assistant professor and work with the school's theater group.  Thomas was granted a leave from the Miner Teachers College (Normal School for Colored Girls) to pursue her master's degree in geology at Columbia University, which she completed in 1930.  After completing her master's degree, Thomas married Dr. Otis James Williams, D.D.S., and took his name.  In 1942, she completed her Ph.D. dissertation, The History of Erosion in the Anacostia Drainage Basin, at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. This made her the first Black person to earn a doctorate in geology in the United States.

The Catholic University of America Press later published her dissertation.  In her dissertation, Williams sought to explore the factors that eventually led to the erosion observed in the Anacostia River. Little had been done in examining the river's upper and lower regions and the basin sedimentation. The flooding of Bladensburg, Maryland, precipitated the erosion and caused the necessity for an investigation. She concluded that in addition to natural erosion, human activities, including deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization, accelerated the process. 

Williams spent most of her career teaching geology and social sciences courses. After gaining her Ph.D. in 1942, she was promoted to full professor at Miner Teachers College. For a decade, from 1923-1933, she was Chair of the Division of Geography at the Miner Teachers College (Normal School for Colored Girls). In addition to teaching and serving as chair, she also taught at Howard University during the 1940s.  An early activist for environmental racism, she retired in 1955. Marguerite Thomas Williams, the first Black person to earn a doctorate in geology in the United States, died on August 17, 1991. 

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