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Marguerite Thomas Williams

Geology People

Dr. Williams was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in Geology in the United States.

December 24, 1895 – August 17, 1991

She was born in Washington, D.C., and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in geology from Howard University. At Howard, her mentor became biologist Ernest Everett Just, the head of the Zoology Department.

From 1923 to 1933 she was the chair of the Division of Geography at Miner Teachers College, Washington, D.C., receiving a leave of absence to earn her Master’s in Geology from Columbia University in 1930.

She completed her Ph.D. dissertation at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. in 1942. Her Dissertation is titled “A History of erosion in the Anacostia Drainage Basin.”

She concluded that natural erosion, and human activities including deforestation and agriculture, contributed to the acceleration of erosion in the river basin.

Following her Ph.D. Dr. Williams was appointed a full professor at Miner Teachers College and taught social studies and geology. She also taught night classes at Howard University. She focused on teaching, rather than on research.

Dr. Williams retired in 1955. At this same time, the all-black Miners Teachers College merged with its white counterpart, Wilson Teachers College, to form the District of Columbia Teachers College, now the University of the District of Columbia.

The research done for her dissertation has continued to influence work on drainage basins, including those on Mars.

Additional information can be found on the EGU blog, from which her portrait above comes.