Katharine Jeannette Bush
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Katharine Jeannette Bush

In 1901, Katharine Jeannette Bush (b. 1855, d. 1937) became the first woman at Yale University to receive a Ph.D. in the sciences. Nearly 46 years old at the time, she had worked as assistant to Addison E. Verrill for over 20 years. Initially hired to help arrange and catalog specimens that were accumulating as a result of Verrill’s involvement with the U.S. Fish Commission, Katharine Bush eventually collaborated with him on several important reviews of shallow and deepwater Mollusca of the Atlantic coastal region.

Bush’s most significant work, which also served as her dissertation, was an important monograph on the sabellid and serpulid polychaetes collected by the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, and published in 1905. Considering the Victorian era she lived in, it is not surprising that Bush was not a member of the expedition; the polychaetes she studied were collected primarily by her brother-in-law Wesley R. Coe, a faculty member at Yale. During her 30-year career, Bush published 19 research articles and monographs, an enduring scientific achievement matched by few women of her era.