Rachel Holloway Lloyd (1839–1900)

Rachel Holloway Lloyd is believed to be the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. Known for introducing beet sweetening agent as a sugar substitute, she was also the second woman to join the American Chemical Society in 1891.

Struck with tragedies early in life, Lloyd lost both of her children in their infancies and her husband, Philadelphia chemist Frank Lloyd, after only two years of marriage. Her studies in chemistry began 16 years later, researching acrylic acid derivatives from 1875 to 1883 at Harvard Summer School under Charles F. Mabery. Three of her papers were published in the American Chemical Journal, making her the first woman to publish a paper in that journal.

To fulfill her dreams of teaching at a university, Lloyd traveled to Europe in 1884, where she first grew an interest in beets. In just two years at age 48, Lloyd was awarded a chemistry Ph.D. from the University of Zurich. Her dissertation was on high-temperature conversion of phenols (the active ingredient in sore throat sprays) to aromatic amines.

After Lloyd returned to the United States in 1887, she was nominated for a full chemistry professorship at the University of Nebraska. The University rejected the nomination, and offered her a one-year appointment as an acting associate professor of analytical chemistry. It took just one year for the University to see her talents, and she was promoted to full professor in 1888.

Lloyd began researching the sugar content of beets in the 1890s as part of an experimental program to determine whether beets could grow successfully in a northern climate. At the time, sugar beets were a new crop in the United States and important to the farm industry. Through careful analysis of the chemistry of sugar beets and Nebraska soil, Lloyd and her colleagues determined that beets could thrive in that relatively cool climate. Based on this knowledge, Nebraska’s beet industry flourished, and, in fact, remains strong today!

Lloyd taught chemistry at Nebraska, despite rising antifeminist sentiments, until she retired in 1894 due to failing health. She moved back to Philadelphia and died in 1900.


  1. Miller, Jane. Women in Chemistry. Women of Science. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press: 1990, 314-215.
  2. Rayner-Canham, Marlene F. and Geoffrey Rayner-Canham. “The First Generation of Professional Women Chemists.” Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century. American Chemical Society and Chemical Heritage Foundation:1998, 55-57. Print.
  3. Rachel Holloway Lloyd. (n.d.). Chemistry in History. Retrieved from http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/chemistry-in-history/themes/public-and-environmental-health/food-chemistry-and-nutrition/lloyd.aspx.
Rachel Holloway Lloyd

Dr. Lloyd] has seen develop, largely by her efforts and under her eye, one of the largest chemical factories in the West. She has seen her lecture rooms crowded by enthusiastic students of all courses and departments…. it is by the students that her absence will be most keenly felt. … She is one of those instructors who stands not only for a science or a language, but for ideals and all higher culture.”
—From a Nebraska Newspaper Editorial