Theodore William Richards (January 31, 1868 – April 2, 1928) was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, earning the award for his accurate determinations of the atomic weights of 25 chemical elements.
Richards published hundreds of scholarly papers during his scientific career and brought analytical and chemical experimentation to a new level of accuracy.
In 1914 he received the Nobel Prize, however, due to the European war, he was unable to attend the ceremony in Sweden. He also received many other scientific medals, honors and degrees and served as president of the American Chemical Society (1914).
Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Richards was educated at home by his mother, a Quaker poet and author and his father, a noted painter of land and seascapes. His high intelligence enabled him to enter Haverford College as a sophomore at the age of fourteen, from which he graduated in 1885. In the fall of 1885 he entered Harvard as a senior and graduated (BA 1886; MA and Ph.D. 1888) with high honors.
After completing graduate work, Richards spent one year as a Harvard traveling fellow in Germany. Later, in May 1896 he married Miriam Stuart Thayer, daughter of Professor Joseph Henry Thayer of the Harvard Divinity School. They had one daughter and two sons.
In 1912 Theodore became the Erving Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, positions he held until his death in 1928. On page 98 of Determinations of Atomic Weights, he stated: “When mankind discovers the fundamental laws underlying any set of phenomena, these phenomena come in much larger measure than before under his control.”
While best known for his revisions to atomic weights of the elements, the last 25 years of his scientific career revolved around thermo-chemistry and thermodynamics.
Richards died in Cambridge on April 2, 1928. A Swedish postage stamp in his memory was issued in 1974 by the Nobel Foundation. He is buried in Lot # 221 on Willow Avenue. Also buried there is Richards’ son-in-law James B. Conant, (1893-1978) a student of Richards at Harvard and later president of Harvard from 1933-1953. A large family monument stands in the center of the Thayer family lot where Richards shares a memorial with his wife.
Below you will find a link to A Biographical Memoir of Theodore William Richards, by his son-in-law Harvard President James Bryant Conant. Biographic Memoirs Volume 44 contains the biographies of deceased members of the National Academy of Sciences and bibliographies of their published works. Each biographical essay was written by a member of the Academy familiar with the professional career of the deceased.
Tailor and Freedom Seeker
Peter Byus, who is listed as a tailor in “The People of Color” 1848-1849 Boston Directory, left the following instructions for the executors of his estate:
I desire and direct that my said Executors, should purchase a suitable lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery and see that I am decently interred therein and mark my resting place with a suitable memorial and do whatever they may think is necessary for the preservation of said lot for the years to come.
Today, a touching memorial stands at the corner of Magnolia and Citron avenues to celebrate the life and character of a freedom seeker: “In memory of Peter Byus, Born in Hampshire Country, Virginia, a slave. At the age of about thirty-six, He fled to Boston for freedom where, He resided for the last thirty years. He died the 27 of February 1867. Aged 66 years.”
The inspiration for the monument comes from a black-and-white jasper cameo made by Josiah Wedgwood in 1787. Wedgwood, a prominent abolitionist, created the stirring image for the Quaker-based Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in England. He sent a box of the cameos from England to Benjamin Franklin, who distributed them to abolitionists in the U.S. The medallion became popular in the northeast, and its image appeared in pamphlets and handbills as well as on pottery, pins, charms, and hair ornaments. Abolitionists wanted to reveal “the basic humanity” of African Americans, Bernard F. Reilly, Jr. writes in The Art of the Antislavery Movement. “In an attempt to counter white biases, they offered up the best-known and probably the central image of the antislavery campaign . . . . The image is of a kneeling African man, all but naked, his hands and feet chained, his gaze directed heavenward . . . .”
The medallion shows a kneeling figure in shackles with the inscription from the cameo’s original title, “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” Carved by sculptor Joseph Carew, the low-relief figure on Byus’s monument is patterned after the same icon, except, in a symbolic gesture, the man has broken free of the shackles, which have separated. Below it reads: “He was a sincere Christian, a true friend, and an honest man.”
Peter Byus is buried in Lot 3752 on Magnolia Avenue.
This is a stop on Mount Auburn’s
African American Heritage Trail
 “People of Color”: 1848-1849 Boston Directory. See: PrimaryResearch.org.
Born on July 11, 1778, future lawyer-legislator Timothy Fuller’s earliest exposure to politics came from watching his father, Reverend Timothy Fuller – a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, refuse to ratify the proposed Constitution because it condoned slavery.(more…)
Founder of Star Market
Lot #10213 Almy Path
This excerpt originally appeared in “Mount Auburn Cemetery: A Mosaic of American Culture” by Stephen H. Anable, Freelance Writer, and Lauren Marsh, Staff in the Spring 2010 issue of Sweet Auburn.
The Mugar family introduced many innovations now considered essential in the American grocery shopping experience through their popular Star Markets; they have also been generous and creative philanthropists in Massachusetts and the nation for decades. (more…)