Rachel Holloway Lloyd

Rachel Lloyd

Rachel Lloyd.

Sugar in moderation is a good source of energy for the human body. At the end of the 19th century Rachel Holloway Lloyd (1839–1900) helped introduce Americans to a new sweetener, beet sugar. She was also the first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Lloyd was born in Flushing, Ohio, to a Quaker family who lived on a farm. Her early life was filled with tragedy. She was one of four children, but all her siblings died in infancy. She lost her parents early as well, her mother dying when Rachel was 5 and her father when she was 12. She married Franklin Lloyd when she was 20. They had two children, both of whom died in infancy, their father following them in death not long after.

A widow in her early 20s, Rachel Lloyd decided to become a teacher, first teaching at a school for women in Philadelphia. Her husband had been a chemist, and she became interested in taking up his old profession. From 1875 to 1883 she spent her summers studying chemistry at Harvard. She did research as well during these summers and cowrote three published papers. While she did not earn a degree at this time, she became sufficiently qualified to become a chemistry teacher at two different women’s colleges in Louisville, Kentucky.

Wanting to teach at a university, Lloyd, like many American men of her day, traveled to Europe to get the best chemical education. She earned her Ph.D. in 1887 at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. She studied organic chemistry and the chemical reactions of phenol (the active ingredient in sore throat sprays among other important uses). Lloyd completed her degree in only two years at the age of 48, after which she worked in London before returning home to become the second professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska.

Lloyd was well loved by the students at Nebraska. She also had an impact on life off campus. In the 1890s sugar beets were a new crop in the United States. Nebraska farmers were interested in the beets but needed to know more about them before taking the risk of growing them on a large scale. Lloyd began a huge research program to study everything about these beets, including their sugar content. Like sugar cane, which cannot grow in northern climes, sugar beets produce a sugar called sucrose, which is a disaccharide naturally formed by linking molecules of glucose and fructose, two monosaccharides. Lloyd also determined the soil chemistry and just about everything else farmers needed to know to grow sugar beets successfully. Within a few years sugar beets became one of Nebraska’s biggest crops, which is still the case today.

In 1891 Lloyd became the second woman to join the American Chemical Society. She taught chemistry at Nebraska until she retired in 1894 for health reasons and then moved back to Philadelphia. She died in 1900.

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