The Life and Times of Percy Julian
Continuing Career Struggles: 1935-36

Racism Still Stands in His Way

Even after Percy Julian became famous for synthesizing the glaucoma drug physostigmine, DePauw University still wouldn’t let him rise above the rank of temporary researcher. They still refused to hire an African American as a professor.

This not only stood in the way of his goals as a chemist but was also a problem for his personal life. Julian married Anna Johnson, an accomplished woman with a Ph.D. in social work, in December 1935, and he needed a more secure job that would support a family. Since he couldn’t find a university that would hire an African American professor, he decided to look for an industrial job with a chemical company.

Julian almost got hired at the Institute of Paper Chemistry Click to go to Activity. in Appleton, Wisconsin, but the town had a law that said African Americans could not spend the night in Appleton, let alone live and work there. One of the board members of the Institute of Paper Chemistry was also vice president of the Glidden Company, a paint and chemical company in Chicago. His name was W. J. O’Brien, and he thought Julian was too good to pass up. He asked Julian to come to Chicago and work at Glidden. In 1936 Julian accepted and went to work for Glidden as director of research of their Soya Division, where he set about figuring out how to make new products from soybeans.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of the World...