Dean Ruhlandt Honors Rubye Torrey G'69
Torrey was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Syracuse University.
Researcher. Educator. Author. Mother. Trailblazer. The many accomplishments of chemistry alumna Rubye Torrey G’69 came to life during a plaque dedication ceremony hosted by Dean Ruhlandt during Orange Central weekend.
2019 is the 50th anniversary of Torrey earning a doctorate. Torrey, who died in 2017 at the age of 91, was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Syracuse.
After that achievement, her career went on to include other notable milestones:
- her establishment of a gaseous ion chemistry research laboratory at Tennessee State University (TSU),
- her founding of Research Day at TSU, an event that has since expanded into a university-wide research symposium,
- her work on research ethics, food chemistry, and the electro-analysis of drinking water and human hair, and
- her tenure as assistant vice president for research and professor of chemistry at Tennessee Technological University.
Guests at the ceremony included Torrey’s son, Michael, with his guest Susan Ruohonen; Arents Award winner Dr. Alicia Carroll ’88; and members of the University community.
Torrey’s daughter, Claudia '80, was unable to attend, but Dean Ruhlandt recalled a time when Rubye and Claudia visited campus.
“I was escorting Rubye on a tour of the chemistry department, when Professor Dittmer came out of his office and asked, ‘Is that Rubye Torrey I hear?’ Ruhlandt said. “I remember how happy Rubye was to be recognized after all those years. She was also delighted to be sharing the visit with her daughter, Claudia,… and I wish to acknowledge the latter’s role in bringing us together today.”
A poignant reminder of Torrey’s dedication to her family—and her persistence and resilience despite the era’s narrow stereotypes of race and gender—was the dedication written on her Ph.D. thesis, a copy of which had been found in the chemistry department’s files. It noted her children’s “understanding of the sacrifice involved…far surpassed their tender years.”
Rubye Torrey’s love of learning propelled her to a doctorate and beyond. Her spirit of fearless inquiry is a beacon of inspiration for all students.
Thank you to the Department of Chemistry for hosting the ceremony.