Percy Lavon Julian, 1899-1975
DePauw University Class of 1920

DC 2624-2626, 2905


Archives of DePauw University

and Indiana United Methodism

Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society


Listen to an audio recording of Percy Julian, January 1962

Visit DePauw's Percy Lavon Julian website


Percy Lavon Julian '20 Family Papers


Class of 1920

       also includes: Mattie Julian Brown ’26

                            Elizabeth Julian White ’28

                            Irma Julian Raybon ’33

                            Emerson R. Julian ’38

                            James Sumner Julian, Jr. (Honorary ’70)

Size: 4 document cases, 1.505 cubic ft.

Restrictions: none

Accession: D992.093, D993.001, D993.077, D993.086, D993.096, D994.072, D994.120, D005.067, D006.033, D006.062, D006.072, D007.036, D007.038, D007.046, D007.056

Provenance: donors

Processed by: Jenney J. Taylor, March 2005

Biographical Sketch

            The Percy Lavon Julian family papers includes manuscripts of six siblings: Percy Lavon Julian ’20, eminent scientist; James Sumner Julian, Jr. (Honorary ’70), physician; Mattie Julian Brown ’26, the first black woman to graduate from DePauw University and later a YWCA executive whose husband was in the U.S. diplomatic corps; Elizabeth Julian White ’28, Baltimore High School language teacher; Irma Julian Raybon ’33, Brooklyn social worker; Emerson R. Julian ’38, Baltimore physician and city council member.


          Percy Lavon Julian 20 was born on April 11, 1899 in Montgomery, Ala., one of six children. His father, James Sumner Julian, a railroad mail clerk, and his mother, Elizabeth Lena Adams, a school teacher stressed education to their children.

          Percy attended high school at the State Normal School for Negroes. Upon graduation in 1916, Julian applied to and was accepted into DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. At DePauw, he began as a probationary student, having to take higher level high school classes along with his freshman and sophomore course load. He proved himself well, going on to be named a member of the Sigma Xi honorary society as well as a Phi Beta Kappa member. Finally, upon graduation from DePauw in 1920, he was selected as the class valedictorian. Though at the top of his class, he was discouraged from seeking admission into graduate school because of potential racial sentiment on the part of future coworkers and employers. Instead, he took the advice of an advisor and took a position as a chemistry teacher at Fisk University, a Black college in Nashville, Tennessee. After two years at Fisk, Julian was awarded the Austin Fellowship in Chemistry and moved to the distinguished Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Finally given an opportunity at graduate level work, Julian excelled. He achieved straight A's, finishing at the top of his class and receiving a Masters Degree in 1923. Even with this success, Julian was unable to obtain a position as a teaching assistant at any major universities because of the perception that white students would refuse to learn under a black instructor. Thus, he moved on to a teaching position at West Virginia State College for Negroes, though he would not find happiness in this situation. He left West Virginia and served as an associate professor of chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C. for two years.

          In 1929, Julian received a Fellowship from the General Education Board and traveled to Vienna, Austria in pursuit of a Ph.D. degree. While in Vienna, Julian developed a fascination with the soybean and its interesting properties and capabilities. Focusing on organic chemistry, Julian received his Ph.D. in 1931 and returned to the United States and to Howard University as the head of the school's chemistry department ( He soon left Howard and moved back to DePauw where he was appointed a teacher in organic chemistry. At DePauw, he worked with an associate of his from Vienna, Dr. Josef Pikl, on the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug which was used as a treatment for glaucoma. After much work and adversity, Julian was successful and became internationally hailed for his achievement. In late 1935, Percy Julian decided to leave the world of academics and entered the corporate world by accepting a position with the Glidden Company as chief chemist and the Director of the Soya Product Division. This was a significant development as he was the first black scientist hired for such a position. The Glidden Company was a leading manufacturer of paint and varnish and was counting on Julian to develop compounds from soy based products which could be used to make paints and other products. Julian did not disappoint, coming up with products such as aerofoam which worked as a flame retardant and was used by the United States Navy and saved the lives of countless sailors during World War II.

          On December 24, 1935, Percy married Anna Johnson and they settled into their comfortable life in Chicago. Percy continued his success as he next developed a way to inexpensively develop male and female hormones from soy beans. These hormones would help to prevent miscarriages in pregnant women and would be used to fight cancer and other ailments. He next set out to provide a synthetic version of cortisone, a product which greatly relieved the pain of sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis. The real cortisone was extremely expensive and only rich people could afford it. With Julian’s discovery of the soy based substitute, millions of sufferers around the world found relief at a reasonable price. So significant was his work that in 1950 the City of Chicago named him Chicagoan of the Year. While the honor should have signaled Julian's acceptance by his white counterparts in his field and his community, but when he soon after purchased a home for his family in nearby Oak Park, the home was set afire by an arsonist on Thanksgiving day 1950. A year later, dynamite was thrown from a passing car and exploded outside the bedroom window of Percy's children. Despite the fact that many residents of the town relied upon his methods to relieve their pains of and provide for their safety, some still would not accept him because of his race.

          In 1954, Julian left the Glidden Company to establish Julian Laboratories which specialized in producing his synthetic cortisone. When he discovered that wild yams in Mexico were even more effective than Soya beans for some of his products, he opened the Laboratorios Julian de Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico which cultivated the yams and shipped them to Oak Park for refinement. In 1961 he sold the Oak Park plant to Smith, Kline and French, a giant pharmaceutical company and received a sum of 2.3 million dollars.

          After years of struggling for respect in his field and his community, Julian finally was recognized as a genius and a pioneer. He received countless awards and honors including the prestigious Spingarn Medal from the NAACP and was asked to serve on numerous commissions and advisory boards. He received fifteen honorary degrees as well as authoring and co-authoring more than 160 publications. He was trustee of five universities, including DePauw. Percy Julian died in 1975 of liver cancer in Waukegan, Ill.

Collection Statement

            The Percy Lavon Julian family papers are divided into three series: Series I , arranged chronologically, is papers, speeches, photographs, events, publications and awards of Percy L. Julian ‘20. Series II contains papers and photographs of Julian’s family members: James Sumner Julian (Honorary '70), Mattie Julian Brown '26, Elizabeth Julian White '28, Irma Julian Raybon '33, and Emerson R. Julian ‘38. Also included in this series are papers of Percy Julian’s parents and children. Series II is arranged alphabetically by name. The final section, Series III, consists of the annual Julian Memorial Lecture Series records, 1977-1996. These are arranged chronologically. A collection also exists at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

DC 2624

SERIES I: Percy Lavon Julian


Folder 1: Biographical Information, 1899 - 1975


            2: Biographical Memoir by Bernhard Witkop, 1980


            3: DePauw University, student years, 1916 - 1920 (Photographs Included)


4: Marriage to Anna R. Johnson, December 24, 1935


            5: Roosevelt College of Chicago, Dedication Address, November 16, 1945


            6: Reader’s Digest article: The Man Who Wouldn’t Give Up by Paul de Kruif, August 1946


            7: Spingarn Medal, NAACP, January 1947


            8: DePauw University Honorary Degree, Doctor of Science, June 15, 1947 (Photographs Included)


            9: Fisk University, January 1949


10: Phi Beta Kappa Distinguished Service Award, November 30, 1949


            11: DePauw University Chapel Address, February 10, 1950


12: DePauw University Old Gold Goblet, May 26, 1950 (Photographs Included)


            13: Decalogue Society of Lawyers Award of Merit, March 3, 1951


14: DePauw University Inaugural Convocation of President Russell J. Humbert

                  Science Night: “Not the shadows but the light that rules them” and Hermann Muller, “Will Science Continue?”, October 14, 1952 (Photographs

                  Included)  (see also: audiotape reel #0216, 0217, 0218, 0219, 0235; cd #0005, 0006, 0009)


15: DePauw University 125th Anniversary, Founders’ and Benefactors’ Day Banquet

                  “The New and the Old,” January 12, 1962 (Photographs Included) (see also: audiotape reel #0174, 0175; cd #0139, 0140)


            16: American Institute of Chemists, Chicago Chapter, Honor Scroll Award, November 13, 1964


            17: The Chemist, Vol. XLII, No. 3, March 1965


            18: National Conference of Christians and Jews, silver plaque award, May 27, 1965


            19: DePauw University Morrison Lecture, October 7, 1965 (Photographs Included)


20: DePauw University Board of Trustees election, May 1967 (Photographs Included)


21: DePauw University Convocation Address, “Challenges and Dangers in this Era of Incessant Change,” February 16, 1968 (see also: audiotape reel #0404; cd #0012)


22: Lafayette College Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws, September 4, 1968


23: DePauw University Chapel/Convocation Series, “Science and Religion: Has each come of age?” (audiotape reel #0449, cd #0018), “The Population Explosion and the Birth Control Pill” (audiotape reel #0578, cd #0016), “Our Nations Most Crucial Imperative - the unequivocal commitment to human excellence” (audiotape reel #0448, cd #0020), March 4-6, 1970 (Photographs Included)


24: DePauw University Commencement, James S. Julian Scholarship Fund, May 24, 1970 (Photographs Included)

                  (see also: Telephone Address by Percy Julian due to illness, audiotape reel #0512, cd #0015;

                  Baccalaureate Address by Bishop Raines due to Percy Julian’s illness, audiotape reel #0450, cd #0325)


            25: DePauw University Old Gold Day, October 3, 1970 (Photographs Included) (see also: Ralph Taylor Neg. #23381)


26: DePauw University Winter Term Guest Lecturer, “Our Nation’s Electrical Power Needs in Relation to Environmental Changes.”, January 13, 1971 (see also: audiotape reel #0466, cd #0346)


            27: Journal Reprint: Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 63, No.2, pp. 143-150, March 1971


            28: MacMurray College Chemistry Building Dedication, May 12-13, 1972 (Photographs Included)


29: Lincoln Academy of Illinois Laureate, May 20, 1972


            30: DePauw University McNaughton Medal, Old Gold Weekend and Science Symposium, September 29-30, 1972 (Photographs Included)

                  “Science and the Good Life of Man” (see also: audiotape reel #0519, cd #0019)


            31: National Academy of Sciences, 1973


            32: National Institutes of Health Lecture, March 20, 1974


            33: Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Society of North America, William Proctor Prize, November 2, 1974


34: Ebony Magazine, March 1975


35: Obituaries, Memoirs, Tributes and Resolutions upon his death, April 19, 1975


36: Putnam County Hall of Fame, September 25, 1975


            37: Illinois State University, Julian Hall Dedication, October 26, 1975 (Photographs Included)


            38: DePauw University, Julian Trust Funds: Percy Julian Memorial Chemistry Fund and the Percy Julian Memorial Scholarship Fund, January 1976


39: American Chemical Society, Chemical Bulletin, February 1976



DC 2625

SERIES I: Percy Lavon Julian, continued


            40: Indiana Academy, June 1976


41: DePauw University Julian Science & Math Center Dedication, October 3, 1980 (Photographs Included)

                  (see also: audiotape reel #0770, cd #0590)


42: Percy Julian Junior High School Dedication, May 30, 1985


43: National Inventors Hall of Fame, April 7, 1990; 2005


            44: Indiana Historical Society, Black History News & Notes, May 1990


45: Kellogg Community College drama, Percy Julian and His Million Dollar Chemistry Business, February 1991

                  (see also: VHS: QD22.J8 P45)


            46: Percy Julian Commemorative Stamp, January 29, 1993 (Photographs Included)


47: Chemical & Engineering News, March 15, 1993, January 12, 1998 and May 17, 1999


48: DePauw University, Percy L. Julian Centennial Celebration, April 23, 1999 (Photographs Included)

                  (see also: videotape #1398)


            49: Luminaries of the Chemical Sciences, supplement to ACS Publications, 2002


      49a: Institute for Science Education and Technology, dedication of Julian bust in Scoville Park, October 25, 2003


            50. Rededication of the Percy Lavon Julian Science & Mathematics Center, November 1, 2003

                  (see also: DVD #0141, 0275)


            51: NOVA, 2005-2007  (see also: videotape #1775)


            52: Eagle's Eye, "African-American Pioneers of Science", April 2005


            53: Miscellaneous Photographs of Percy Julian, Unidentified events / Not dated (Photographs Included)


            54: Julian Home at 715 Crown St., Greencastle, IN


55: Miscellaneous newspaper clippings, correspondence, etc.


            56: Posters of Julian


            57: Research Chart


            58: Miscellaneous articles written by Julian


            59: American Chemical Society, 232nd National Meeting, San Francisco, Ca., September 11, 2006



DC 2905

SERIES II: Family Members


 Folder 1: The Birth of a DePauw Family


            2: Brown, Mattie Julian, 1905 - 1992, DPU Class of 1926 (Photographs Included)


            3: Brown, Mattie Julian: Travel diaries


            4: Julian, Anna Johnson (Mrs. Percy Julian), 1903 - 1994 (Photographs Included)


            5: Julian, Elizabeth Lena Adams (Mrs. James Julian and mother of Percy, Mattie, Emerson, James, Irma and Elizabeth) (Photographs Included)


            6: Julian, Emerson R., 1917 - 1978, DPU Class of 1938


            7: Julian, James Sumner, DPU Honorary Degree 1970 (Photographs Included)


            8: Julian, Percy L., Jr. (son of Percy and Anna Julian) (Photographs Included)


            9: Raybon, Irma Julian, 1912 - 1990, DPU Class of 1933


            10: White, Elizabeth Julian, DPU Class of 1928 (Photographs Included)


DC 2626

SERIES III: Percy Julian Memorial Lecture Series



1: Julian Memorial Lecture, William Montague Cobb, "Onward and Upward," and Percy L. Julian Scholarship Award, Paul "Bo" McDougal '80, April 28, 1977   (Photographs Included) (see also: audiotape reel #0673, cd #0496)


2: Julian Memorial Lecture, Bernhard Witkop, "The Humanist as a Chemist," May 4, 1978


3: Julian Memorial Lecture, Helen G. Edmonds, "The Partnership Between Science and Society: Percy L. Julian The Humanist," April 26, 1979 (see also: audiotape reel #0741, cd #0014)


4: Julian Memorial Lecture, Derek A. Davenport, "Dephlogisticated Air, The Making of Bishops, and the Founding of the American Chemical Society," April 10, 1980  (Photographs Included) (see also: audiotape reel #0756, cd #0565)


5: Julian Memorial Lecture, Percy L. Julian, Jr., “China: One Man’s View,” April 16, 1981 (see also: audiotape #0785, cd #0596)


6: Julian Memorial Lecture, Christine Cook Schreiner, Opera Singer In Recital, March 16, 1982 (see also: event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #111)


7: Julian Memorial Lecture, John Brooks Slaughter, "Science and Education, Hopes for Mankind," April 11, 1983 (see also: audiotape cassette #0883)


8: Julian Memorial Lecture, William Thomas Lippincott, “Enriching the Science Traditions in Liberal Arts Colleges: Prologue to the New Century,” April 26, 1984 (see also: audiotape cassette #0884; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #109)


9: Julian Memorial Lecture, Vernon Jarrett, “Not a Scientist in a Vacuum,” April 19, 1985 (see also: audiotape cassette #0902; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #110)


10: Julian Memorial Lecture, Willis H. “Bing” Davis, “African-American Art: Visions and Direction," April 19, 1986 (see also: videotape #0166, audiotape cassette #0981; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #105)


11: Julian Memorial Lecture, Charles Allen West, “DePauw Chemistry: Successes and Challenges,” April 16, 1987  (see also: audiotape cassette #1093, cd #0017; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #107)


12: Julian Memorial Lecture, Joseph P. Allen IV, “Physics at the Edge of the Earth,” April 14, 1988  (see also: audiotape cassette #1134; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #106; oversize item, Drawer 26, Item #094)


13: Julian Memorial Lecture, Helen G. Edmonds, “Come Down to Kew Gardens in Lilac Time, It Isn’t Very Far from London,” April 11, 1989 (see also: audiotape cassette #1223, book - HN59.2.E56 1989; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #113)


14: Julian Memorial Lecture, Thomas W. Cole, Jr., “The Julian Legacy,” April 19, 1990 (see also: audiotape cassette #1312; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #104)


15: Julian Memorial Lecture, Edgar F. Beckham, “Beyond Diversity: A Multicultural Paradigm,” April 9, 1991 (see also: audiotape cassette #1426; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #112)


16: Julian Memorial Lecture, Reatha Clark King, “Percy Julian: Giant Foundation for Progress in the 21st Century,” April 2, 1992 (see also: audiotape cassette #1472, cd #0013; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #108)


17: Julian Memorial Lecture, Percy L. Julian, Jr., "The Legacy of a Stamp," April 8, 1993 (see also: videotapes #0534, 0559; event poster, oversize item, DC 2047, Item #039)


18: Julian Memorial Lecture, Donald J. Cook, "The High Calling of Science," April 14, 1994


19: Julian Memorial Lecture, Shirley Ann Jackson, "What Makes the Information Super Highway Possible? Quantum Well Physics and Semiconductor Laser Science and Technology," April 27, 1995


20: Julian Memorial Lecture, Norman C. Craig, "African-American Chemists I Have Known," December 5, 1996


21: Julian Memorial Lecture, Correspondence, 1996-1998








DC 430  

Faculty publications: Percy L. Julian


Neue Corydalis-Alkaloide: d-Tetrahydro-coptisin, d-Canadin und Hydro-Hydrastinin. Jahrg 64 1931. Sonderabdruck Aus: Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft. Verlag Chemie. Berlin. By Ernst Spath and Percy Lavon Julian


The Thermal Interconversion of Mixed Benzoins. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 54, 4756 (1932)] By Percy L. Julian and Walter Passler


On the Progenitors of Certain Plant Alkaloids and the Mechanism of their formation in the plant structure. [Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, Vol. 43 (April 1934)] By Percy L. Julian


Studies in the Indole Series. I. The Synthesis of Alpha-Benzylindoles. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 55, 2105 (1933)] By Percy L. Julian and Josef Pikl


Studies in the Indole Series. II. The Alkylation of 1-Methyl-3- formyloxindole and a Synthesis of the Basic Ring Structure of Physostigmine. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 56, 1797(1934)] By Percy L. Julian, Josef Pikl and Doyle Boggess


Studies in the Indole Series. III. On the Synthesis of Physostigmine. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 539 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and Josef Pikl


Studies in the Indole Series. IV. The Synthesis of d,l-Eserethole. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 563 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and Josef Pikl


Studies in the Indole Series. V. The Complete Synthesis of Physostigmine (Eserine). [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 755 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and Josef Pikl


Studies in the Indole Series. VI. On the Synthesis of Oxytryptophan and Further Studies of 3-Alkylation of Oxindoles. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 2026 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian, Josef Pikl and Frank E. Wantz


Studies in the Indole Series. VII. The Course of the Fischer Reaction with Ketones of the Type R CH2 CO CH3. Alpha-Propyl and Alpha-Homoveratryl Indole. [Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 45:145-150 (1936)] By Percy L. Julian and Josef Pikl


Additions to Conjugated Systems in the Anthracene Series. I. The Action of Phenylmagnesium Bromide on Methyleneanthrone. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 56, 2174 (1934)] By Percy L. Julian and Arthur Magnani


Additions to Conjugated Systems in the Anthracene Series. II. The Behavior of Certain Anthranols. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 1607 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and Wayne Cole


Additions to Conjugated Systems in the Anthracene Series. III. Factors Influencing the Mode and Extent of Reaction of the Grignard Reagent with Ketones. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 2508 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian, Wayne Cole and Thomas F. Wood


Homoamines and Homoacids. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 1126 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and Bernard M. Sturgis


The Action of the Grignard Reagent on Certain Fuchsones. [Journal of the American Chemical Society, 57, 2030 (1935)] By Percy L. Julian and William J. Gist




“Coming Together Conference: Percy L. Julian” by Neal Abraham and Llew Smith, DVD #617


“DePauw’s African American Heritage: the Pioneers,” Archives Exhibit, created Fall 2000, DC 2519, 2520


DePauw Alumnus. Jan. 1941, Vol. 5, No. 4. "From Him I Learned ...," a poem by Percy Julian in honor of Professor William Blanchard, DePauw University, in honor of his retirement.


“Developing Human Resources,” Administration Office, March 17, 1953, Motion Picture #34 (Movie Box 12), DVD #256, 618, 620, Videotape #1054


“Exceptional Black Scientist” Poster, No. 1 in a series from CIBA-GEIGY Corporation, DC 2043, Item #73


Percy Lavon Julian Science & Mathematics Center, DC 1543



Related Links

About: Inventors


American Chemical Society:


American Chemical Society, Invitation to “Forgotten Genius,” Sept. 11, 2006:


Black History Pages:


Chemical and Engineering News:


Chemical Heritage Foundation, Science Alive, Percy Julian:


DuSable Museum, Chicago:


Elm Lawn Cemetery, Elmhurst, Illinois:


Encyclopedia Britannica:


Fact Monster:


Glaucoma Research Foundation:


Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest:


Howard University:


Illinois State University:


Indiana Historical Society:


Information Please:


Temple University:


National Academies:


National Academies Press article by Bernhard Witkop:


National Historic Chemical Landmarks:


Percy Julian High School, Chicago, Illinois


Percy Julian Middle School, Oak Park, Illinois


Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), WGBH, Boston:


PBS Julian DVD:


Science Spectrum Online:


University of Houston: Engines of Our Ingenuity