The History Behind Esther A. Hopkins’ Stamford Connection


Esther A. Hopkins during an interview in 2012.

Ananya Kotian, Staff Writer

Esther Arvilla Harrison Hopkins, chemist, city council member, and patent attorney, was born on September 18, 1926, in Stamford, Connecticut, to Esther Small and George Burgess Harrison. Her mother migrated to Connecticut from South Carolina and was the first in her family to be freed from slavery. Harrison had two brothers, one older and one younger.

Hopkins had a love for the arts, spending a lot of time at the Stamford theater. Although her family faced poverty, they financed piano lessons for her and she played frequently at her church.

Hopkins had been academically gifted since elementary school, beginning kindergarten at the age of three after passing an early enrollment test. She attended Hart Elementary School and Burdick Junior High School, as well as Stamford High School from where she graduated 21st in her class in 1943. Hopkins aspired to become a doctor. However, she was not offered a place in Boston University’s medical school due to only 2 spaces available for African American students, so in 1947 she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry instead. She then earned her M.S. in chemistry from Howard University just two years later.

Hopkins briefly taught chemistry at Virginia State College before deciding to pursue a career in research. She worked as a research chemist at the American Cyanamid Stamford Research Laboratory and as an assistant researcher in biophysics for the New England Institute for Medical Research. Hopkins earned her second M.S. degree in chemistry and her Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Yale University in 1962 and 1967, respectively.

Hopkins was hired as a supervisory research chemist with the Polaroid Corporation after completing her Ph.D. where she managed the Emulsion Coating and Analysis Laboratory. Hopkins became interested in the activities of the patent department during this time and returned to school to earn a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School. Hopkins left Polaroid Corporation in 1989 to become the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy general counsel.

Hopkins was elected as the first African American selectman of Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1999. She left this position in 2005 but remained involved in the community.

Hopkins passed away in her home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on May 19, 2021.