December 5, 1996 marked the centennial of a pivotal event in the story of women at this institution. Though during its early history the school was geared toward male students and women attended only sporadically, on that date a hundred years ago, women's continuing presence on campus was ensured. A donation from Washington Duke enabled the school to build a separate dormitory so women could enroll as residential, rather than as day, students. There weren't enough to fill the new dorm, however, so it was made co-ed... no timid step in the late 19th century! The story is told in Washington Duke and the education of women.
The Randolph County years, 1838-1891
Duke University traces its origins to Union Institute Academy, a subscription school founded in 1838 by families living in Randolph County, North Carolina. First at Union Institute and later at its successor, Normal College, women were enrolled or were sought as students, and the president's wife taught some of the first classes. A passage in College bulletins from the early 1850s advises parents to send their daughters to the school rather than to a nearby women's college. Just how successful this early recruiting campaign was is not known, but it may have been a factor in one professor's decision to teach at Normal College. William T. Gannaway had run a school for women in Floyd County, in southern Virginia, for a number of years before coming to North Carolina. His personal papers contain records of that school, including an account ledger (right) naming the texts the students used. In 1859, Normal College formally affiliated with the Methodist Church, and was renamed Trinity College. The training of Methodist ministers became a major concern of the school at this time, but during the U.S. Civil War, women were again in attendance. It was not until 1878, however, that Mary, Persis and Teresa Giles received degrees and became our first female graduates.
Trinity College in Durham, 1892-1924
Trinity College moved to Durham in 1892, due in part to a donation from Washington Duke. In the Fall of that year, the College's Board of Trustees committed the school to co-education by formally voting to admit women to classes. With the support and encouragement of Duke and John C. Kilgo, president from 1894 to 1910, enrollment of women became the norm. By 1902, thirty-five female students were in attendance. The first sorority was Sigma Delta, a local group founded in 1904. The first national sorority to be chartered here was Alpha Delta Pi in 1911. By 1912, there were a sufficient number of women graduates to form an active Alumnae Association. In 1918, the College appointed its first Dean of Women, Martha Buchanan. She was succeeded the following year by Fronde Kennedy who served as Dean until 1923. In that year, there were 235 women graduate and undergraduate students enrolled out of a total regular enrollment of 1058.
Duke University: From The Woman's College to Trinity College of Arts and Sciences
James B. Duke, one of Washington Duke's sons and the most financially successful member of the family, signed The Duke Indenture in December, 1924. The Indenture established The Duke Endowment, a family philanthropic foundation. Among its provisions was the creation of a new university to be built around Trinity College and which would include a coordinate college for women. In 1914 after several years of planning, the College and the Duke brothers, James and Benjamin, had attempted to raise funds for a coordinate woman's college, but this effort had been unsuccessful. Now, with the establishment of Duke University and funds in hand, the plan for a Woman's College could go forward.
For its founding dean, Duke President William Preston Few recruited Alice M. Baldwin (left), an historian trained at the University of Chicago. Baldwin's philosophy of education, outlined in her lengthy memoir, "The Woman's College as I Remember It," (pdf) placed an emphasis on the role of a woman's college in training women for leadership in both the academic and social spheres. Her influence on generations of students was profound, as is recounted in Alice Mary Baldwin, Dean, and is documented in the records of the Woman's College. At a time when women were not supposed to be interested in science or engineering, it's notable that the first woman to be awarded a Duke Ph. D.-- Rose M. Davis, in 1929-- took her degree in chemistry, and two women graduated from the School of Engineering in 1946.
In 1972, the Woman's College merged with the men's Trinity College to form the present undergraduate Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Since that time, women students have served as presidents of the student government, editors of campus publications, and as Young Trustees. Women's studies courses had been offered at Duke since 1968. In 1983 a Women's Studies program was formally established, and a major was approved in 1993. That year also saw the election of Nannerl O. Keohane as Duke's first female president, and the second woman to head a major U.S. research university.
Among our notable women graduates are Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW, Juanita Kreps, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and philanthropist Mary D.B.T. Semans.
Circa 1946 Circa 1976
In addition to the collections cited above, researchers interested in the history of women at Duke may find the following materials useful:
Frances Acomb Papers, 1953-1975 (History faculty, AAUW, AAUP)
Katharine M. Banham Papers (Psychology faculty)
Julia R. Grout Papers, 1916-1984 (Physical Education faculty)
Anne Firor Scott Papers, 1963-2002 (History faculty)
College Organization for General Service Records, 1940-1949 (COGS was a wartime service group)
Student publications include:
Notable student papers in the University Archives on women at Duke include:
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