- Brantley York, 1838-1842
- Braxton Craven, 1842-1863, 1866-1882
- Marquis Lafayette Wood, 1883-1884
- Trustee Committee of Management
- John Franklin Crowell, 1887-1894
- John Carlisle Kilgo, 1894-1910
- William Preston Few, 1910-1940
- Robert Lee Flowers, 1941-1948
- Arthur Hollis Edens, 1949-1960
- Julian Deryl Hart, 1960-1963
- Douglas Maitland Knight, 1963-1969
- Terry Sanford, 1969-1985
- H. Keith H. Brodie, 1985-1993
- Nannerl Overholser Keohane, 1993-2004
- Richard H. Brodhead, 2004-
Principal of Union Institute, 1838-1842
A largely self-taught educator, Methodist minister, and author of a series of English grammars, Brantley York (1805-1891) was asked by Methodist and Quaker farmers in rural Randolph County to help provide education for their sons and daughters. He organized Union Institute Academy in 1838 and met with instant success, having to build two new buildings within a year-and-a-half. Though gratified at his accomplishment, he worked extremely hard raising money, and he began to go blind working late at night preparing recitations in subjects he had not adequately studied. In fact, he recorded in his diary a statement saying he considered his years at Union Institute to be "truly onerous." York, however, had found his life's work at Union Institute and though completely blind by age forty-eight, he lived to be eighty-six and founded half-a-dozen schools, lectured over 8,000 times, and taught more than 15,000 pupils.
Principal, Union Institute, 1842-1851
President, Normal College, 1851-1859
President, Trinity College, 1859-1863, 1866-1882
Braxton Craven's (1822-1882) connection with the school began at age 19 when in 1841 he was asked to enroll both as a student and assistant teacher. He succeeded York as principal and until his death in 1882 the history of the institution is largely the biography of Braxton Craven. Well versed in educational theory, in 1851 he had the school chartered by the state as Normal College to train teachers for the state’s common schools. An ordained minister, he later turned to the Methodist Church for support with the resulting change of name to Trinity College in 1859. Under his leadership the school became well known, drawing its student body mostly from central Carolina, but it also drew consistently from all Southern states including some students from as far away as Arkansas and Missouri.
The break in Craven's presidency from 1863 to 1865 was caused by divisions in the Methodist Conference over his management of the school that led to his resignation. Professor William Trigg Gannaway was appointed president pro tempore. Unlike many Southern schools, Trinity managed to operate during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Classes were suspended for a few months in 1865 because of the disruption of college life when the campus was occupied by retreating troops, but there was little question that the college would reopen. Craven was persuaded to resume his office. A highly respected educator, though not an uncontroversial leader, Craven concurrently served as President, and Professor of Ancient Languages, Mental and Moral Science, Metaphysics, Rhetoric and Logic, National and Constitutional Law, and Biblical Literature.
Marquis Lafayette Wood
President, Trinity College, 1883-1884
When Braxton Craven died in 1882, the Trustees turned to Marquis Lafayette Wood (1829-1893). Although he served only a year-and-a-half, we might not be here today except for his leadership during the critical period following Craven's death. When nineteenth century institutions became closely identified with the personality of a long-time leader, they more often than not succumbed at the death of their president. A minister and Craven's closest friend, Wood was a graduate of the school--the only president also an alumnus in our history. He worked diligently for the college, raised the first money ever for endowment, and remained on the Board of Trustees the rest of his life, even submitting the resolution in 1889 to move the college from his beloved native Randolph County. His one-sentence definition of the college presidency was that "All great enterprises require time and patience and labor and suffering and money." After Wood left, the college was run for three years by a Committee of the Board of Trustees.
John Franklin Crowell
President, Trinity College, 1887-1894
Even though he served in the late nineteenth century, Yale graduate John Franklin Crowell (1857-1931) was our first modern or "twentieth century" president. His most evident legacy was the move of the school to Durham
. But equally significant was his replacement of the 19th century curriculum based on recitation with the then developing German university practice of learning based on research in primary sources. Toward that end Crowell persuaded the competing student literary societies to combine their libraries into a single college collection, where he personally catalogued the books and kept hours at a reference desk to encourage proper research methods. He also corrected the Latin in the college motto
and coached the first football team, each fascinating stories in themselves. The relocation of the college to Durham succeeded beyond Crowell's wildest dreams as it allied Trinity closely with the interests of the spectacularly successful tobacconists and Methodist laymen, Julian Shakespeare Carr and Washington Duke
John Carlisle Kilgo
President, Trinity College, 1894-1910
After the hard times of the depression of 1893 the Trustees turned to John Carlisle Kilgo (1861-1922), then financial agent of Wofford College, and a preacher of great renown. Contemporaries characterized him as "a man afire" and students whispered among themselves that his pulse beat above normal. But they revered him and relished his bold attacks on narrow political and religious tenets of the time. However, one student did note as "the only flaw in his shining armor, a toleration for some Republican views," possibly a reference to his friendship with the Duke family. Today the most well known incident of his tenure is his stirring defense of academic freedom in the 1903 Bassett Affair
. Less well known is the fact that the African-American leader Booker T. Washington
spoke on campus at Kilgo's invitation in 1896. Washington's appearance at Trinity was his first on a white Southern college campus. Additional principles firmly established during Kilgo's presidency include high standards in admission, quality over numbers, the employment of the best possible faculty, and the equal education of women with men. As an indication of the national stature of the college, the President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching wrote Kilgo in 1909, "You are one of the few college presidents of this country who [is] attempting to graduate each year an individualized group of men [and women] rather than a group that is merely more educated than when it came to you."
William Preston Few
President, Trinity College, 1910-1924, Duke University, 1924-1940
When Kilgo was elected a Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the trustees elevated a Professor of English and the first Dean of the College, William Preston Few (1867-1940), to the Presidency. Few had a B.A. degree from Wofford and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Like Kilgo he was greatly respected by students. One wrote admiringly, "He was a model of prudence. To Dr. Few I owe about all the balance I may have in my make-up." Of Wood's criteria for a successful presidency, Few certainly exhibited “patience and labor,” but perhaps unique in the history of higher education in America, he also had the time, 30 years as President; and the money, the largesse of the Duke family. His most spectacular accomplishments were helping to nurture the concept behind The Duke Endowment to fruition, and overseeing the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University. Just as Few often emphasized that Duke University owed its rapid development to the strength of Trinity College, the stature of the University today is due in large measure to the ideals and talent of William Preston Few. What Craven was to the institution in the 19th century, so Few was in the 20th.
Robert Lee Flowers
At the death of President Few, Robert Lee Flowers (1870-1951) was named President. A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, Flowers had first been employed as instructor in mathematics and electrical engineering when Trinity was still in Randolph County. As an engineer, one of his first responsibilities was to wire the new buildings in Durham for electricity. "Professor Bobby Flowers," as he was affectionately known by students and alumni, served the institution the longest and in the most varied capacities. For over sixty years his thoroughness and wise counsel as Professor, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-President, President, and Chancellor served the institution well. His experience and stature were welcome because the demands of a world at war and the strains of transition to a peacetime economy dominated every aspect of university life during his presidency.
Arthur Hollis Edens
To deal with the enormous problems facing private universities in the post-war period, the trustees next turned to a native Southerner, an experienced educator, and an executive with the Rockefeller Foundation, A. Hollis Edens (1901-1968). That he was the most youthful president in forty years and strikingly handsome added to the excitement on campus. Momentous changes occurred quickly. With inflation rapidly eroding purchasing power, the University launched a capital gifts program and a national development campaign. Edens noted that upon entering the field of fund raising Duke faced a "peculiar handicap." He stated that "Never before had we sought sizeable sums from either alumni or the general public. Indeed, the magnitude of James B. Duke's Indenture had been such as to encourage the uninformed public to believe that Duke University never would require additional capital." Through the success of this campaign Duke University began to build its own endowment and expand its programs. Academic units such as the Center for Commonwealth Studies and the Center for the Study of Aging date from this time. Formal participation of the faculty in governance began in 1952 with the formation of a University Council and the consolidation of several committees into an Undergraduate Faculty Council. Additional accomplishments included the establishment of the James B. Duke Endowed Professorships, the organization of a student union program (the Duke University Union) to enhance student life, and a vigorous defense of academic freedom
during the McCarthy Era. Though not so well known because he chose to work behind the scenes, Edens also assiduously sought to have the segregated admissions policy of the University changed.
Julian Deryl Hart
In 1960 the fourth man to be elevated from within the institution, J. Deryl Hart (1894-1980), became President. Since 1930 he had had a distinguished career as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Surgery, and he was highly respected as one who took great interest in the affairs of the University. His special task as President was to deal with the affairs of administration, and to that end he organized the Provost group to share in governance of the University, guided the adoption of new Bylaws which replaced the University Council with our present faculty legislature, the Academic Council, expanded the role of the University Planning Committee, and in various ways significantly redefined the responsibilities of the Offices of Institutional Advancement, Development, Business, Legal Counsel, Registrar, Undergraduate Admissions, and Architect. Believing "academic excellence is the greatest single asset a school can have," he emphasized support for faculty as well. During his three-year tenure the number of distinguished professorships doubled and faculty salaries achieved an "A" rating from the AAUP. Another noteworthy accomplishment was the amending of the admissions policy affirming equality of opportunity regardless of race, creed or national origin.
Douglas Maitland Knight
In 1963, Douglas M. Knight (1921-2005), the President of Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, was persuaded to come to Duke University. New beginnings and unique building projects characterized his tenure. The conversion of a science building into an Art Museum, construction of a hyperbaric chamber, a phytotron, and the largest nuclear structure laboratory in the Southeast added new dimensions to research at the University, as did the launching of the first ship built specifically for oceanographic research. In addition, new undergraduate and medical school curricula, interdisciplinary programs in biomedical engineering and forestry management, joint M.D.-J.D. and M.D.-PhD. degrees, and a new School of Business Administration were started. Most significantly the major Perkins Library addition made it possible to double every library service and increase capacity some five times over. That so much was accomplished in a time of increasing national conflict and student confrontation at Duke was remarkable.
In 1969 the Trustees took a bold step in electing as President someone from outside the academic community. However, Terry Sanford (1917-1998), known as the educational governor of North Carolina and one experienced in dealing with the then all too common politics of confrontation, proved to be a wise choice. Retiring in 1985, his tenure as president was exceeded only by the terms of Craven and Few, and by Kilgo by only a few months. Whether in additions to physical plant, in increased participatory governance with the addition of students to campus committees, or in fund raising with the Epoch Campaign and the Capital Campaign for the Arts and Sciences, Sanford's years at Duke were impressive. His approachability, the openness of his administration, his emphasis on honor, and his assimilation and use of the history of the institution were most appreciated. But perhaps the most surprising fact is that 37,700 Duke degrees were awarded over his signature. In 1985, that represented 55% of the active alumni of the University! We frequently note how young Duke is but it is very much part of an older, distinguished institution. It is not uncommon to discover President Hart quoting Kilgo, Sanford quoting Few and Crowell, and Few acknowledging the influence of Craven.
H. Keith H. Brodie
Dr. Brodie, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychiatry, served as Duke’s Chancellor from 1982 to 1985 and was named to succeed Terry Sanford. During his tenure, applications to Duke's graduate and undergraduate programs increased greatly as the school became a nationally known research university. Academic initiatives included the establishment of an Institute of Statistics and Decision Sciences and a new School of the Environment. Interdisciplinary planning was a hallmark of the period and a new science building, the Levine Science Research Center, brought together faculty from varied disciplines. Other capital projects added a dormitory, a building for policy sciences and public affairs, medical research buildings, and the campus wide network, DukeNet. Duke made efforts to increase the number of African-Americans in academia with a Black Faculty Initiative and a Program for Preparing Minorities for Academic Careers. Increased faculty participation in the governance of the University was made possible by the establishment of the President's Advisory Council on Resources. During Dr. Brodie's tenure, Duke became known as a school that welcomes people of different races, cultures, and ethnic groups.
Nannerl Overholser Keohane
Dr. Keohane became president on July 1, 1993, coming from the presidency of Wellesley College. She was the first woman to serve as Duke’s president and among the first women to oversee a leading U.S. research university. Under her leadership, the University's international reach extended through new study abroad opportunities, international education, and Duke Clubs abroad. A reorganization of undergraduate life brought all first-year students together on the University's East Campus. Major new programs in genomics, photonics, and ethics were established, and the creation of the Duke University Health System enabled Duke to broadly distribute comprehensive health care in the Research Triangle region. The student body and faculty became more diverse and a Women's Initiative promoted dialogue about women's experiences here. The successful $2 billion Campaign for Duke will support new scholarships, research, and academic programs, and help build facilities for engineering, art, business, science, divinity, public policy, medicine, nursing, libraries, athletics, and student life. A concern for public service resulted in the establishment of the Neighborhood Partnership, which has strengthened Duke's ties with its Durham neighbors, and Duke also increased its collaboration with other universities in the Triangle area during her tenure.
Richard H. Brodhead
Dr. Brodhead, former dean of Yale College and the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English at Yale University, is Duke University's ninth president and the fourteenth person to lead the institution since its founding as Union Institute in 1838. His election was announced by the Board of Trustees on December 12, 2003, and he took office on July 1, 2004.