Duke University Presidents

Duke University traces its history back to a tiny schoolhouse in 1838. Since that time, the institution has been guided and changed by its leadership. As Duke inaugurates new president Vincent Price, this timeline offers a look back at the highs, lows, and extraordinary contributions of our presidents.

Administrative History

1838 Mar 01
Brantley York, a self-taught Methodist minister, opens a school at Brown's Schoolhouse in rural Randolph County, NC.
Brantley York, 1855

He describes the schoolhouse in his autobiography: "Early in the spring of 1838, I opened a school in a house known as Brown's Schoolhouse. . . . It was a very inferior building, built of round logs, and covered with common boards. The floor was laid with puncheons and slabs. . . . The hearth was dirt, and the whole in bad repair; for when it rained it was with difficulty that the books and papers could be kept dry. This house was entirely too small to accommodate the students; consequently we were necessitated to erect a bush arbor in front of the south door, and part of the students were under the arbor and part in the house."


1839 Feb 01
The Union Institute Society is organized.
The first page of the original constitution of Union Institute, 1839

The Union Institute Academy is formally organized by the Union Institute Educational Society, a group of Methodists and Quakers under the leadership of Reverend York.


1841 Jan 12
North Carolina charters the Union Institute Academy.
 


1842 Feb 14
Braxton Craven becomes Principal of Union Institute.
Braxton Craven, 1870

Craven, who was educated at the New Garden Boarding School (now Guilford College), was only 19 years old when he took leadership of the young school.


1851 Jan 28
Union Institute is rechartered as Normal College.
The cover of the annual catalogue of the school for the 1850-1851 year.

Craven wished to create a college that would qualify its graduates "to teach common schools." With the support of the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the funding was secured.


1859 Feb 16
Normal College is rechartered as Trinity College.
 

The renaming reflected the formal acquisition of the College by the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.


1863 Nov 17
Braxton Craven resigned the presidency.
Prior to his resignation, Craven organized and served as captain for a military company called the

The outbreak of the Civil War two years earlier had reduced class sizes and fewer resources. Under criticism for financial shortages, Craven resigned.


1864 Feb 03
Professor W. T. Gannaway elected president pro-tempore.
 

Gannaway worked to keep the school open as the war escalated, but shortages and inflation made his position difficult. The school closed between April 1865 and January 1866, during which time the war concluded.


1865 Oct 26
Craven re-elected president.
Craven, pictured front row center, posing with the other members of the Trinity College faculty in 1878.

Craven had previously resolved the debts facing Trinity, and he was unanimously welcomed back as the president of the school.


1866 Jan 11
Trinity College re-opens.
Students pose in front of a Trinity College building in this undated photograph.

Craven was faced with reopening a school that had had much of its furniture and books stolen. Using his own money, he resupplied the school with necessary materials, and successfully re-opened during a time of great economic downturn and uncertain funding.


1882 Nov 07
Braxton Craven dies.
 

Craven passed away after serving as the leader of the institution for 40 years.


1883 Jun 13
Marquis L. Wood elected president.

Wood, an alumnus of Trinity, had served as a missionary in China. Wood faced a daunting task: he served as president of a financially tenuous institution, while he also "taught classes in metaphysics, logic, and theology, edited and supervised the printing of the college catalogue, aided in the upkeep of the campus, attended to all correspondence, tried to raise money for the College, took disciplinary measures against obstreperous boys, and lectured and preached throughout North Carolina."


1884 Jun 12
Marquis L. Wood offers his resignation.
 

The Board of Trustees refused to accept the resignation, and Wood reluctantly continued to serve as head of the college. Financial pressures mounted.


1884 Dec 01 – 1885 Jan 01
A "Committee of Management" is formed and Marquis Wood again resigns.
 

J. W. Alspaugh (President of the Board of Trustees), Julian Shakespeare Carr (Treasurer of the Board), and James A. Gray offered to lead the college for the next two years in order to financially strengthen the struggling school.


1887 Apr 05
The Board of Trustees elects John Franklin Crowell as president of Trinity College.

Crowell was a 28 year old graduate of Yale University. He was an ambitious educator and had studied the needs of Trinity from afar, but had never visited the campus when he accepted the position.


1887 Jun 09
John Franklin Crowell inaugurated as president of Trinity College on Commencement Day.
 

Crowell later recalled: "Inaugural procedure was simple, favored by the finest of June weather. Before a crowded house on the chapel stage, occupied by myself and Trustees, the President of the Board briefly introduced me, putting into my hand the disc-like seal of the College, thus transferring responsible authority and control. At that moment these eventfully crowded years began."


1887 Sep 01
Crowell persuades the Columbian and Hesperian Literary Societies to combine their two libraries into Trinity College's first library.
 

He personally cataloged each book in the new library, and established a dedicated library room and periodicals reading room.


1888 Nov 29
The first football game between Trinity and UNC is played.

Trinity is coached by President Crowell, and wins the inaugural game 16-0. The game is played on Thanksgiving Day in Raleigh, and marks the first football game in the South played according to the then-new rules of the American Intercollegiate Conference.


1892 Sep 01
Trinity College relocates and opens in Durham.
A postcard of the Washington Duke building. Its collapse in 1891 led to a one year delay in the move to Durham.

Trinity found a new--and hopefully more financially stable--home in Durham, North Carolina, thanks to contributions from tobacco magnates Washington Duke and Julian Shakespeare Carr. Originallly set to open in 1891, the move was delayed until 1892 due to a building collapse shortly before the beginning of the 1891-92 school year.


1893 Jun 07
Amidst faculty resignations and financial crisis, Crowell offers his resignation.
 

The board of the Trinity refused his resignation, and Crowell agreed to stay on the understanding that the trustees issue a statement of public confidence in him, that the athletic policies be left out of the hands of trustees or the Methodist Church, and that additional money be made available for faculty salaries.


1894 May 02
Crowell resigns.

He was disappointed that the Western Conference of the Methodist Church, an entity that provided close oversight of the college, had recommended that intercollegiate athletics be stopped over his objections. The Board of Trustees of Trinity College tried to refuse Crowell's resignation, but he did not reconsider. Crowell later completed a PhD in economics at Columbia, and served as a finance expert and financial consultant outside of academia.


1894 Jul 31
John C. Kilgo is elected president.

Kilgo was a graduate of Wofford College and a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church South.


1897 Sep 01
Women are first admitted as regular students at Trinity.
The Trinity College class of 1902.

Kilgo agreed to admit women "on equal footing with men" after Washington Duke offered Trinity a $100,000 endowment to do so.


1905 Mar 12
Trinity Park School is organized and opened on the Trinity College campus.

It was hoped that students who attended the school would be better prepared for college at Trinity than many of the students the college was then accepting. It remained in operation until 1922.


1903 Feb 23
The charter of Trinity College is changed to require election for board membership.
 

Previously, board members were chosen by current trustees, creating a self-perpetuating board. The change allowed alumni and members of the NC Conferences of the Methodist Church to elect trustees directly.


1903 Oct 01
The Bassett Affair rocks Trinity College.
John Spencer Bassett, 1891.

history professor John Spencer Bassett writes an editorial for the South Atlantic Quarterly describing Booker T. Washington as "the greatest man, save General Lee, born in the South in a hundred years." Outcry from the public and the media was swift and intense, and Bassett was prepared to resign his position. The Board gathered and issued a statement of support for Bassett's freedom to write what he chose. This defense of academic freedom was widely celebrated, and avoided the resignation of President Kilgo and the entire faculty, all of whom had letters of resignation prepared had the Board not defended Bassett.


1910 May 01
Kilgo is elected a bishop in the Methodist Church, and resigns the presidency.
 


1910 Nov 09
William Preston Few inaugurated as president of Trinity College.

A soft-spoken man, Few had served as professor of English and Dean of the College prior to being selected as Trinity's new president.


1917 Mar 01 – 1918 Nov 01
World War I dramatically changes day-to-day life at Trinity.

Twenty acres of the campus were planted as crops for food conservation; physical education was replaced with drill sessions; and the academic program shifted to reflect Trinity's new role as a Student Army Training Corps unit. 22 students or alumni died in the war.


1917 – 12/11/1924
Few actively works to encourage James B. Duke to give a major gift to Trinity College
James Buchanan Duke

Few was aware that Duke planned to create a large endowment, and wanted to make sure Trinity was among the beneficiaries. In early 1923, James B. Duke became more engaged in planning for Trinity, and by 1924, his architect Horace Trumbauer was visiting the Trinity campus to begin drawing up plans.


1922 Dec 01 – 1923 Feb 01
Few proposes establishing a shared medical school between Trinity and the University of North Carolina
 

The idea was inspired by a serious need for medical education in North Carolina. The president of UNC and the governor both supported the ideas, but alumni of both schools were concerned about sharing control of such a school. Trinity's Board of Trustees ultimately rejected the idea.


1924 Dec 11
The Duke Endowment indenture of trust is signed
Front page of the New York Times, December 9, 1924

The indenture specifies that funds are meant to go to educational institutions, hospitals, and the Methodist Church. Trinity College, upon being renamed Duke University, would receive 32 percent of the net income from the endowment.


1924 Dec 29
The Board of Trustees of Trinity College met to approve of the offer within the Duke Endowment indenture
Trinity College Board of Trustees, December 29, 1924

This vote formally changed from Trinity College to Duke University. It also dictated that Trinity become the name of the college of arts and sciences in Duke University.


1930 Jul 01
The Medical School and Hospital open.
Formal dedication of the School of Medicine, 1931

Many of the faculty of the Medical School came to Duke from Johns Hopkins University.


1930 Sep 25
The new West Campus, and the Woman's College on East Campus, is formally opened.

In addressing a "large throng" in Page Auditorium, Few urged the men of West Campus "to become builders--builders of colleges, builders of education, builders of causes--and so become useful and happy servants of humanity." The women students on East Campus were "made to realize that they have every right which the men possess. Those who present the proper requirements may enter any course on the men's campus."


1940 Oct 16
Few dies at the age of 72, having served as president for thirty years.
 


1940 Oct 18
Robert L. Flowers is named interim president, and officially elected president on January 29, 1941.

He had previously served as Vice President for Business and the Secretary-Treasure of Duke University. He had been part of the campus since 1891, first as a student, then as an administrator.


1943 Jul 01 – 1946 Feb 01
A Navy V-12 program opens on the Duke campus.

Several thousand students were given Naval training through the program.


1947 May 01
The Board of Trustees broached the topic of a mandatory retirement age for administrators
 

The 77-year-old Flowers was offered a role as Chancellor, which would allow him to continue to be involved in Duke but make way for a new President.The Board later passed a resolution with a mandatory retirement age for officers of the university.


1949 Oct 22
A. Hollis Edens inaugurated as Duke University's fourth president.

A native of Georgia, Edens came to Duke from the Rockefeller Foundation.


1952 Nov 15
The Duke Endowment approves the donation of $1.5 million to establish the James B. Duke Endowed Professorships.
 

Funding was provided by Doris Duke, James B. Duke's only child.


1954 Feb 01
The Allen Building, which provided new office space for the University administration, opens.

The building, the last on Duke's campus to be designed by Julian Abele of the Horace Trumbauer firm, completed the firm's original plan for the West Campus quadrangle.


1960 Feb 16
Edens offers his resignation.
 

The following month, the Trustees removed Prof. Paul M. Gross from his position as the university's chief academic officer. The "Gross-Edens Affair" was a major administrative crisis, one in which the administrators' competing visions for the future of the university were made public.


1960 Apr 21
J. Deryl Hart was named president pro tem of Duke University, effective July 1,1960.

Hart, a surgeon, had been a professor at Duke since the Medical School opened in 1930.


1961 Mar 07
Pleased with Hart's work as president pro tem, the Board of Trustees selects him as Duke's next president.


1961 Mar 08
The Graduate and professional schools become open to students of color.

The Board of Trustees announce that students will be admitted to Duke's graduate and professional schools "without regard to race, creed, or national origin," effective September 1, 1961.


1962 Jun 02
The undergraduate colleges become open to students of color.

The Board of Trustees votes "to admit qualified applicants to degree programs in the undergraduate colleges without regard to race, creed, or national origin."The first five African-American undergraduates--Gene Kendall, Mary Mitchell, Wilhelmina Reuben, Cassandra Smith, and Nathaniel White, Jr.--enter in Fall 1963. Reuben, White, and Mitchell are shown here.


1963 Dec 11
Douglas M. Knight is inaugurated as Duke University's fifth president.

Knight, who held a Ph.D. in English, came to Duke from Lawrence College, where he served as president.


1965 Sep 23
The $102.8 million Fifth Decade campaign launches.

The campaign aims to provide for a major campus expansion, to include an addition to the West Campus library, new buildings for the sciences, new dormitories, and development of the newly-acquired Central Campus land.


1963 May 17 – 1966 Jan 01
Knight oversees the construction of the new President’s House at 1508 Pinecrest Road.

The mid-century modern house's design and construction proved controversial, as many in the campus community saw it as an example of Duke's exorbitant spending.The house was named for Douglas and Grace Knight in 2003.


1969 Feb 13
African-American students peacefully occupy the Allen Building.

The protest was the climax of lengthy negotiations between the students and the administration on improving the campus climate for African-American students.


1969 Mar 27
President Knight resigns.

He cited the need "to protect [his] family from the severe and sometimes savage demands of such a career." He asked to be relieved of his duties on June 30, 1969.


1969 Jun 30 – 1970 Apr 01
Duke is led by the "troika"

Until the appointment of a new president, Provost Marcus Hobbs, Chancellor Barnes Woodhall, and Vice President for Business and Finance Charles Huestis serve as the institution's leaders.


1969 Dec 13
Terry Sanford, former governor of North Carolina, is elected as the sixth president of Duke University.
 

His first day was April 2, 1970, as he didn't want to start work on April Fools' Day.


1970 May 02
A. Hollis Edens Residence Hall is dedicated.


1970 Oct 18
Terry Sanford is formally inaugurated as Duke's president.

His inauguration included the dedication and first use of the University Mace and Presidential Chain of Office.


1972 Mar 08
Terry Sanford declares his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for US President.
Front page of the Chronicle, March 9, 1972


1974 Jun 20
Sanford and the Associated Students of Duke University agree on a regular election process for the Young Trustee position.
 


1971 Feb 18
Sanford names Joel Fleishman the director of the newly-created Institute for Policy Sciences and Public Affairs.

The Institute was formally established on July 1, 1971, and offered its first class the following fall. In 1992, it was renamed the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.


1972 Sep 01
Trinity College and the Woman's College merge, forming the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

The merger of Woman's College into Trinity meant that men and women lived on both campuses, rather than women on East and men on West.


1973 Nov 22
The Epoch Campaign, with a fundraising goal of $162 million, launches.


1975 Jun 01
Sanford announces his campaign for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination.
Front page of the Chronicle, June 2, 1976


1978 Jun 17
The American Dance Festival opens its first season in Durham.

Looking to relocate from Connecticut College, ADF chose Durham as its new home from a pool of over 50 invitations. In extending Durham's invitation, Sanford expressed interest in bringing the "civilizing influence of the arts" to the people of North Carolina.


1981 Feb 18
Ground is broken for the construction of the Fuqua School of Business.

Founded as the Graduate School of Business Administration in 1970, the school was renamed for J. B. Fuqua, chair of Fuqua Industries, in 1980. The school's new building opened in January 1983.


1982 Aug 01
The President's Office launches the "How to Think Straight" essay series with "On Getting Close to Truth: A Scientist's Approach" by Professor Irwin Fridovich.

The series of essays--which would include contributions from John Hope Franklin, Reynolds Price, and future president H. Keith H. Brodie--aimed to "contribute to a better understanding of the intellectual process inherent in liberal learning."


1984 Jan 17
"Uncle Terry" writes his "Avuncular Letter."

Calling himself "Uncle Terry," Sanford writes to the Cameron Crazies calling for an end to obscene chants and vulgar behavior at basketball games: "I hate for us to have the reputation of being stupid."


1984 Nov 18
The New York Times Magazine publishes "Hot Colleges and How They Get That Way."

Duke's inclusion in the article demonstrated the rapid growth of its national reputation during President Sanford's tenure.


1984 Dec 04
The $200 million Capital Campaign for the Arts & Sciences is publicly announced.


1984 Dec 07
H. Keith H. Brodie, who served as chancellor during President Sanford's tenure, is selected to be the next president of Duke University.
Front page of the Chronicle, December 8, 1984


1985 Jul 01
Brodie takes office as president of Duke University.
 

Terry Sanford retires after over 15 years as Duke's president.


1985 Sep 28
Brodie is inaugurated as Duke's seventh president.


1988 Apr 21
The Academic Council votes in favor of the Black Faculty Initiative.

Brodie supported the initiative, proposed by the Black Faculty Committee of the Academic Council, to increase numbers of black faculty. Brodie also named diversification of students and faculty as one of his top priorities.


1992 Dec 11
Nannerl O, Keohane is named the eighth president of Duke University.

Keohane comes to Duke from Wellesley College, where she served as president. She was Duke's first (and thus far only) woman president.


1993 Jul 01
Nannerl O. Keohane takes office as Duke's president.

Former president Brodie returns to teaching and research as James B. Duke Professor of Psychiatry and Law.


1993 Oct 23
Keohane is inaugurated as Duke's president.


1994 Dec 10
Keohane proposes housing all first-year students on East Campus.
 

In Fall 1995, the class of 1999 becomes the first class to live as a group on East Campus. The plan is soon recognized as a model for other university campuses.


1995 Jan 03
Keohane directs Duke Human Resources to offer same-sex partner benefits.
 

She writes, "The most pressing argument for extending these benefits is our desire to live up to our policy of nondiscrimination." With this directive, Duke becomes the first major university in the South to offer same-sex partner benefits.


1995 Jun 18 – 2019 Jun 18
The Campaign for Duke raises over $2 billion for the University and Health System.


1996 Sep 27
Keohane announces the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.
 

The program is an initiative to focus Duke's community service efforts on the 12 neighborhoods nearest to Duke and the seven public schools that serve those neighborhoods.


2000 Dec 15
Same-sex unions are allowed to take place in the Duke Chapel.

After several years of debate, Keohane and Dean of the Chapel William H. Willimon permit civil unions between same sex couples.


2002 May 01
Keohane forms the Steering Committee of the Women's Initiative.
 

The committee investigated the experiences of women faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees to better understand issues of concern to women at Duke.


2003 Aug 20
The Steering Committee of the Women's Initiative issues its final report

The report noted that issues of bias, underrepresentation in faculty and leadership, and the undergraduates expressed that they felt under pressure to display "effortless perfection"--to do it all perfectly without showing any strain. One outcome of the report was the formation of the Baldwin Scholars program.


2004 Jul 01
Richard H. Brodhead takes office as Duke's president.

Brodhead came to Duke from Yale University, where he was a professor of English and Dean of Yale College.


2004 Sep 18
Brodhead is inaugurated as the ninth president of Duke University.


2006 Jun 28
The Duke Lacrosse case becomes international news
 

Three members of the Duke men's lacrosse team were accused of sexual assualt, putting Duke in the national spotlight and raising issues of race, gender, and class on campus and in Durham.


2007
DukeEngage is launched

Duke Engage is an immersive service experience for undergraduates. The program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to travel to locations across the US and the world to work in partnership with community organizations.


2010 Jul 02 – 2017 Jun 30
Duke Forward, a university-wide fundraising campaign, raises over $3.85 billion.


2013
Brodhead serves as the co-chair of the national Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences
 


2014 Jul 06
Duke Kunshan University opens in China, offering new opportunities for cross-cultural education.


2016 Dec 02
Vincent E. Price is elected president of Duke University.

Jack Bovender, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees, said of Price, "He is a transformative scholar, a dedicated educator and an experienced executive at a very complex institution not unlike Duke. His commitment to our values and to the mission of a great research university is inspiring. I could not be more excited to have him as our tenth president.” Price came to Duke from the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as Provost.


2017 Oct 05
Vincent E. Price is inaugurated as the tenth president of Duke University.