Mary Semans

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans (1920-2012), a member of the Duke family, was born Mary Duke Biddle on February 21, 1920. She enrolled in Duke University at the age of 15 in 1936. She married Josiah Charles Trent, a medical student at Duke and later a surgeon on the Duke faculty, in 1939. They had four children before Dr. Trent died of lymphoma in 1948. In 1953, Mary Duke Biddle Trent married Dr. James Semans, a urologist at Duke, and together they had three children.

Semans served the Duke and Durham communities in a myriad of ways. She served as mayor pro tem of Durham from 1953 to 1955 and was a trustee of Lincoln Community Hospital, a hospital created during segregation for African-American patients in Durham, from 1948 to 1976. The Duke family financed the construction of the hospital in 1901. Semans was a trustee of Duke University from 1961 to 1981 and served as a trustee, vice president, and president of the Duke Endowment, the latter from 1982 to 2001.

Through the Duke Endowment, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation (begun by and named after her mother), the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation, the Josiah Charles Trent Collection of the History of Medicine, the Mary Duke Biddle Scholarship, and other means, Semans consistently supported Duke University and Duke Medicine.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Duke University Medal, the National Brotherhood Award presented by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the University Award from the University of North Carolina, John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, and the North Carolina award for contributions to the arts. Along with her support of Duke, she has been a champion of the arts, civil rights, women's rights, and social justice in the Durham community and beyond.

Semans died on January 25, 2012 in Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.


This oral history interview was conducted with Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans on August 2, 2007 by Jessica Roseberry.

Interview Transcript