A black and white photo of Mary Alice Baldwin sitting behind a cluttered desk with an old phone and flowers on it
Centennial Spotlights

Alice Mary Baldwin

You’re familiar with Alice Mary Baldwin’s name if you’ve ever entered Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus to see a jazz concert or a dance performance.

Baldwin arrived on campus in 1923 as acting dean of women at Trinity, to address their “special needs.” She became permanent dean soon after. Around that time, 200 women called Southgate dorm their home. By the time she retired in 1947, the Women’s College was all of East Campus and included 1,128 students.

Before coming to Duke, Baldwin had already had an impressive academic career, studying at Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania – with history, literature, languages and economics among her varied subjects of interest. The topic of her master’s thesis was “Gustavus III of Sweden: A Study in Enlightened Despotism.” She worked on her University of Chicago dissertation about New England clergy and the American Revolution while being an acting dean at Duke.

As a dean, Baldwin worked to give women students on campus the same opportunities that men received, and to give women faculty and alumni more recognition. She was the first faculty member, in 1926, to offer an upper-level course to both women and men.

It wasn’t always easy getting male administrators to recognize a woman in leadership as an equal. She said that she was “desiring recognition as a fellow administrator, not simply as a woman to be treated with Southern courtesy.”

Today, 18 first-year students from Trinity and the Pratt School of Engineering are selected each year to be members of Duke’s Alice M. Baldwin Scholars women’s leadership program.