Mary Grace Wilson headshot from a yearbook
Centennial Spotlights

Mary Grace Wilson

As early as the 1940s, Mary Grace Wilson was telling young women not to rely on men, but on themselves – an important lesson at a time when women were joining the workforce as men went off to war.

During the course of her 40-year tenure at Duke, the university’s first dean of students in the Women’s College counseled thousands of students. Wilson went on to hold numerous positions between 1930 and her retirement in 1970.

Wilson graduated from Winthrop College in South Carolina and earned her masters from Columbia University. Before coming to Duke, she served as Dean of Women at Durham High School.

Wilson was recruited by President William Preston Few to become house counselor in the newly formed Woman’s College of Duke University.

She became social director in 1934. She was elevated to Dean of Residence and finally was appointed Dean of Undergraduate Women in 1952, a position she held until her retirement.

Her name lives on in many ways at Duke. Wilson Residence Hall was built during the expansion of the Trinity College campus. Originally named Faculty Apartments, it was renamed in her honor at the 1970 commencement ceremony and her portrait hangs there.

She’s also been recognized with distinguished professorships in her name.