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Richard H. Brodhead

President, 2004-present
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.  For a brief biography, speeches, and articles, see the President’s page, at http://www.duke.edu/web/president/.

Nannerl Overholser Keohane

Nannerl Overholser Keohane

President, 1993-2004
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 at Duke. The successful $2 billion Campaign for Duke supported new scholarships, research, and academic programs, and helped 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. Duke also increased its collaboration with other universities in the Triangle area during her tenure.
H. Keith H. Brodie

H. Keith H. Brodie

President, 1985-1993
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.
  • Keeping an Open Door: Passages in a University Presidency by H. Keith H. Brodie. Duke University Press, 1996. (catalog record)
  • President Brodie’s presidential records are restricted for 25 years from the date of their creation. Contact the Duke University Archives for more information.

Terry Sanford

Terry Sanford

President, 1969-1985 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.
Douglas Maitland Knight

Douglas Maitland Knight

President, 1963-1969
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.
  • The Dancer and the Dance: One Man’s Chronicle, 1938-2001 by Douglas M. Knight. Separate Star, 2003. (catalog record)
  • Street of Dreams: The Nature and Legacy of the 1960s by Douglas M. Knight. Duke University Press, 1989. (catalog record)
  • Collection guide for Douglas M. Knight’s records at the Duke University Archives.

J. Deryl Hart

J. Deryl Hart

President, 1960-1963

Arthur Hollis Edens

Arthur Hollis Edens

President, 1949-1960
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, “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.
  • Collection guide for A. Hollis Edens’s records at the Duke University Archives.
  • Collection guide for A. Hollis Edens’s personal papers at the Duke University Archives.

Robert Lee FlowersRobert Lee Flowers

President, 1941-1948
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.
  • Collection guide for Robert L. Flowers’s records at the Duke University Archives.
  • Catalog record for Robert L. Flowers’s personal papers at the Rubenstein Library.

William Preston Few

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.” 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.

John Carlisle Kilgo

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.”
John Franklin Crowell

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.

Marquis Lafayette Wood

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, Duke might not be here today were it not for his leadership during the critical period following Craven’s death. When 19th 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.

Courtesy of Duke Libraries, http://www.library.duke.edu Please visit Duke Libraries for more information on the history of Duke presidents.