Semans family papers, 1878-2008 and undated
Using These Materials
- Access to the materials will be consistent with the 1991 agreement between the Library, James H. Semans and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. Access to any correspondence, legal papers, and...
- Semans family
- Collection consists of correspondence, financial papers, legal papers, writings and speeches, scrapbooks, photographs, films, audio tapes, and other materials reflecting the philanthropic, financial, cultural and social activities of the Semans family and other wealthy families in North Carolina and New York. A major focus is the interrelationship of the Semans family with the Biddle, Duke, and Trent families. Additionally, the papers document the roles of Mary Duke Biddle, James H. Semans and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans have taken in the development and support of arts and educational programs throughout North Carolina. To a lesser degree, the papers reflect women in politics and childcare issues during the early 20th century.
- 76.2 Linear Feet
- Collection ID:
- Scope and Content:
The papers of the Semans family span the years 1878 to 2008. The collection consists of four large sub-collections: the Mary Duke Biddle Family Papers, the James H. Semans Family Papers, the James H. and Mary D.B.T. Semans Family Papers, and the Elizabeth Lucina Gotham Family Papers. There are also series for films, oversize materials, and later additions.
Through files of correspondence, financial papers, legal papers, writings and speeches, scrapbooks, photographs, films, audio tapes, and other materialsThe collection reflects the philanthropic, financial, cultural, and social activities of the Semans family. Major areas of focus are the personal and social relationships of the Semans family with the Biddle, Duke, and Trent, and other wealthy families from North Carolina, New York, and elsewhere. Additionally, the papers document the roles Mary Duke Biddle, James H. Semans, and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans have taken in the development and support of arts and educational programs throughout North Carolina. To a lesser degree, the papers reflect on women in politics and childcare during the early twentieth century.
Individuals represented include Mary Duke Biddle (daughter of Benjamin Duke), Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Nicholas Benjamin Duke Biddle, Angier Biddle Duke, Angier Buchanan Duke, Benjamin Newton Duke, Sarah Pearson Angier Duke, Elizabeth Lucina Gotham, and Josiah Charles Trent as well as other members of the Duke, Biddle, Trent, and Semans families. Political, arts, and educational leaders are also represented.
Subject areas represented include: families in the late 19th and 20th centuries; the arts in North Carolina and other cities; charities, particularly in North Carolina; childcare and women in nursing; The Duke Endowment; Duke University and other universities and colleges; the North Carolina School of the Arts; education; genealogy of the four families; personal finances; philanthropy; the history of Durham, NC, and its politics and social life; vocational rehabilitation; and the Methodist church, particularly in NC.
The 25 16mm film reels in the collection are chiefly children's cartoons from the 1930s-1940s, but there are also wartime newsreels and a few films for adults, some as early as 1916-1917, and some travel film. Audio tapes consist chiefly of personal family recordings, a set of memoirs dictated onto cassettes in 1977 by Mary D.B.T. Semans, and music performances.
Some portions of the collection are restricted or closed to use; please consult this collection guide for details before coming to use these materials.
For additional collections of Duke family papers, see the Washington Duke Papers, the Benjamin Newton Duke Papers, and the James B. Duke Papers. For further information on the contributions of the Duke family to Duke University, contact the Duke University Archives.
- Biographical / Historical:
Mary Duke Biddle Date Event 1887, Nov. 16 Born, Durham, N.C. 1907 A.B., Trinity College, Durham, N.C. ca. 1914 Presented at the Court of St. James, London, England 1915, June 16 Married Anthony J. Drexel Biddle (divorced 1931) 1931 Presented Duke Homestead to Duke University 1936 Supported expansion of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke University 1946 Supported expansion of the Duke University Library, including its Rare Book Room 1956 Established Mary Duke Biddle Foundation 1960, June 1 Died, Durham, N.C. James H. Semans Date Event 1910, May 30 Born, Uniontown, Pa. 1928 Graduated, Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, N.J. 1932 A.B., Princeton University 1936 M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine 1936-1943 Medical resident: Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md.; St. Mary's Hospital, Pierre, S.D.; Ancker Hospital, St. Paul, Minn. 1944-1946 U.S. Army, various stateside military base hospitals 1947-1953 Private practice in urology, Atlanta, Ga. 1953, Oct. 17 Married Mary Duke Biddle Trent 1953-1980 Duke University Medical Center, (Assoc. Professor of Urology 1953-1960, Professor 1960-1980, Emeritus 1980- ) 1954-1963 Duke University Medical Center, Rehabilitation Program 1964-1981 North Carolina School of the Arts, Board of Trustees, Chairman (Honorary Trustee 1981- ) 1964- North Carolina School of the Arts Foundation, Inc., ex-officio Chairman
Dr. Semans's extensive commitment to the areas of vocational and physical rehabilitation began while he was in the Army and developed into an interest in local, state, and national programs. He served on the boards of the United Medical Research Foundation of North Carolina (1956); the National Rehabilitation Association, N.C. Chapter (1955-1958) [Life Member of the national organization]; the National Paraplegia Foundation (1955-1972); the Board of Directors of Operation Breakthrough [a Durham vocational rehabilitation program] (1965-1967); and the Governor's Executive Committee on Employment of the Handicapped (1965-1971). He was named Mary Switzer Scholar at New York University in 1984. He lectured worldwide on the subject of urology.
The primary institutional focus of Dr. Semans's support of the arts is the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., and activities extending from that commitment, including the promotion of artists of all types. His position with the school involves him in many other arts-related activities including the North Carolina Arts Council (1982?). Dr. Semans was a trustee of Louisburg and Warren Wilson colleges and is on the Board of Trustees of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation (1960-).
Many organizations have recognized Dr. Semans's achievements with awards. These include the National Conference of Christians and Jews National Brotherhood Award (1969); the North Carolina Award for Significant Contributions to the Arts (1972); and the North Carolina Society Award (1986). Each of these awards was received jointly with Mary D.B.T. Semans.
Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Date Event 1920, Feb. 21 Born, New York City, N.Y. 1938, June 24 Married Josiah Charles Trent (died Dec. 1948) 1939 A.B., Duke University (diploma received 1951) 1951-1955 Durham City Council member 1953, Oct. 17 Married James H. Semans 1960- The Duke Endowment (Trustee 1960-1970, Vice-Chairman 1970-1981, Chairman 1982- ) 1960- Mary Duke Biddle Foundation (Chairman 1960-1983) 1961-1981 Duke University Board of Trustees (Emeritus 1981- ) 1981-1985 (?) North Carolina School of the Arts, Board of Trustees
Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans lived her early years in Tarrytown and New York City, N.Y. She attended the Hewitt School in New York. She moved to Durham, N.C., in 1934. After marrying physician Josiah Charles Trent, she moved between Michigan and Durham while Dr. Trent participated in several hospital residency programs. They returned to Durham around 1947 when Dr. Trent established the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Duke University Hospital.
Mary D.B.T. Semans is active in administrative development and academic and artistic programs of Duke University and is on the Board of The Duke Endowment. Since the 1950s Mrs. Semans served on boards of numerous civic, academic, and social welfare organizations in Durham and the state of North Carolina. She was Durham Mayor Pro-Tem (1953-1955) and President of Durham Homes, Inc. (1968). She served on the North Carolina Museum of Art Committee (1961-1983); the Executive Mansion Fine Arts Committee [Chairman] (1965-); and the North Carolina Symphony Board of Trustees (1972-1983).
In the area of vocational rehabilitation, Mrs. Semans served on the National Advisory Council on Vocational Rehabilitation (1961-1965); the National Citizens Advisory Commission on Vocational Rehabilitation (1966) [appointed by President Johnson]; the Governor's Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation [Chairman] (1967-1969); and the Special National Subcommittee on Vocational Rehabilitation (1968).
She was a trustee of several colleges and universities including Louisburg (1959-1965), Shaw (1962-1974), Converse (1964-1967), and Davidson, and a member of various boards of visitors and committees of other educational institutions, including Wake Forest University. She received honorary degrees from universities and colleges including North Carolina Central (1963), Elon (1965), Campbell (1971), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1977), Davidson (1980), Pfeiffer (1984), and North Carolina Wesleyan (1982).
Many organizations have recognized Mrs. Semans's achievements with awards. These include the National Conference of Christians and Jews National Brotherhood Award (1969); the North Carolina Award for Significant Contributions to the Arts (1972); and the North Carolina Society Award (1986). These awards were received jointly with James H. Semans. She also received the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry Citation for Distinguished Public Service (1984) and the North Carolina Distinguished Service Award for Women (1985). Duke University presented her the Distinguished Alumni Award (1986) and the University Medal for Meritorious Service (1986).
Elizabeth Lucina Gotham Date Event 1887 Born, Pierpoint, N.Y. ca. 1912 Graduated as nurse from St. Margaret's Baby Hospital, Albany, N.Y. ca. 1917-1920 Baby nurse for families and in a hospital [St. Christopher's?], Brooklyn, N.Y. 1920, Oct. 25 Employed by Biddle family as baby nurse for Mary Duke Biddle (Trent Semans), New York, N.Y. 1968 Died, Durham, N.C.
- Acquisition Information:
- The Semans Family Papers were donated to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library by James Hustead and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans beginning in 1969 through 2017. Additional material received from Mary Trent Jones in 2021. The collection includes the papers of Mary Duke Biddle and Elizabeth Lucina Gotham. Funds from The Duke Endowment supported the processing of the collection.
- Processing information:
Processed by Madeleine Bagwell Perez and Donna Longo DiMichele, April 1991
Encoded by Alvin Pollock
Updates for additions to the collection: 2009, 2010, 2016, and 2017.
Updated by Leah Tams, December 2021.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
Methodist Church -- North Carolina
Arts -- North Carolina
Charities -- North Carolina
Childcare -- 20th century
Education -- North Carolina
Families -- United States -- 19th century
Families -- United States -- 20th century
Millionaires -- North Carolina
Philanthropists -- North Carolina
Social history -- 19th century
Social history -- 20th century
Universities and colleges -- North Carolina
Women in public life -- North Carolina
Women in politics -- North Carolina
Gelatin silver prints
North Carolina School of the Arts
Duke, Angier Buchanan, 1884-1923
Gotham, Elizabeth Lucina, 1887-1968
Semans, James H.
Semans, Mary Duke Biddle Trent
Duke, Angier Biddle, 1915-1995
Duke, Sarah Pearson Angier, 1856-1936
Biddle, Nicholas Benjamin Duke, 1921-
Biddle, Mary Duke, 1887-1960
Biddle, Anthony Joseph Drexel, 1896-1961
Duke, Benjamin N. (Benjamin Newton)
Trent, Josiah C. (Josiah Charles), 1914-1948
Durham (N.C.) -- Politics and government
Durham (N.C.) -- Social conditions
New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs
Using These Materials
Access to the materials will be consistent with the 1991 agreement between the Library, James H. Semans and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. Access to any correspondence, legal papers, and financial papers is restricted and will be permitted only with prior written permission. Written permission should be sought from the chairperson of the board of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation. This restriction shall be in place until January 1, 2027 and after that date all materials shall be considered open for research and will not require any prior permissions.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
The copyright interests in the papers of the Semans family have not been transferred to Duke University.
- BEFORE YOU VISIT:
- Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
[Identification of item], Semans family papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.