Order of the White Duchy records, 1925-1968.

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Duke University. Order of the White Duchy
The Order of the White Duchy was a secret women's honorary at Duke University. The group was formed in May 1925 by the Order of the Red Friars, a secret men's honorary, to recognize members of the Woman's College of Duke University. The members of the Order of the White Duchy voluntarily disbanded the organization in 1968. Records include constitution, initiation ritual, minutes, correspondence, photographs, membership and alumnae lists, financial records, clippings, issues of the Lucky Number alumnae newsletter, and two scrapbooks. Major subjects within the collection are collaboration between student leaders and college administration and student opinions concerning sororities, social standards, and the honor code. Prominent members include Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, Margaret Taylor Smith, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Dorothy Newsom Rankin, and Dorothy Battle Rankin. English.
2.7 Linear Feet
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
31 -- Student/Campus Life
31 -- Student/Campus Life > 03 -- Student Organizations-Honorary and Recognition


Scope and content:

These records were created by the Order of the White Duchy in the course of 43 years of activities as a secret women's honorary at Duke University. Material is present for the years 1925 to 1968, although it is most copious in the 1950s and early 1960s, and consists chiefly of minutes and scrapbooks. There are no minutes for the years 1960-1961, 1961-1962, or 1964-1968. Records of any sort for the years 1964-1968 are limited to "Lucky Number" alumnae newsletters, some correspondence, and a study abroad pamphlet in the reference series. Physical types of materials include the constitution, minutes, correspondence, photographs, membership and alumnae lists, a cloth-bound volume of financial records, alumnae newsletters, clippings, reports, pamphlets, and two large scrapbooks. The scrapbook materials consist of photographs, correspondence, clippings, and one artifact, a fabric crown belonging to Mary (Eskridge) King, class of 1925 and founding member.

The history and activities of the order were kept secret from the student body and much of the faculty and administration. A history, copy of the constitution, and the initiation ritual are preserved in the order's records. The minutes detail the operations and projects of the Duchy, and also contain information on student life and opinion. Financial records show the expenditures of the order for the given years. Correspondence relates mainly to Homecoming Breakfasts, although there is some important information related to integration, and to alumnae post-graduation activities and life. White Duchy Organization records include the "Lucky Number" alumnae newsletter and existed mainly to keep members informed of campus activities of current members and of alumnae doings. Project folders relate to undertakings of the order that may or may not be mentioned in the minutes. Reference folders contain materials not produced by White Duchy, but which its members either found interesting or useful in their other activities, or which they felt White Duchy should be acquainted with. The scrapbooks contain information about members' activities during the year they were active, and also updates about work and family life after graduation. The scrapbooks are divided by school year, each member having a page for donated items, letters, and photographs.

White Duchy worked within student activities and government to influence policies and bring about campus improvements. They seem to have been fairly important to Deans Alice Baldwin and Florence Brinkley of the Woman's College as a means of discovering and influencing student opinion. White Duchy met and communicated over the years with many university administrative officials such as Herbert Herring, Alan Manchester, Mary Ellen Huckabee, Mary Grace Wilson, Anne Garrard, Robert Flowers, William Allen Tyree, Douglas Knight, Hollis Edens, and Paul Gross. One of the research strengths of this collection is the evidence of interaction and in some cases collaboration between the leaders of the university and the leaders of the student body, and the opinions of both that can be found on issues such as integration and desegregation, sororities, social standards (student life regulations), overseas programs, and the honor code, among others. For material related to integration and desegregation see particularly Minutes 1962-1963, and Correspondence related to the "Lucky Number" of March 15, 1963. Duchy members were very involved in campus elections, and in some cases appear to have decided amongst themselves which girls should be appointed to certain positions or should run for a particular office. There is little evidence that the White Duchy and the Red Friars worked in concert on many issues, and interaction between these two groups seems mainly limited to social functions.

Members of White Duchy were student leaders and held leadership positions in the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Judicial Board, dormitories, Women's Student Government Association (WSGA), class offices, Social Standards Committee, the Chronicle, and so on, during their senior year. Members had been involved in student government and activities since their arrival on campus in such organizations as Freshman Advisory Council (FAC), Sandals and other honoraries, sororities, publications, and Hoof'n'Horn. Members of particular note are Mary (Biddle) Semans, class of 1939; Margaret (Taylor) Smith, class of 1947; and Elizabeth (Hanford) Dole, class of 1958. Dorothy (Newsom) Rankin of the class of 1933 was the first member to have a daughter honored by membership in the order: Dorothy Battle Rankin, class of 1959.

Achievements of White Duchy are the establishment of the senior women's honorary Phi Kappa Delta in 1944-1945; helping to establish a campus and university honor code; organization of a White Duchy alumnae group and newsletter; campus improvements such as paths, benches, restroom improvements, trashcans; improvement of East-West Campus relations; working for integration and desegregation particularly in 1962-1963; and influencing major student and to some extent university policies such as the cut system, drinking rules, sorority evaluations, "Who's Who", and Mortar Board honor society. The White Duchy was a very social organization and held many dinners, parties, and cabin weekends away both for themselves and for alumnae. The seven members of each year held an alumnae breakfast on every Homecoming Weekend, and stayed in touch with the majority of alumnae. The seven members of a given year tended to be close friends, and referred to each other as "ducks" or "ducklings" and to their secret campus office as "the pond." Evidence of daily student life and opinion is present throughout the minutes particularly, and is another area important for research.

White Duchy was voluntarily disbanded in 1968 because its then members objected to the secrecy and elitism of the organization. They felt it was no longer representative of campus leaders and was doing more harm than good due to its selective nature. The order has never been reestablished at Duke University. See article from the Chronicle of May 3, 1968 in History, 1925-1968, and also various discussions of the role of the order and problems of secrecy in the minutes of the 1950s and 1960s.

Biographical / historical:

The Order of the White Duchy was founded in May of 1925 by the secret senior men's honorary the Order of the Red Friars. They chose seven women whom they felt were the most outstanding members of the class of 1925 to organize a similar organization, although it was not to be a sister organization. From 1925 on, new members were chosen, or "tapped" into the order, by the seven members of the White Duchy from the previous year. New members were chosen based on their character, qualities of leadership, and outstanding service to the university. The tapping ceremony was held first at the last meeting of the Student Government Association of the Woman's College, and later during the final Class Night of the school year. Although the student body knew of its existence and who its members were, the activities and projects of the order were secret. The only public notice given to the organization by its members was the wearing of a white carnation on one day of each month. Officers consisted of Grand Duchess (President), Petit Duchess (Vice President), Custodian of the Records (Secretary) and Custodian of the Funds (Treasurer). Its members voluntarily disbanded the order in 1968 because it was felt to be too elitist and no longer representative of the leaders of the Woman's College or the university.

Acquisition information:
The records were received as transfers in 1968 and 2001 (Accession numbers: 68-348 and A2001-16).
Processing information:

Minutes were removed from damaged books and divided into folders by class year. Original fasteners were removed from correspondence and other records and replaced with stainless fasteners. It appears that some processing had been previously done, particularly in correspondence. All material was ordered chronologically even when divided into subject categories. White Duchy Organization materials were removed from their original binder due to rust and placed in acid-free folders. Scrapbooks were interleaved with bond or glassine paper to prevent more acid transfer and to protect the contents. As many photographs as possible were enclosed in Mylar sleeves for protection. All records except scrapbooks were rehoused in acid-free folders.

Processed by Sarah Nerney, June 1999

Encoded by Joshua McKim, December 2002

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult Duke University Archives.
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Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

When the records were accessioned by the library in August of 1968, a restriction of 25 years was placed on them. This restriction expired in 1993 and the records are now open.

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Copyright for official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Order of the White Duchy Records, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.