Baldwin, Alice M. (Alice Mary), 1879-1960

Alternative names
Birth 1879-01-24
Death 1960

Biographical notes:

Alice Mary Baldwin (1879-1960) was a professor of history and administrator at the Woman's College of Duke University for almost 25 years. She researched and published widely, made many speeches, and served as a national advocate for women's education.

From the description of Alice M. Baldwin papers, 1863-1961. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 57225796

[This biography was written by the Historical Society of North Carolina after the death of Alice Mary Baldwin in 1960.]

Miss Baldwin was the eldest of the five children of the Reverend Fritz Walter and Sarah Bingham Lyman Baldwin. She was born on January 24, 1879, at Lewiston, Maine, where her father was head of the Latin School. Within a year her family moved to Massachusetts, and when she was nine years of age her father accepted the pastorate of the Trinity Congregational Church in East Orange, New Jersey, which he served until his retirement in 1915. Coming from a long line of Congregational ministers and educators, she grew up in a family environment of strong religious, moral, and educational principles.

Following her graduation from a private school in East Orange, Miss Baldwin entered Bates College in 1896, the Alma Mater of her father, and won the first prize of her class for scholarship. After one year there she transferred to Cornell University, where she earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1900, with a major in history. During the next two years she was a graduate student and assistant in history at Cornell. After receiving her master's degree there in June, 1902, she went on a traveling fellowship to Europe for study at the Sorbonne and research in Sweden. She also spent time in Germany and England. The subject of her master's thesis had been, "Gustavus III of Sweden: A Study in Enlightened Despotism."

In December, 1903 she began teaching French, German, and English at the Glen Ridge (New Jersey) High School. The following September she went to Fargo College, Fargo, North Dakota, as Dean of Women and Instructor in History. In addition she also taught German and American literature. She remained there only two years, going in 1906 to the Baldwin School at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, as Instructor of History. In 1912 she was appointed head of the Department of History, and economics was added to her teaching schedule. During these years she also studied in the graduate schools of Bryn Mawr College, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania, and the Teachers College of Columbia University.

She remained at the Baldwin School until 1921, when she took a leave of absence and entered the University of Chicago to study toward the doctor's degree. She was a fellow in history, and since she was specializing under Professor Andrew C. McLaughlin, she was his assistant. Her second year there she was president of the Graduate Club.

In 1923 Miss Baldwin went as Acting Dean of Women to Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, for the summer. She had been given an assistantship in the history department of the University of Chicago for the coming year which involved teaching. While she was at Trinity President Few invited her to accept the position of Dean of Women and Assistant Professor of History. Professor McLaughlin would have preferred that she become a permanent member of the history department at Chicago, but since he saw no possibility of a woman being added to the department in the foreseeable future, he encouraged her to accept President Few's offer. She worked out an arrangement with the University of Chicago whereby she might return to Trinity after teaching there only one semester on her assistant-ship. It was in January, 1924, therefore, that she assumed her duties as Dean of Women and began teaching history to two classes of freshman women. She was the first woman to have full faculty status at Trinity College.

When she left Chicago she had only to finish her dissertation, which was on the New England clergy and the American Revolution. This she did in time to graduate in June, 1926. Her degree was awarded magna cum laude.

In December after Miss Baldwin returned to Trinity, James B. Duke signed the indenture which provided for the expansion of that college into a major university. There was to be a co-ordinate college for women among the several colleges to comprise Duke University. In 1926 Miss Baldwin was named Dean of the Woman's College, a post she held until she retired in 1947. As dean it was her responsibility to help launch and administer the college, and to her much credit is due for the high academic and social standards which it has maintained.

Feeling that the position of a dean was strengthened by class-room and faculty connection, Miss Baldwin continued to teach a section of the introductory course in history for a number of years. Finally, however, her other responsibilities made it necessary for her to give up teaching altogether.

In addition to her duties on the campus, Miss Baldwin held numerous offices in national, state, and local organizations. Some of these organizations were: the National Association of Deans of Women, the North Carolina Association of Deans, the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the North Carolina Art Society, and the North Carolina Vocational Guidance Association. She was on the Durham Advisory Council of the North Carolina Unemployment Compensation Committee, the Advisory Committee of the Southern Summer School for Workers, and a director of the Alliance for the Guidance of Rural Youth. During the second World War she served with seven other distinguished women educators of the United States on the Educational Advisory Council which worked with the Bureau of Naval Personnel in organizing and directing the WAVES. She was a member of several honorary organizations other than Phi Beta Kappa, and of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames. Her professional memberships also included the American Historical Association and the National Education Association.

One of Miss Baldwin's strong interests was the Historical Society of North Carolina. She was a member of the group which revived and reorganized the Society in the fall of 1945. As stated earlier, she served as its first president after the reorganization and her tactful, energetic leadership was in no small way responsible for the successful rejuvenation of this ancient and venerable body. Her presidential address on New Light Presbyterianism delivered at Greensboro College in the fall of 1946 was a model of scholarly effort and lucid presentation. Perhaps no member of the Society was more conscientious and regular in attending meetings than she, and probably no one attended with more enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Her writings include: The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, "The Clergy of Connecticut in Revolutionary Days," "The Development and Place of the Co-ordinate College," "College Bound," and "The Woman's College As I Remember It," and contributions to various magazines and to an unpublished history of the North Carolina State Division of the A.A.U.W. At the time of her death she had almost completed a study of what women were reading in the American Colonies before 1750.

As a tribute to her work in promoting higher education for women, and in recognition of her many other achievements, the Class of 1943 of the Woman's College established the annual Alice M. Baldwin Scholarship Fund. In 1946 she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws by the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, and two years after she retired Duke University bestowed the same honor upon her. In 1958 she was presented the ninth annual North Carolina Distinguished Service Award for Women by the chapter of the Chi Omega sorority at the University of North Carolina.

Except for the first year and half of her retirement, Miss Baldwin spent the remainder of her life in Durham. She continued to work as much as her health would permit in a number of the organizations with which she was affiliated. She was also active in research and writing. It was during this period that she wrote the history of the Woman's College.

Two days after her death memorial services were conducted in the Duke Chapel by her pastor, Dr. Kelsey Regen of the First Presbyterian Church (there was no Congregational church in Durham when she went there), and by her friend of many years, Dr. Hersey E. Spence, Professor Emeritus of the Duke Divinity School. Her ashes were placed in the family plot at Lenox, Massachusetts. In the memories of countless students, associates, and friends, Miss Baldwin will continue to live as a woman of gracious dignity, unquestioned integrity, and superior intellect, and characterized by a strong sense of duty, a compassion for mankind, a fine appreciation of spiritual and artistic values, and an ardent love of life and nature.

From the guide to the Alice Mary Baldwin Papers, ., 1863 - 1961, (University Archives, Duke University)


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  • Women college administrators
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  • Women in higher education
  • Vocational guidance
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  • North Carolina (as recorded)
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