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Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, American heiress and philanthropist, died she was 91

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans  was an American heiress and philanthropist died she was 91.. She was the great grand-daughter of tobacco industrialist and Duke University benefactor Washington Duke. She herself was a major benefactor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

(February 21, 1920 – January 25, 2012)


Semans was born Mary Duke Biddle on February 21, 1920 to Mary Lillian
Duke and Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr. Her father was the former U.S.
Ambassador to Poland and Spain. Semans was raised in Manhattan, where she attended the Hewitt School in New York.[3]
At the age of 14, she moved to Durham, North Carolina to live with her
grandmother, Sarah P. Duke. At the age of 15, she enrolled at Duke
University’s Woman’s College, graduating in 1939.[4]
While at Duke, she met Josiah Charles Trent, a Duke medical student
and future surgeon and chief of Duke Hospital’s division of thoracic
surgery. Semans and Trent married in 1938 and had four children. Ten
years later, Trent died of lymphoma at the age of 34.[5]
In 1953, she married James Semans, a Duke surgeon. The couple had three children. James Semans died in 2005.[6]


In 1951, she became the first woman to be elected to the Durham City Council. She went on to serve as the city’s mayor pro tem from 1952 to 1955.[7] In 1957, she became a trustee of The Duke Endowment, and was its chairman from 1982 to 2001. She also served on the board of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and was on the board of trustees for Duke University.[8][9]

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