Four New Trinity Professorships Honor Duke Trailblazers

Collage of four black and white images of Distinguished Professorships namesakes
Samuel DuBois Cook (top left), Ida Stephens Owens (top right), Hertha Sponer (bottom left) and Frank Wall (bottom right)

Four new distinguished professorships carrying the names of celebrated individuals from Duke’s history have been created in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

The honorary titles — also called distinguished chairs — are awarded to faculty whose work has been transformative by reshaping thinking in a field or opening up a new area of scholarship. The new distinguished professorships are:

  • The Samuel DuBois Cook Arts & Sciences Professorship: Cook was the first African American to be appointed to a regular-rank, tenured faculty position at Duke when he joined the Department of Political Science in 1966.
  • The Ida Stephens Owens Professorship: Owens was one of the first three African American graduate students at Duke, enrolling in a program in Physiology. In 1967, she became the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Duke.
  • The Hertha Sponer Professorship: Sponer was a distinguished scientist, arriving at Duke in 1936 after having been dismissed from her faculty position in Germany due to the Nazis’ rise to power. She played a central role in establishing the Department of Physics.
  • The Frank Wall Professorship: Wall moved with Trinity College from Randolph County to Durham in 1892 and worked as a staff member for over 60 years. In his will, he bequeathed $100 to Duke for improving relations between Black and white people.

With these distinguished professorships — reserved for our most accomplished faculty — we proudly recognize an extraordinary collection of individuals," said Gary G. Bennett, dean of Trinity College. “Each of these trailblazers significantly advanced Trinity and Duke's mission, exemplifying the excellence we all strive to achieve.

The new professorships were approved during the May meeting of the Duke Board of Trustees. A list of all distinguished chairs currently held by Duke faculty is available on the website for the Office of the Provost.