Remembering Dukie

July 19th, 2010
On a recent visit to Brown with my family, I must have sounded like a guide on an old-fashioned Hollywood bus tour of the stars' homes. This time the star was not Elizabeth Taylor, but Elizabeth Leduc '48 PhD, or Dukie, as she was best known ("Brown's First Female Biology Professor," Obituaries, May/June).

I pointed out Partridge Hall, where I did cell biology research for two years with Dr. Leduc; the bar where she introduced me to my first shot of Jack Daniels (her favorite drink, and, yes, that was legal then!); and the building where she taught me histology during my freshman year. So it was with great sadness and irony that I returned home to read Professor Peter Heywood's eulogy to this remarkable woman in the BAM. Dukie loved life and was a major reason I loved Brown. This special teacher, who became my mentor, never lost her cool and commanded respect while maintaining a level of informality unusual for a professor of her era.

Dukie was responsible for teaching me to think critically, to tackle scientific research as an undergraduate, and to experience living in a different culture while I did research in France with her for two summers. A gourmand, Dr. Leduc introduced me there to such culinary delights as lapin and maigret de canard, which we washed down with glasses of eau de vie.

Dr. Leduc followed my career through medical school, and afterwards we met at least once or twice a month just to shoot the breeze. We exchanged letters and holiday cards throughout the years, but these did not replace her warm smile and hearty laugh. It is my honor to celebrate the life of this special woman and the role she played in my life. It was her joie de vivre that has inspired me to live life to its fullest.

Scott Ingber '82, '85 MD
Greenlawn, N.Y.


Editor Norman Boucher adds: Among the responses the BAM received about Professor Peter Heywood's Farewell to Elizabeth Leduc was a phone call from Dorothy Webb '38, who remembered taking a biology class as an undergraduate during the 1930s from a Miss Wilder. How could Professor Leduc have been Brown's first female biology professor if Miss Wilder had preceded her by more than a decade?

Ms. Webb sent us scrambling to the archives. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, decorum apparently required that biology courses be taught to women by women. Miss Wilder turns out to be Magel Wilder '19, who became one of the most prominent of these instructors. Wilder taught biology from 1921 to 1947 and was promoted to assistant professor of biology (which means Leduc was indeed the first woman to become a full biology professor).

But there's more to the story. Ms. Wilder also played an early role in women's rights at Brown. In 1927 she and a fellow alumna wrote to the Corporation urging that women be allowed to become trustees. Not surprisingly, the Corporation harrumphed, decreeing in its reply that "the time had not arrived for the election of a woman to membership." The first woman, in fact, was not elected to the Corporation until 1949, twenty-two years later and two years after Wilder had left Brown.

Thank you, Dorothy Webb, for bringing Magel Wilder to our attention and for prompting us to grant her the recognition she has long deserved.

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July/August 2010