Edit-a-thon to Share Stories of Influential Duke Women

Event pairs Wikipedia editing with important Duke history

In 1929, Rose May Davis (center) became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Duke University. She earned her degree in chemistry just one year after Duke started awarding doctorates. Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

Mary Duke Lyon, the only daughter of Washington Duke, was said to be a pivotal player in bringing Trinity College, which would later be named Duke University in 1924, to Durham.

There is no Wikipedia article about her, but an upcoming Duke Wikipedia Edit-a-thon is hoping to change that by bringing women together and inspiring them to add to Duke women's history online.

The "Women at Duke Wikipedia Edit-a-thon" March 20 is part of the 25th-anniversary celebration of Duke University Libraries' Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture. Women will have the opportunity to learn about Wikipedia editing techniques and join the global goal of increasing the number of female editors and articles about women on the free encyclopedia website.

Only about 10 percent of Wikipedia editors are women, said Kelly Wooten, research services and collection development librarian at the Sallie Bingham Center.

Librarians are encouraging people to bring their laptops and, over dinner, learn how to contribute objective and verifiable articles to Wikipedia. Event organizers have created a list of influential Duke women who have yet to be recognized on the site.

"It kind of comes down to, 'Have you heard of them or have they made significant contributions in the field?'" Wooten said. "... Having those entries have a Duke connection I think is important to the Duke community, to acknowledge and honor the contributions of women at Duke and draw attention to the importance of the University Archives and the Sallie Bingham Center."

Bridget Booher, associate editor of Duke Magazine, will speak at the event about her new book, "Women at Duke Illustrated," which was published in February and goes into the history of female movers and shakers at Duke from 1838 to the present. The list of potential Wikipedia articles draws in part from the women included in Booher's book.

Booher said she considers her book a starting point for more people to gain interest in learning about influential Duke women, such as Rose May Davis, the first woman to get her Ph.D. (in chemistry) at Duke in 1929, and the university's newly appointed provost, Sally Kornbluth.

"There are remarkable women who helped change Duke, and there are ordinary women who helped change Duke through what they did," Booher said.

She added that the take-away from the Edit-a-thon event, and from history, is that women have worked together to make Duke a stronger institution.

For example, black female housekeepers insisted on ironing the clothes of Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of the first five black undergraduates to enroll at Duke in 1963, so that she could study rather than worry about her attire. The housekeepers said that by her going to Duke, Reuben-Cooke was helping move black women forward.

"She did this on her own, yes," Booher said. "But she also had people helping her along the way, including women whose names we may never know."