When Eleanor Duke died on November 1, 2013, the University of Texas at El Paso lost a piece of its history. Dr. Duke, Professor Emerita in Biology, taught at UTEP for over 35 years. Some of her students went on to become doctors, dentists, veterinarians, teachers, and research scientists. Many of them still have fond memories of the help and support she gave her students.
Eleanor Lyon came to UTEP in the 1930s to attend school when it was still called the Texas College of Mines. While attending school, she met Jack N. Duke, a history student, and a few months after Eleanor graduated in 1939 with a double major in Math and Biology, she and Jack married. After moving several times because of his jobs with the federal government, she went to graduate school in Austin at the University of Texas to earn a master’s degree while Jack was in Asia during WWII. In 1948, she and Jack moved back to El Paso, and she returned to the Texas College of Mines. She had worked at TCM before, first as a lab assistant to Dr. Anton Berkman while she was an undergraduate, then as an instructor. She taught biology and microbiology in uninterrupted years from 1948 until her retirement in 1985. Attending classes in summer and sandwiching in her research on weekends, she earned a doctorate from UT Austin in 1967.
Dr. Duke was an early and highly dedicated advocate of equal pay for women at UTEP, with a lawsuit that she initiated in 1979 being eventually accepted by the federal courts as a class action case. She was honored by the El Paso Women’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to science and science education. One of her most appreciated awards was as UTEP’s Outstanding Ex-Student in 1974. To read the issue of Nova Magazine with an extended article about her, go to http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/nova/14/ .
Even after her retirement, Dr. Duke remained an active member of the UTEP community. She volunteered at the Heritage Commission and took classes at the Center for Lifelong Learning. She had been a member of the faculty library committee when she was a professor, and later joined the Friends of the UTEP Library. She set up an endowment for the Library’s Special Collections Department in memory of her late husband, Jack N. Duke. She worked as a volunteer for the Special Collections, too, helping to create lists of wills in the El Paso County Records—an activity that meshed with her long interest in genealogy. Going out to lunch with Dr. Duke was like being with a celebrity. Her former students and other friends from the community would come to the table to greet her and even to thank her for the techniques they had learned in her classes. Dr. Duke will be missed.
Duke obituary, November 2, 2013, El Paso Times.
Smith, Jeannette, “Dr. Eleanor Duke Outstanding Ex.” Nova Magazine, September 1974.
Claudia Rivers is the head of the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned both her BA and MLIS degrees at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked at the Benson Latin American Collection there before coming to El Paso in 1992. Her interests include the history of the Southwest and Mexico, ancient Meso-America, and detective fiction.