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Durham Tobacco Heiress Dies at 91

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, heiress to a Gilded Age fortune created by tobacco and member of the family that endowed Duke University, died Wednesday at Duke Hospital according to her daughter. She was 91.

Semans was the great-granddaughter of Washington Duke, a confederate soldier who returned home after the Civil War and planted tobacco. With his sons, he helped build the worldwide popularity of cigarettes and later endowed the small Methodist college that became Duke University.

Semans was a patron of the arts and charities, as well as a crusader for equal rights for women. She was elected to the Durham City Council in the 1950s and was a trustee at Duke University for 20 years.

A funeral service is planned for 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30 at Duke Chapel.


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