Juanita Kreps is a story in female firsts.
In 1977, she became the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of Commerce. She was also the first woman to serve on the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange.
Before those accomplishments, Kreps earned her doctorate in economics from Duke in 1948. She returned to Duke as an economics instructor in 1955. In 1968, she became the last dean of the Woman's College, helping to oversee the merger of the women's and men's programs in 1972.
In 1972, she was the first woman to be appointed a James B. Duke Professor, the university's highest academic honor. The next year, she was named Duke's first female vice president.
“I first met Juanita Kreps when I was a Duke undergraduate and she was the dean of the Woman's College, and I asked whether she might take a minute to discuss my dream of pursuing a Ph.D.,” said Elizabeth H. Locke, president of The Duke Endowment. “Her response was, 'Yes, of course,' and her advice was so heartfelt and encouraging. She was a wonderful mentor, as she has been for countless individuals and institutions.”
Among other texts, Kreps wrote “Sex in the Marketplace: American Women at Work” about sex discrimination in the U.S. labor market.
“If there is one thing I could wish for you, it would be that you sense the freedom and be sensitive to the constraints that the forces of history throw in your lap,” Kreps said during a 1977 Commencement speech. “Because you face a different world, I would further hope that you feel uninhibited by the expectations of others, remembering that their notions of success or failure are not necessarily appropriate to your time and place.”