The Unsung Heroine Award recognizes a woman who has demonstrated extraordinary dedication to issues that face women at Duke or in the larger community, but whose efforts have not received formal recognition.
2010 Award Winner: Mary Earle Chase
Life at Duke for women was very different when Mary Earle attended, from 1963 to 1967. At that time, women students lived separately on the East Campus and were subject to a number of regulations not applied to male students: Women had to wear skirts or dresses (no pants, except during exams); there were strict weeknight and weekend curfews; and women could not visit a man’s room or off-campus residence. Though she began Duke as a “typical sorority girl” (Kappa Kappa Gamma), by 1966 she became an activist involved in Civil Rights demonstrations, anti-Vietnam war activities, and the growing Student Power Movement. As President of the Women’s Student Government (WSGA), Mary championed getting rid of the “double standard” of rules for men and women on campus as well as creating a “unified student government” that would give students more say in the policies of the administration.
Dr. Wesley Kort, her nominator, wrote, "Mary was an impressive speaker and provided effective leadership in the liberation of undergraduate women. She had a strong and positive impact because she was intelligent, articulate, and energetic in her leadership. In addition, as a native of Greensboro, she was familiar with the dominant Southern culture at Duke, with its construction of women and their social and cultural roles. I have often thought, over the years, that she did not receive the kind of recognition she deserved, and I am hoping that this is a chance to rectify that injustice.”
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1967, Mary received her M.A.T. from Harvard University and then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. There she continued to live and work at the forefront of movements for social change, environmental sustainability, and spiritual awakening. In the past four decades, her varied careers – which included educational research, high school and college teaching, psychotherapy, life coaching, writing, and media production – have all related to her life mission of inspiring and empowering people to love themselves, love each other, and love the planet. She is the author of three books and wrote and produced a number of documentary films. In 1993, she and her husband and two sons moved to the island of Kauai where she produced a series of conferences on environmental sustainability. Since returning to the Bay Area in 2005, Mary has been working with The Pachamama Alliance, writing and producing video for the Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium. The Symposium is an educational experience offered worldwide to enable people to contribute to a new global vision of equity and sustainability for all. Mary’s passions include dancing and being in nature, both of which she enjoys with John Tyler, a kinetic sculptor who is her life partner.