A native of Whiteville, North Carolina and graduate of what is now North Carolina Central University, Ida Stephens Owens entered Duke’s physiology Ph.D. program in fall 1962. She was among the first three African Americans to enroll in The Graduate School, which had been desegregated in 1961. In 1967, she became one of the first two African Americans—and the first Black woman—to receive their Ph.D. from Duke.
In 1981, her research program became a permanent section on drug biotransformation at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and Owens was named section chief. She later served as the head of the NICHD’s Section on Genetic Disorders of Drug Metabolism in the Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics. In 1992, she received the NIH Director’s Award.
Owens remained connected to Duke throughout her life. She served on the Trinity College Board of Visitors and the Women’s Studies Advisory Council and was a frequent speaker for alumni groups and students. The Duke Bouchet Society, which supports STEM graduate students from underrepresented groups, holds an annual dinner named after Owens in honor of her accomplishments as a scientist and as the first African American female to receive a Duke Ph.D.
In 2013, Owens was named the first recipient of The Graduate School’s Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2014, The Graduate School produced a documentary of her life and career. She passed away in February of this year.
This article is courtesy of The Graduate School.