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Dr. James Hustead Semans and Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Collection

Identifier: MC-0006

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of papers created by Dr. James Hustead Semans and Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans during their involvement with the North Carolina School of the Arts’ Board of Trustees and International Music Program. The papers contain speeches, presentation scripts, and correspondence from the Semans as well as meeting minutes and reports from the Board of Trustees regarding the organization and operations of the school.


  • 1964-2001


Conditions Governing Access

This collection has not been fully processed and requires advanced notice for access. For information about access to this collection, contact the Archives ( Please be advised that preparing unprocessed materials for access can be a lengthy process.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Archives collections may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information which is protected under federal or state privacy laws, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina School of the Arts assume no responsibility.

Biographical / Historical

Dr. James ‘Jim’ Hustead Semans, born in 1910, was a urologist at Duke University Medical School when North Carolina Governor, Terry Sanford, named him Chairmen of the first Board of Trustees at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He served for 17 years, the maximum term set by the University, and was names a Trustee Emeritus for his service. Dr. Semans also served as president of the North Carolina Society for Crippled Children and Adults, on the Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped, and as a member of the North Carolina State Arts Council. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, born in 1912, was a well-known philanthropist, sometimes called ‘the unofficial First Lady of North Carolina’. She was a recipient of the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, and was one of the first women elected to Durham’s City Council. She and Dr. Semans were married in 1953. Both served on the board of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, a charitable foundation created by and named for Mary’s mother, and the NCSA Board of Trustees. Together they established three endowment funds at the school: the Student Creative Arts Fund, the Foreign Art Study Fund, and the Semans Art Fund. A bust of Dr. Semans was installed at the North Carolina School of the Arts on December 5, 1981, and dedicated by Tom Kenan. The Semans Building, previously Semans Library, is named in their honor. The Semans were deeply involved with the Sienna Summer Session, which later grew into the International Music Program (IMP). After Vittorio Giannini’s sudden death in 1966, Dr. And Mrs. Semans stepped in to continue negotiations with the Italian government and the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in order to establish the program. Dr. Semans worked closely with IMP conductors, including Giorgio Ciompi, Nicholas Harsanyi, Robert Hickok, and Serge Zehnaker, to facilitate the programs from 1967 to the final tour in 2002. Dr. Semans wrote two books based on the international programs he helped establish; “Siena - Six Summers of Music”, published in 1973, and its sequel, “Distant Melodies”, published in 1992. Dr. Semans passed away on April 21, 2005, and Mary Semans passed away on January 25, 2012.


15.88 Linear Feet (12 document boxes, 7 record center boxes)

Language of Materials



Materials have been grouped together in six series and arranged chronologically within each series.

Series 1 is comprised of biographical information, awards, and speeches. Also included are family photographs and essays written by James Semans.

Series 2 includes correspondence with the Board of Trustees, meeting minutes, speeches, and press releases regarding the North Carolina School of the Arts from 1964 to 1991.

Series 3 includes materials related to “A Challenge Campaign for the Arts”, a challenge grant through the Ford Foundation, 1966-1971.

Series 4 is titled ‘General School Correspondence’ and includes correspondence, press releases, news clippings, newsletters, and some public relations material from 1967-1982.

Series 5 includes materials related to the International Music Program. Charter documents, correspondence, newspaper clippings, speeches, public relations material, reports, reviews, and cassette recordings are included in this series dating from 1966 to 2001.

Series 6 is comprised of research materials and manuscripts for Dr. James Semans’ books, ‘Six Summers in Siena’ and ‘Distant Melodies’ as well as ‘A Passionate Preference’ by Leslie Banner and Douglas Zinn, 1970-1992.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Semans family, 1984, 2006, 2020

Related Materials

The Semans were involved, personally and through their philanthropy, with many aspects of the school during its first decades. While mentions of them can be found throughout the Archives’ holdings, several collections are closely tied to the Semans, including the Governor Terry Sanford Papers (MC-0009), the Giorgio Ciompi Collection (MC-0015), the Office of the Chancellor records (RG-0001), and the Board of Trustees Records (RG-0005).

Guide to the Dr. James Hustead Semans and Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Collection
Laura Silva
April 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the UNC School of the Arts Archives Repository

1533 South Main St.
Winston-Salem North Carolina 27104 United States