Meet the “Faces of Durham” Judge Mamie Dowd Walker

Faces of Durham features a selection of familiar and lesser-known faces from the Bull City’s past and present. The exhibit highlights a broad range of contributions including industry and commerce, medicine, and human relations while mapping Durham’s development from a railway stop to a booming tobacco town, and to today’s revitalized hub of arts and innovation. Check out our blog as we introduce some of the faces from the exhibit.

Mary Rebecca “Mamie” Dowd Walker was born in Durham in 1880. She was a graduate of Durham High School and the Greensboro Female Seminary. In 1904, she Fielding Lewis Walker, Jr. who was a manager at the Liggett and Meyers Tobacco Company. She served on both the Durham Board of Education and the City Recreation Commission, where she developed a passion for serving Durham youth. With no formal training in the law, in 1934 she was appointed the first judge of the juvenile court for Durham city and county, making her the first female judge in the state of North Carolina. Her appointment was based on her years of serving in the local departments. She was sworn in as a judge on December 3, 1934, and, except for the 1941-1942 term, she served until her retirement in 1949. As a judge, she emphasized prevention and treatment, rather than punishment, of juvenile delinquency. She drew into her work every group that could help in any way, including churches, schools, police, health and recreation departments, and Duke University. She established safety patrols, black and white councils to augment the court’s work, and eventually a youth home. When, without warning, she was replaced by G. Frank Warner in 1941, the public outcry lasted until she was reinstated the next year.

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