Skip to content
Image of Biddle crowd

The Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr.

Lecture in International Studies

The Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. Lecture in International Studies was established by Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and James H. Semans and their family to honor Mrs. Semans’ father, Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr., who had a distinguished career as a diplomat in the service of the United States and was an original signer of The Duke Endowment. The lecture symbolizes Duke University’s continuing commitment to promoting international understanding.

Read the Duke Today articles about the 2021 Biddle Lecture and the 2022 Biddle Lecture.

Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr.

Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle

Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle had a varied career—including work in shipping, mining and the sporting world—but he found his greatest calling as a diplomat. Born in Philadelphia, he attended the Saint Paul’s School in New Hampshire and later, Temple University. Serving in the US Army during World War I, Biddle rose in rank from Private to Captain. After the war, he was a serious sportsman, earning the title of “Court Tennis” champion of France. Like his father, a jiu jitsu expert in the US Marines and the trainer of champion boxer Gene Tunney, he was a good prizefighter.

Biddle became involved in politics in the early 1930s, and was named by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to his first diplomatic posting as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Norway in 1934. An appointment as Ambassador to Poland followed in 1937, as World War II loomed over Europe. After German forces invaded Poland in 1939, Biddle served as Deputy Ambassador to France. In 1941 Biddle was named US Ambassador to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, whose governments were in exile in London. At the time, this extraordinary posting was termed the biggest and, in some ways, the most important diplomatic mission ever handled by a single envoy.

Biddle retired from the diplomatic corps in 1944 to return to active duty in the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, rising to the rank of Brigadier General in 1951. During those years, he worked closely with General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as Deputy Chief of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) and as a representative to US European Command (EUCOM) and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), NATO’s central military command.

The 1950s found Biddle serving as Adjutant General of the State of Pennsylvania, on numerous Pennsylvania state boards and commissions and as a trustee at Temple University. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy chose Biddle for his final diplomatic position, that of Ambassador to Spain, where he served until shortly before his death.


Previous Speakers

April 2022
Lise Grande (President and CEO of the United States Institute of Peace)
“Protecting Civilians in the Age of Instability”

April 2021
The Honorable Nicholas Burns (former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Greece and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, 2005-2008)
” A Time for Diplomacy”

March 2018
The Honorable Brian A. Nichols (former US Ambassador to Peru)
“For Reasons Which Are Not Immediately Clear: Foreign Policy in a Time of Uncertainty”

April 2016
The Honorable William J. Burns (President, Carnegie Endowment for Peace; former US Ambassador to Russia & Jordan)
“American Leadership in a Changing International Landscape”

April 2013
The Honorable Donna Hrinak (President, Boeing Brazil; former US Ambassador to Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic)
“Latin America: More Than Just an Asterisk?”

October 2009
Damon Wilson (Duke, BA ’95), Mark Lorey (Duke, BA ’95), & Sonya Wu-Winter (Duke, BA ’95)
“Pathways of International Service – Experiences and Reflections from Three Duke Alums”

November 2006
Diana Villiers Negroponte (US Institute of Peace)
“Behind the Foreign Policy Push for Liberal Democracy in the Middle East”

November 2004
The Honorable David C. Litt (former US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates)
“Challenges for Diplomacy in the Age of Terrorism: A Personal View”

April 2003
The Honorable John O’Leary (former US Ambassador to Chile)
“From Old Politics to New Diplomacy: Lesson from Chile on Free Trade in the 21st Century”

February 2001
The Honorable James A. Joseph (former US Ambassador to South Africa)
“Ethics and Diplomacy: What I Learned from Nelson Mandela”

October 2000
The Honorable Philip Lader

November 1998
The Honorable Robert L. Gallucci

April 1997
The Honorable Jack F. Matlock, Jr.

March 1995
The Honorable William H. Luers

November 1992
The Honorable Vernon Anthony Walters

This program is made possible by the Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Lectureship Endowment and by the Mary Trent Jones-Sarah Trent Harris-Rebecca Trent Kirkland Endowment, recognizing Dr. and Mrs. Semans’ daughters who received their education at Duke University.