Alison Duke was born in Cambridge on 22 July 1915, the daughter of William Holden Duke, University Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Emilie Johanna, nee von Lippe, from near Dresden in Saxony (later Mrs Stevenson, who supervised German at Girton from 1929). Educated at the Perse School for Girls, Cambridge, Alison Duke followed her older sister, Margaret (later Mrs Falconer) to Girton, which she entered with a scholarship to read Classics in 1934. Her supervisor for Latin composition was W H Rouse, who termed the Duke girls Dux and Ducula. She gained a First Class in Part II in 1938. Staying on to do some research, having been awarded the Charles Oldham Classical Scholarship in 1938, she began work on the manuscripts of Books 31-40 of Livy; her input is noted with appreciation by A H McDonald in the introduction to his Oxford Text of Books 31-35.
In 1940 Alison Duke took a lecturing post in Classics at the University of Reading, where she taught until 1944. She then volunteered for work with the Guide International Service in Greece. On returning from Greece in 1946 she took up the post of Acting Assistant Tutor at Girton. This was the beginning of her long service to the College. In the Faculty of Classics, in 1952, she succeeded Ellis Minns with special responsibility for the teaching of Latin palaegraphy. In the early 1970s she played an active role in the initiative to introduce an intensive Greek course to the Faculty.
As a Fellow of Girton, Alison Duke held many posts. For many years, for instance, she served as Senior Treasurer of the Chapel. It was, however, as both Tutor (later Senior Tutor) and Director of Studies in Classics that she is mainly remembered. She showed special concern for overseas students, and her appointment as Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog (First Class) was earned when she acted as Tutor to Princess Margrethe, future queen of Denmark. As Praelector for many years, she was seen as the 'mother of the College'. As Registrar of the Roll, she fulfilled the role of contact person for past members of the College, a singularly appropriate role for someone who kept closely in touch with and remained interested in the lives and careers of so many of her former students. Her personal generosity became very public as a result of the huge gift from her to the College which allowed the building of the library and archive extension (the Duke Building).
Outside College, one of Alison Duke's chief interests was Guiding. Having joined the First Cambridge Guide Company aged eleven, she went on to be its Guider for nearly thirty years. She served as official interpreter in German for Guides at the international camp in Hungary in 1939; she taught Greek to volunteers in the Guide International Service, which was launched in 1942 with a view to helping rebuild devastated communities in various countries after the war; she was instrumental in rebuilding the Guide movement in both Germany and Greece after the war; and in Britain she served on the national Education Panel of the Guides' Central Headquarters.
Miss Duke retired as Fellow, Tutor and Director of Studies in Classics in 1982, though she continued to act as Registrar of the Roll until she was 70, in 1985. To say that she retained an active interest in College matters in retirement would be an understatement. She was Registrar Emerita from 1985, and she was actively involved in a number of projects, the largest perhaps being her editorship of Volume II of the Girton College Register, 1944-1969, published in 1991.
Alison Duke died in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, on 6 November 2005, a few months after her 90th birthday. A memorial service was held on 6 May 2006, at which an address was given by Dr Dorothy Thompson. A large part of this biographical note is derived from that address, which is printed in full in the Girton College Annual Review 2006.
The process of clearing papers from Alison Duke's house was begun in 2000 by Dr Dorothy Thompson (colleague and College contact) and Mrs Patricia Acres (an executor). This clearance continued after AD's death in November 2005. The resulting collection of papers was catalogued in 2008. A great deal of arranging and attempted reconstruction has taken place in order to achieve the catalogue which appears below. It includes the following: some personal and biographical material; photographs; correspondence; collected files on Girton College administrative and teaching matters; and a sizeable quantity of the cuttings and obituaries which AD collected for many years. Some of the papers cleared from the house were dispersed to archives elsewhere, including: New Hall, Cambridge (where AD also undertook Classics teaching); Guide Headquarters in London; and the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama in the University of Oxford.