Almetris Marsh Duren grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Tillotson College in Austin, Texas in 1950, where she taught for several years. In 1956, she became a house mother for African American females living in Eliza Dee Dorm, located many blocks from The University of Texas campus, at 12th and East Avenue. African American female students from The University of Texas lived there because they were not allowed to live on campus, in accordance with the existing Board of Regents’ policy. Eliza Dee Dorm was torn down to make way for an interregional highway in 1958, and Mrs. Duren and the African American female students were relocated to a remodeled residence on Whitis Avenue, which became known as Almetris Co-op.
Almetris Co-op remained for almost 10 years before it was torn down to make way for the Communication Building. The Women's Co-ops were constructed on Whitis Avenue to replace it, and house members named one of the co-op houses, Almetris, once again. Mrs. Duren served as a house mother to African American female students from 1958 to 1969. She was not only a house mother, but she was a ready, dependable resource and role model for African American students and other students of color on The University of Texas campus during the time of integration and desegregation.
After 1969, Mrs. Duren continued to have a tremendous impact across the campus through her work with the Office of the Dean of Students. Though considered a resource primarily for African American students, her ability to provide encouragement to all students, regardless of race or nationality, earned her highest honors and the gratitude of generations of students for whom she served as mentor, protector, and friend. This is why she was and still is fondly referred to as “Mama Duren.”
Several campus programs were initiated through her leadership, including Project Info, the University’s first minority student recruitment effort, and the Innervisions of Blackness Choir. She received the Margaret C. Berry Award for outstanding contributions to student life at The University of Texas at Austin in 1983. The Presidential Citation for outstanding service was awarded to her in 1979, and she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Southwest Association of College and University Housing Officers in 1983. Mama Duren was one of the original recipients of the Nowotny Medal which honors retired student life specialists who made extraordinary contributions to student life at UT.
Almetris Duren co-authored a book, “Overcoming: A History of Black Integration at The University of Texas at Austin,” published in 1979. Her book chronicles events in the fight for integration, opening with the legal battle that began in 1946, when Heman Sweatt applied for admittance to The University of Texas Law School, and concluding with an account of the removal of de facto barriers to integration in admissions, housing and athletics in the late 1970s.