Dr. Hilda Pope Willett was born in 1923 in Decatur, Georgia. She received her AB in 1944 from Georgia State College for Women, her MA in 1946 from Duke University, and her PhD in 1949 from Duke University, in Microbiology and Biochemistry, studying tuberculosis with Dr. D.T. Smith. She was one of the first females in her department and the first person to receive a PhD from the department. She would continue her career at Duke Medicine until her retirement.
In 1948 she became an instructor in the Department of Microbiology, and in 1950 an associate. In 1961 she received the Alumnae Achievement Award from Georgia State College for Women for Distinguished Service in Microbiology. In 1964, she would become a full professor in the department, and in 1971, she became the director of graduate studies for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the chair of the Committee for Graduate Studies within the department. She is the author or coauthor of numerous articles and chapters, and she served as a contributor or co-editor of Zinsser Microbiology for decades.