TABLE OF CONTENTS


Collection Summary

Biographical History

Scope and Content of the Collection

Administrative Information

Related Material

Restrictions

Subject and Genre Headings

Arrangement of the Collection

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Ruth St. Denis Manuscript

Series 2: Publications by Ruth St. Denis

Series 3: Publications about Ruth St. Denis

Series 4: Newspaper Clippings

Series 5: Choreographies

Series 6: Correspondence

Series 7: Adelphi Course Descriptions

Series 8: Adelphi Course Bulletins

Series 9: Awards and Honors

Series 10: Ruth St. Denis and Children’s Theatre

Series 11: Denishawn

Series 12: School and Organizational Programs

Series 13: Performance Programs

Series 14: Flyers, Announcements, and Posters

Series 15: Invitations

Series 16: Receipts

Series 17: Photographs

Series 18: Textiles

Series 19: Artifacts

Adelphi Libraries

Ruth St. Denis Collection

Finding Aid



Collection Summary

Repository: Adelphi University
Creator: St. Denis, Ruth
Title: Ruth St. Denis Collection
Inclusive Dates: 1904-2005
Bulk Dates: 1938-1968
Quantity: 14.5 linear feet
Abstract: Ruth St. Denis founded Adelphi University’s Dance Department in 1938. Although she came out of a vaudeville tradition, she was one of the first professional dancers outside of ballet to treat dance as a serious art. St. Denis was best known for her dances based on Asian styling, elaborate costumes and settings, Delsarte-based poses, theatrical characters, and expressing spirituality through beauty. Prior to her work at Adelphi, she was the co-founder of Denishawn Company and School. She is credited to be one of the founders of modern dance.
Language: Collection materials are in English.

Biographical History

Ruth Dennis was born on a farm in rural New Jersey in 1879. The daughter of an inventor-father and a physician-mother, she was encouraged to dance at an early age. At the age of 16, Ruth Dennis launched her professional career in a dime museum, Worth’s Museum on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, where she danced “Gavotte d’Amour” eleven times a day. Thus began her busy career as a "skirt dancer,” a female dancer whose legs were visible under her short skirt.

In 1898, the young dancer was noticed by David Belasco, a well-known and highly successful Broadway producer and director, who provided her with her stage name “St. Denis.” She toured with Belasco’s company around the United States and in Europe as a featured dancer for five years. While on tour with Belasco in 1904, she saw a poster of the goddess Isis in an ad for Egyptian Deities cigarettes. The image of the goddess sparked her imagination and inspired her to develop a new concept of dance. The first dance she choreographed was Egypta; however, she realized it was beyond her financial means to construct. Consequently, the first danced she produced was Radha, telling the story of a mortal maid who was loved by the god Krishna, which premiered privately in 1905 and publicly in 1906.

St. Denis’s career as a solo artist continued to blossom. In 1907, St. Denis and her mother went to Europe and traveled the continent performing her "dance translations,” which by now included The Cobra, Incense, The Nautch, and The Yogi. She was declared a sensation and was particularly successful in Vienna, Austria, and in Germany. In 1909, she returned to the U.S. and gave a series of well-received concerts in New York and other major cities.

In 1914, she met and married an already successful young dance-innovator named Ted Shawn. In the spring of 1915, they formed Denishawn Company and School, which had an “all-inclusive” dance concept, including Oriental and other ethnic styles, freestyle movements, and primitive forms, among others. Denishawn produced a number of notable dancers including Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and Martha Graham. In 1931, St. Denis and Shawn parted, but were never legally separated, and Denishawn was reorganized, becoming the Ruth St. Denis School of Dancing and Its Related Arts, while Shawn went on to found Jacob’s Pillow School and Festival and Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers.

In the 1930s, St. Denis reassembled her Rhythmic Choir, which was a religious dance group that originated as a discussion group for her Denishawn dancers, and among those who regularly attended were Paul Dawson Eddy, president of Adelphi University from 1937 to 1965, and his wife Isabel. President Eddy invited St. Denis to launch the Adelphi Dance Department in 1938. She and four of her former Denishawn dancers, Jack Cole, Anna Austin, Ada Korvin, and Don Begenau, arrived at the Garden City Campus on September 8, 1938. The inaugural concert of the Adelphi Dance Department was held on October 28, 1938 and was met with great success.

Although her endeavors at Adelphi were clearly important to her, her enthusiasm for the department waned as it competed with many other interests. During the summer of 1939, St. Denis was on leave in California and was noticeably absent from the College’s plans for the next semester’s dance program. In a letter to St. Denis, dated August 7, 1940, President Eddy informed her of the Dance Department’s disintegration due to financial struggles and the dismissal of various faculty. St. Denis would no longer be on the Adelphi faculty. Despite this, she maintained a relationship with the Eddys and Adelphi University into the last years of her life by participating with the Children’s Centre for the Creative Arts and its annual Ruth St. Denis Day.

In 1947, St. Denis made Hollywood her headquarters and there established the Church of the Divine Dance, whose mission was the realization of building a dance liturgy. She was often called the "First Lady of American Dance" and the "Queen of American Dance.” At this time there was renewed interest in her earlier Asian-influenced dance. During the last two decades of her life she continued to dance. Whenever she was not performing, she traveled as a lecturer and mainly discussed feminist and spiritual issues. On July 21, 1968, she died in Hollywood after suffering a heart attack and was cremated and interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

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Scope and Content of the Collection

The Ruth St. Denis Collection contains various materials from different stages of St. Denis’s ca-reer, including her involvement as founder of Adelphi’s Dance Department. The collection large-ly consists of loose and bound manuscripts, including a complete, typed manuscript of An Unfi-nished Life, St. Denis’s autobiography. It also includes correspondences between St. Denis and Paul Dawson Eddy, and Adelphi Dance Department course descriptions and bulletins. There are also materials relating to several activities during her career, such as programs of the various schools and organizations she was affiliated with, and numerous photographs of St. Denis.

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

Some materials in the Ruth St. Denis collection were created and collected by Ruth St. Denis, and she left these to Adelphi University. The Virginia Calkins Class of 1933 donated a manuscript of “Dance Book” and choreographies by St. Denis. The remaining materials in the collection were deposited in Adelphi University at different times by different donors. Since many of them came to Adelphi University before the creation of the university’s Archives and Special Collections, there are no accession records for these materials.

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Ruth St. Denis Collection; Box and Folder number; Adelphi University Archives and Special Collections, Garden City, NY.

Processing Information

The finding aid for the Ruth St. Denis Collection was created by Lauren Jarrell, Mary M. Manning, Rubina Siddiqi, and Aiza Keesey. The collection was processed in 2005, and reprocessed in 2009.

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Related Material

Related materials on the Ruth St. Denis Collection may be found in the following collections in this repository:

Barbara Andres, Ruth St. Denis Collection
Rare Books Collection

Other repositories with collections related to the Ruth St. Denis Collection:

Digital Library Collections, New York Public Library
St. Denis (Ruth) Photograph Collection, University of California, Irvine
Ruth St. Denis Papers, 1880-1968, University of California, Los Angeles
Dance Collection, University of Texas at Austin
Suzanne Shelton Buckley Collection, University of Denver
Jacob’s Pillow Archives, Jacob’s Pillow
Still Photograph Archive, George Eastman House

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Restrictions

Access Restrictions

The Ruth St. Denis Collection is open to research. Photocopies of fragile materials are provided for researchers in lieu of the originals.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from Adelphi University Archives and Special Collections. Researchers are responsible for copyright compliance.

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Subject and Genre Headings

Persons:

St. Denis, Ruth, 1880-1968

Topics:

Dance
Modern dance

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Arrangement of the Collection

The Ruth St. Denis Collection is arranged into nineteen series:

Series 1: Ruth St. Denis Manuscript
Series 2: Publications by Ruth St. Denis
Series 3: Publications about Ruth St. Denis
Series 4: Newspaper Clippings
Series 5: Choreographies
Series 6: Correspondence
Series 7: Adelphi Course Descriptions
Series 8: Adelphi Course Bulletins
Series 9: Awards and Honors
Series 10: Ruth St. Denis and Children’s Theatre
Series 11: Denishawn
Series 12: School and Organizational Programs
Series 13: Performance Programs
Series 14: Flyers, Announcements, and Posters
Series 15: Invitations
Series 16: Receipts
Series 17: Photographs
Series 18: Textiles
Series 19: Artifacts

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Detailed Description of the Collection

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

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Series 1: Ruth St. Denis Manuscript
The Ruth St. Denis Manuscript Series contains loose and bound manuscripts relating to several activities during her career. The bulk of the series is composed of a complete, typed manuscript of An Unfinished Life, St. Denis’s autobiography, with comments by editors and St. Denis. The series also includes, among others, materials for her memoir and drafts of unpublished books, “Dance Book” and “Dance – Dramas.”
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
1 1 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Childhood and The Farm,” pages 1-33, 1939
2 "Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “In Search of Horizons,” pages 34-42, 1939
3 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Meeting David Belasco,” pages 43-63, 1939
4 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “New Worlds of Dance,” pages 64-81, 1939
5 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “A Goddess Meets a King,” pages 82-117, 1939
6 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Europe and the Long-Legged Child,” pages 118-154, 1939
7 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “I Belong to America,” pages 155-179 and “Lessons in Pioneering,” pages 180-221, 1939
8 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Ted Shawn,” pages 222-239, 1939
9 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Artists Learning to Live,” pages 240-266, 1939
10 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Pathfinders for the Dance,” pages 267-337, 1939
11 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life:: “Making History,” pages 338-369, 1939
12 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “India Waits at the End of the Journey,” pages 370-433, 1939
13 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “Denishawn House,” pages 435-509, 1939
14 Typed Manuscripts: An Unfinished Life: “The Third Life,” pages 510-550, 1939
Box Folder
2 1 “David.” A Dance Drama in One Act Three Scenes, 1964
2 “Dance Book”, undated
3 “Dance Dramas” by Ruth St. Denis, 1964
4 “The Divine Dance”, 1933-1960
5 Memoir, 1959-1961, undated
6 “Current Biography.” Poems, circa 1963
7 Speech on Moral Re-Armament, 1939
8 Miscellaneous Typed Manuscripts, 1939-1960, undated

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Series 2: Publications by Ruth St. Denis
The Publications by Ruth St. Denis Series includes “A Vision,” which is an article published in American Dancer Magazine in 1938.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
2 9 Publications by Ruth St. Denis, 1938

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Series 3: Publications about Ruth St. Denis
The Publications about Ruth St. Denis series contains articles about St. Denis published in several magazines and a thesis on St. Denis by Catey Ott in 2005.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
2 10 Publications about Ruth St. Denis, 1934-1981, undated
11 Thesis on Ruth St. Denis by Catey Ott, 2005

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Series 4: Newspaper Clippings
The Newspaper Clippings Series contains numerous newspaper articles about St. Denis, including her involvement with the Moral Rearmament Movement and her obituary.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
2 12 Newspaper Clippings, 1939-1988, undated

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Series 5: Choreographies
The Choreographies Series contains St. Denis’s choreographies for numerous dances, including Radha and Tagore Poem. There are also choreographies by Ted Shawn, including their corresponding musical scores and photograph of performance.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 1 “Solo Dances”, undated
2 Rhada and Tagore Poem, undated
3 Created by Ted Shawn, undated

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Series 6: Correspondence
The Correspondence Series contains letters, telegrams, postcards, and memoranda. The bulk of the materials are correspondences between St. Denis and Paul Dawson Eddy.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 4 Correspondence, 1938-1964, undated
5 Postcards and Other Picture Postcards, 1941-1962

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Series 7: Adelphi Course Descriptions
The Adelphi Course Descriptions Series contains course materials put together by Jack Cole and staff during the early stages of the Dance Department’s creation.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 6 Adelphi Course Descriptions, circa 1938

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Series 8: Adelphi Course Bulletins
The Adelphi Course Bulletins Series contains course bulletins from the first two years of the Dance Department’s program.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 7 Adelphi Course Bulletins, 1938-1939

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Series 9: Awards and Honors
The Awards and Honors Series contains materials relating to the Capezio Dance Award and Adelphi Honorary Degree awarded to St. Denis.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 8 Awards and Honors, 1961-1963

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Series 10: Ruth St. Denis and Children’s Theatre
The Ruth St. Denis and Children’s Theatre Series contains materials relating to St. Denis’s involvement with Adelphi’s Children’s Centre for Creative Arts, including Ruth St. Denis Day.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 9 Ruth St. Denis and Children’s Theatre, 1957-1965, undated

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Series 11: Denishawn
The Denishawn Series contains miscellaneous materials about Denishawn, including photocopies of Denishawn Magazine, programs, and course bulletins.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 10 Denishawn, 1922-1926, undated

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Series 12: School and Organizational Programs
The School and Organizational Programs Series contains materials relating to the Ruth St. Denis School of Dance, Society of Spiritual Arts Church, School of Natya, Ruth St. Denis Studio, Temple of Self Realization, Ruth St. Denis Foundation, and Rhythmic Choir.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 11 School and Organizational Programs, 1956-1960, undated

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Series 13: Performance Programs
The Performance Programs Series includes programs of St. Denis’s performances, including performances in Adelphi.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 12 Performance Programs, 1926-1968

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Series 14: Flyers, Announcements, and Posters
The Flyers, Announcements, and Posters Series contains flyers and announcements for films, exhibitions, and dance programs, and four St. Denis posters. There are two Hegeman Print posters, a poster of St. Denis in Radha costume from the 1940s, and an announcement of a St. Denis exhibition in Adelphi’s Swirbul Library Gallery. (See also Box 4: Photographs for flyers and announcements that were originally in a scrapbook from the “Artistic Dance Workshop” composed mostly of photographs.)
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 13 Flyers, Announcements, and Posters, 1940-1968
Box Folder
4 n/a Oversized flyers, announcements, and posters, 1922, undated

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Series 15: Invitations
The Invitations Series contains invitations to exhibitions, parties, and receptions.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 14 Invitations, 1960, undated

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Series 16: Receipts
The Receipts Series contains receipts for equipment, services rendered, paychecks, travel expense relating to Adelphi’s Dance Department.
Arranged chronologically when dates available.
Box Folder
3 15 Receipts, 1960-1963

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Series 17: Photographs
The Photographs Series contains numerous photographs from various stages in St. Denis’s career, including photographs from St. Denis’s 80th birthday at the Martha Graham Studios and photographs of St. Denis taken by Marcus Blechman in the 1960s. There are also photographs of children performing St. Denis’s dances, flyers, and newspaper clippings from a scrapbook of the “Artistic Dance Workshop.”
The original arrangement of the “Artistic Dance Workshop” scrapbook was maintained during processing. Other materials are arranged by size.
Box Folder
5 n/a Photographs, 1957-1960, undated
Box Folder
6 n/a Oversized photographs, 1906-1961, undated
Box Folder
7 n/a Oversized photographs, circa 1960-1961, undated

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Series 18: Textiles
The Textiles Series contains St. Denis’s Doctoral Hood, which she wore when she was awarded her honorary degree at Adelphi University in 1963, and a sari from “Dance of the Red and Gold Sari.”
Box Folder
8 n/a Doctoral Hood, 1963
Box Folder
9 n/a Sari from “Dance of the Red and Gold Sari”, undated

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Series 19: Artifacts
The Artifacts Series contains two drums and ankle bells that were found in the Adelphi campus and believed to have been used by St. Denis and her staff as teaching tools during the early years of the Adelphi Dance Department. Other materials in this series are two half-tone photographic plates of St. Denis.
Box Folder
10 n/a Half-tone photographic plates, undated
Box Folder
11 n/a Ankle bells from Denishawn, undated
Box Folder
12 n/a Drum, undated
Box Folder
13 n/a Drum, undated

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