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Doris Duke Papers Now Available

Personal Papers and Other Historical Records Open to Researchers
Doris and James B. Duke

DURHAM, N.C. – In 1923, James B. Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company, co-founder of Duke Energy, and benefactor of Duke University, wrote a letter to his ten-year-old daughter, Doris, outlining his hopes and wishes for the woman she would become. Written in pencil and signed “Daddy,” it is the only known letter Duke ever wrote to his daughter, offering a rare glimpse of the relationship between the reticent businessman and the daughter he adored.

The letter is part of a trove of materials recently opened to researchers that document the life and personal activities of noted philanthropist, environmentalist, and patron of the arts Doris Duke. The papers were donated by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2009 and are now housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. 

Doris Duke was James B. Duke’s only child. She entered the public eye when she inherited her father’s fortune in 1925 at the age of twelve—including $80 million and three estates. An astute and shrewd businesswoman, she was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion by the time she died in 1993.

Over the past two years, nearly 800 linear feet of materials have been processed for research use. The records include letters, architectural drawings, photographs, design proposals, and inventories of the furnishings, artwork, jewelry, and clothing in each of Doris Duke’s seven homes. 

Some of the more notable items include Doris Duke’s personal income taxes, which show how and why her wealth grew over her lifetime; correspondence related to personal loans Doris Duke made to various individuals including strangers; original dress designs from the House of Paquin and jewelry designs by Cartier; and Doris Duke’s grade school compositions, homework assignments, and sketches from her youth. 

“These personal letters, drawings, and other papers by and about Doris Duke not only illuminate the life of a complex and intellectually curious woman, who was in many ways ahead of her time, but also offer a window into many aspects of the past century,” said Ed Henry, president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We are thrilled to open these resources to researchers. We expect that access to these archives will lead to new discoveries about this remarkable person, who established a unique philanthropic legacy that thrives to this very day.” 

According to Mary Samouelian, who processed the collection at Duke, the papers offer unexpected insights into life of a public figure who closely guarded her privacy. “I expect the materials in this collection will break some long-standing stereotypes about Doris Duke, since they highlight some of the far-reaching effects she had on individuals and society as a whole.”

The Doris Duke papers are open to researchers, students, and the general public in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. A finding aid for the collection is available online.

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Posted 18 October 2011

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Last modified October 17, 2011 1:49:15 PM EDT