Born on November 22, 1912, Doris Duke was the only child of James Buchanan (J.B.) Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company and a benefactor of Duke University, and Nanaline Holt Duke. Inheriting a bulk of her father's estate in 1925, which included Duke Farms in New Jersey, Rough Point in Newport, R.I., and a mansion in New York City, Doris was soon dubbed by the press as "the richest girl in the world." Although Doris did her best to live a private life, she contributed to a number of public causes and was an active supporter of the arts, historic preservation, and the environment. Doris Duke died in October 1993 at the age of 80. In her will she left the majority of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Doris Duke is born to “tobacconist” James Buchanan (J.B.) Duke (1856-1925) and Nanaline Holt Inman Duke (1871-1962) in New York City. In a telegram to Lady Paget, the pragmatic Duke informs her that “A fine girl just arrived. Mother and child progressing satisfactorily.”
J.B. Duke and his wife Nanaline legally transfer 33 tracts of land, over 20,000 shares of stock, live and domesticated animals, and designated furniture to Duke Farms Company in Somerville, NJ. The farm, which since 1893 had evolved from a 327 acre farm to a nearly 2,000 acre estate, will become one of Doris Duke’s favorite residences. She will eventually transform it into a 2,700 acre estate dedicated to the stewardship of the natural environment.
Jenny Renaud is hired as a governess to nine year old Doris.
Mr. J.B. (Nanaline) Duke hires Jenny Renaud as a governess to nine year old Doris, playing the dual role of a companion for Doris and to teach her French. Ms. Renaud lives with the Dukes until October 31, 1933. After leaving the employ of the Duke family, Doris Duke establishes a trust for the benefit of Jenny Renaud, which stays in place until her death in 1958.
J.B. Duke purchases the Rough Point estate in Newport, R.I.
James B. Duke purchases the Rough Point estate in Newport, R.I. from Mrs. William B. Leeds. The firm of Horace Trumbauer, architect for the Duke University campus as well as the Duke’s stately mansion at 1 E. 78th Street from 1909 to 1912, is hired to transform the interiors of Rough Point and create additions to the house. Renovations are completed in 1924. Doris spends many summers at Rough Point participating and winning in activities such as the tango, tennis, mah-jongg, and sand building contests.
Doris Duke attends The Brearley School in New York City, after being tutored at home in her younger years. She was considered part of the Class of 1931, but left in 1928 and did not graduate. Doris Duke contributes to the annual fund of the Brearley School for over 50 years.
Doris Duke and her mother travel to Europe, which includes touring England and France. In July, J.B. Duke joins them, promising Doris in a letter to her that he will “do everything I can to give you the best time of your life.” He also gives her the fatherly advice to “develop into the grandest lady in the world.”
James B. Duke signs the indentures establishing The Duke Endowment and The Doris Duke Trust.
James B. Duke signs the indentures establishing The Duke Endowment and The Doris Duke Trust. He chooses to place a significant amount of the Duke Power Company stock in the Doris Duke Trust for the benefit of his daughter Doris and other close relatives.
James B. Duke dies in New York City at the age of 68.
James B. Duke dies in New York City at the age of 68. He leaves behind wife Nanaline and 12 year old daughter Doris. Intensely devoted to her father, Doris is overcome by grief at the loss of her father. His legacy to Doris Duke amounts to about $80,000,000, to be parceled out to her in three phases, beginning on her twenty-first birthday. Nanaline Duke is not bequeathed a specific amount of money, however, she is granted life tenancy in any of the estates and income from the estates.
Doris Duke files a lawsuit in Newport, RI to gain sole ownership of the Rough Point estate.
A suit in equity, entitled “Doris Duke by her next friend v. George G. Allen, et als., Executors, et als.” is filed in the Superior Court in the County of Newport. The suit asks that the executors and trustees of The Doris Duke Trust and The Duke Endowment be authorized and directed in conveying and releasing to her the real estate and lands known as Rough Point and all its fixture, improvements, and tangible personal property. On March 8, 1927 Rough Point is sold to Doris Duke for $1.00 and the deed is legally transferred to her.
Doris Duke decides to keep Duke Farms estate in Somerville, NJ, despite her mother and the executors wishes to dispose of it. The indenture, made on September 20, officially releases the Duke Farm estate from the Duke Farms Company to Doris Duke for $1.00.
Fifteen year old Doris visits Duke University to set the cornerstone of the University in the West Union building. Chief engineer A.C. Lee and Duke Endowment chair G.G. Allen also participate in the historic event.
Independent Aid, Inc., the first charitable foundation organized by Doris Duke incorporates.
In order to manage the many requests for assistance addressed to her, Independent Aid, Inc., the first charitable foundation organized by Doris Duke incorporates in Delaware. The foundation’s daily operations are administered largely by Marian Paschal, who serves as Secretary until her sudden death in 1946. The foundations disbursements reflect Doris Duke’s persistent interests in the welfare of women and children, education, social work and mental health, and early family planning efforts. A 1935 $10,000 donation to the National Committee for Birth Control and a $15,000 donation to Margaret Sanger in early 1937 exemplify her dedication to these causes.
Marries James H.R. “Jimmy” Cromwell in New York City.
Doris Duke marries James H.R. “Jimmy” Cromwell at the 1 E. 78th Street mansion in New York City. On the same day, the newlyweds sail on the USS REX for a six month honeymoon tour of the world, traveling through a variety of countries including China, Japan, India, the Philippines, and Singapore. While in Agra, India, Doris falls “in love with the Taj Mahal and all the beautiful marble tile, with their lovely floral designs with some precious stones.” She also commissions architect F.B. Blomfield to design an India-inspired bedroom and bathroom at Malmaison in Florida where she and her new husband are planning to live upon their return from their honeymoon.
The newlyweds arrive in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii.
Doris Duke Cromwell and James Cromwell arrive in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii, the final stop of their honeymoon tour. They had originally planned to stay about a month, but enticed by the islands’ beauty and relaxed environment, Doris stays in Honolulu for four months.
Purchases the land for what will eventually become her Shangri La estate.
In early April, Doris Duke Cromwell decides to purchase the Ernest H. Wodehouse Black Point property, a spectacular 4.9 acre home site at Kaalawai, lying between Black Point and Diamond Head in Hawaii for $100,000. On April 28th the deed is executed.
Architectural firm Wyeth and King is hired to furnish plans for construction of Doris Duke Cromwell's Hawaiian home.
Doris hires well-known architectural firm Wyeth and King to furnish plans for construction of a house for her in Hawaii. As part of the agreement, Wyeth and King confirms that the firm will send to Honolulu “a man qualified to represent the Owner as a Clerk of Works”. Drewry Baker is later hired as the onsite architect for Shangri La.
Working closely with Marion Sims Wyeth and Drew Baker to determine the overall appearance of the estate and also providing him with sketches and photographs of Islamic architectural features to incorporate into the design, construction of Doris Duke’s Shangri La begins.
The Cromwells host a dinner party for President and Mrs. Manuel Quezon of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
Mr. and Mrs. J.H.R. Cromwell host a dinner party at the 1 East 78th Street mansion in New York City in honor of President and Mrs. Manuel Quezon of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Some of the more notable guests include Mr. and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy and Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Luce.
The Cromwells attend the coronation of King George VI.
Doris Duke and her husband leave Somerville, NJ to attend the coronation of King George VI in London, England. They continue on with a “continental” tour returning to the states in the middle of August.
The Cromwells travel to the Middle East to acquire art and furnishings for Shangri La.
Doris Duke, accompanied by her husband James Cromwell and five other companions, travels nearly six weeks throughout the Middle East to acquire works of art and furniture for their Hawaiian estate, Shangri La. Doris was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Arthur Upham Pope, one of the most distinguished scholars and vigorous advocates of Persian art and culture of the time. Using his knowledge of the region and connections with Persian scholars and government officials, he performed an invaluable service by facilitating the Cromwell’s travels. To learn more about the Cromwell's trip to the Middle East, see the interactive timeline at:
The design and construction on Shangri La continues to evolve.
Furiously corresponding with Drew Baker, the onsite architect for Shangri La, about the evolving design and construction of her Hawaiian estate, Doris Duke is finally convinced that Shangri La will “be a wow”.
The New Jersey Property, Lake Mashipacong, is purchased for $125,000.
The New Jersey property which is to be known as Lake Mashipacong is purchased by Doris Duke for $125,000. The land is almost immediately leased to Life Camp Mashipacong (later known as Trail Blazer Camp), a camping facility for underprivileged kids. Doris Duke invests nearly $165,000 into the camp during its first 2 years of operation and continues to financially support the camp well into the 1980s.
Marion Wyeth sends his final bill for work on Shangri La.
On December 1st, Marion Wyeth sends his final bill for work on Shangri La, and calls it “the most interesting and thrilling jobs ever to be handled by this office.” On December 8th, he Cromwell’s move into the “Play House”, celebrating Christmas by occupying Shangri La for the first time.
Like her father, Doris Duke cultivates, hybridizes, and propagates orchids. The Phalaenopsis Doris, registered by Duke Farms in 1940, is a milestone in white Phalaenopsis breeding as it produces long, arching inflorescences on plants that are large and vigorous, thus making them ideal for cut-flower production. It becomes a major factor in the cut-flower industry of the 1940s and 1950s and on the development of Phalaenopsis orchids for the mass market.
Gives birth to a premature baby in The Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu.
Doris Duke gives birth to a premature baby in The Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu. The little girl, Arden, lives just one day. Although James Cromwell in later years denies paternity, custody of the unborn child becomes one of the contested items in their separation discussions in 1940.
Anonymously donates $50,000 to the British Ambassador to the United States.
Doris Duke anonymously donates $50,000 to the British Ambassador to the United States, expressing a desire to make some contribution to the British cause and to promote British-American trade. She concludes that Great Britain would be in increasing need of receiving American supplies for the restoration of economic life after the war.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doris Duke’s 55-foot yacht in Hawaii is requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doris Duke’s 55-foot yacht in Hawaii, the Kailani LahiLahi (“Lahi Lahi” was also Doris Duke’s nickname), is requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration (for a sum of $20,000) for purposes of the war effort. Doris is authorized to reacquire the vessel in August, 1949. It is ultimately sold in September, 1950.
Celebrates 30th birthday and receives the remaining one-third of her inheritance.
On her thirtieth birthday, Doris Duke receives from the trustees the remaining one-third in the two trust funds created for her by her father. The extent of her wealth is unknown to the public, but it is reported that the amount payable to her at this point would exceed $17,000,000.
Files for divorce from James Cromwell in Reno, Nevada.
In response to her husband filing a petition for a divorce in New Jersey in September, Doris Duke files for divorce from James Cromwell in Reno, Nevada citing “extreme cruelty”. The divorce decree is issued on December 21, but Jimmy Cromwell contests the ruling in court in New Jersey asserting that Doris Duke is not a bona fide resident of Nevada.
Wishing to support the war effort, applies for the United Seamen’s Service.
Wishing to personally contribute to the war effort, Doris Duke applies for the United Seamen’s Service, which was established to care for the needs of merchant seamen who have been shuttling vitally needed supplies to the invasion beachhead in France. She is accepted into the service on June 6th and begins her training in New Orleans “getting up on aspects of the work she has not had time to get into” before being sent overseas.
Doris Duke takes time out of her training for work in the United Seaman’s Service in New Orleans to travel to Brunswick, Georgia. There, she not only christens the Liberty Ship, SS James B. Duke, named after her father, but also donates books to be place aboard. The ship, constructed at JA Jones Shipyards was built for the war effort.
Sets sail for Africa then onto Alexandria, Egypt to begin her work at the American Seaman’s Club.
Doris Duke sets sail for Africa then onto Alexandria, Egypt to begin her work as an assistant director of the American Seaman’s Club operated by the United Seaman’s Service, Inc. In this role she decorates the club, arranges its dances, plays piano for the visiting armed forces, and earns the nickname “Daisy Mae”.
With Alexandria becoming less of a port for American shipping, Doris Duke transitions out of the U.S.S. and briefly works for the Office of Strategic Services in the recording department of Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. She eventually joins the International News Service and is primarily stationed in Italy. She writes dispatches from different parts of Italy. She continues working for the INS until early 1947.
Marian Paschal, Secretary of Independent Aid, Inc. and close friend of Doris Duke unexpectedly dies. In November, the Marian Paschal Scholarship Fund is established at the New York School for Social Work in memory of her dedication to the social welfare field.
Doris Duke joins the staff of Harper’s Bazaar in Paris at a rate of about $50.00 a week. In July she gives the magazine the equivalent in dollars of 400,000 francs and instructs her lawyer to mail all the Harper’s Bazaar to her in France since “we’re like the shoemaker’s children who never have shoes”.
Doris Duke marries Porfirio Enrique Rubirosa in Paris surprising family members, friends and business partners. She confesses to her mother that while the wedding itself “was certainly a mess through no fault of either of us”, she and “Rubi” are very happy. They are divorced less than one year later on October 27th.
After several years of disputing the petition and decree for a divorce issued in 1943, Doris Duke’s divorce from James Cromwell is at last settled in court and granted. The decree becomes final on April 9th and James Cromwell is paid $350,000 for a complete and general release.
Independent Aid, Inc. is renamed the Doris Duke Foundation.
Officers of Independent Aid, Inc. vote to change the name of the foundation to the Doris Duke Foundation. At the time of this change, the foundation's interests are primarily in the fields of education and welfare. It does not operate directly, but makes grants to other organizations and institutions.
Doris Duke purchases Falcon Lair at 1436 Bella Drive, Beverly Hills, California. It is the former home of Rudolph Valentino, a movie star that Doris has been a fan of since she was a young girl. During the next several years she remodels and furnishes the house with architect Caspar Ehmcke and interior designer Tony Duquette.
Walker P. Inman, Sr., Doris Duke’s half-brother and trustee of the Duke Endowment and Duke University dies at the age of sixty. He is survived by his widow, Georgia Polin Inman, and his son by that marriage, Walker P. “Skipper” Inman, Jr. After initial guardianship with another relative, Doris is briefly appointed Skipper’s guardian in 1965.
Doris Duke develops a close friendship with Louis Bromfield (1896-1956), the Pulitzer winning author and renowned scientific farmer. It is Bromfield that most likely influences Doris Duke’s passion for environmentalism. In May 1957, a little more than a year after Bromfield’s death, Doris Duke donates $30,000 to Friends of the Land in order to continue Malabar Farm as an experimental and educational center. In recognition of her donation a wood lot on Malabar Farm is renamed Doris Duke woods.
Travels to Duke University to attend Founders’ Day.
Doris Duke travels to Duke University to attend Founders’ Day, the annual celebration held in December to honor the benefactors of the university. The 1956 Founders’ Day is particularly significant as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of J.B. Duke’s birthday.
Travels to India and China with a stop in Thailand.
Doris Duke travels to India and China with a stop in Thailand. It is the exploration of Bangkok and its art and architecture that inspires her to dream of creating a Thai Village in Hawaii with houses similar to those she sees.
The Family Part of the Supreme Court in New York County becomes permanent.
The Family Part of the Supreme Court in New York County becomes permanent after two years’ operation as an experiment. The judges assigned to the family court have expertise in family matters and are aided by expert case workers to address matters affecting families and children. During the initial trial operation, salaries of case workers were paid for by the Doris Duke Foundation.
The 1 East 78th Street mansion is donated to New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.
Doris Duke and her mother Nanaline donate the mansion at 1 East 78th Street in New York to New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Additionally, Doris and her mother make a gift of $100,000 to defray expenses during the renovation. The house, which was appraised at an estimated $1.6 million, is renamed The James B. Duke House.
The Duke Gardens Foundation is incorporated with the express purpose of “developing thereon agricultural, botanical and horticultural exhibits for the purpose of scientific experiments and of public inspection, instruction, education and enjoyment.” Over the next six years, Doris Duke is personally involved in the physical design and construction of the Indoor Display Gardens, incorporating her interests in color, design, and fragrance.
Is enrolled as a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
In recognition of her “sense of humanity of being a kind woman, thoughtfulness woman, helpfulness woman, [and] sympathetic woman towards destitute people like the Rosebud Sioux Indian people”, Doris Duke is enrolled as a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She is given the name “Wa-cantki-ye-win” or “Princess Charity”.
Doris Duke forms the Thai House Foundation, later to be named the Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture Foundation (SEAAC) in June. Her vision is to recreate a Thai village that evokes the traditional life and culture of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Burma. To realize the mission of the Foundation, over the next several years Doris Duke purchases art objects including Thai ceramics, Chinese porcelains, wood, stone, bronze and ivory sculptures, and complete Thai Houses.
Nanaline Holt Inman Duke, Doris’s mother, dies in New York at the age of 90. She leaves an estate estimated at $40,000,000, and bequeaths $5,000,000 of the total to Duke University medical school and hospital. Mrs. Duke leaves the balance of her estate in trust for her 11-year-old grandson, Walker P. Inman Jr., of Brunson, S.C.
Doris Duke Foundation begins to actively make grants to historically black colleges.
Following in the footsteps of her father, the Doris Duke Foundation begins to actively make grants to historically black colleges. Over the course of several years, the Foundation grants nearly $1.6 million to 15 colleges. Recipients include the North Carolina College for Negros at Durham ($50,000), Shaw University in Raleigh ($30,000), and Bennett College in Greensboro ($300,000).
Donates $493,000 to the Somerset County Park Commission.
Doris Duke donates $493,000 to the Somerset County Park Commission to improve Duke Island Park, a county recreation center that was developed on 500 acres of the Duke estate that was presented to the county by Miss Duke in 1959. The gift is seen as proof of her personal interest in Somerset County.
Doris Duke opens Duke Gardens to the public on her estate in Somerville, New Jersey, which includes 11 unique gardens for visitors to enjoy, including Japan, Indo-Persia, Italian, English, and Edwardian. While the tours are limited to groups by appointment, anyone can apply to see the gardens.
Obtains an order in Circuit Court in Honolulu against Joey Castro.
Following initiation of a lawsuit for divorce by Joe Castro of Los Angeles in January, Doris Duke obtains an order in Circuit Court in Honolulu. The order restrains Castro from saying that he was her husband.
Doris Duke commissions a life-size Thai pavilion for her still unrealized Thai Village in Hawaii. A replica of the Aphornphimok Pavilion at the Royal Palace grounds in Bangkok, Thailand, the pavilion will be 75 feet high and 46 feet long. The collection for the Thai village also includes 1,000 pieces of art, 14 Thai teak houses, 400,000 pieces of unglazed roof tiles, and 100,000 pieces of glazed roof tiles.
The recording company, JODO, Inc., is founded by Doris Duke to produce records. While it attracted a few well known recording artists including Kitty White and Anita O’Day, it was dissolved in 1966 and became Clover Enterprises, Inc. Clover Enterprises dissolved in 1970.
Signs and executes the second codicil in her will.
Doris Duke signs and executes the second codicil in her will directing the executors to organize a foundation to manage and maintain Shangri La to promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern art and culture.
Agrees to chair the Advisory Committee on Child Care Services.
A report from the Duke Endowment’s Committee on Hospitals and Orphanages recommends the recognition of the changing patterns in the field of Child Care. It further states that an Advisory Committee on Child Care Services be appointed to act in an advisory committee to the greater Committee. Due to her continuing special interest in children’s issues Doris Duke agrees to chair the Advisory Committee. She is joined by Wilbur C. Davison and Anthony Drexel Duke.
Purchases her Penthouse B apartment at 475 Park Avenue.
Doris Duke purchases her Penthouse B apartment at 475 Park Avenue. At the time it is described as a “dream” apartment with seven rooms, 4 bathrooms, 13 closets and a wood-burning fireplace. The apartment was renovated several times including during the mid-1960s by architect Gerhard Karplus and designer Tony Duquette.
Provides funds via the Doris Duke Foundation to develop the American Indian Research Project.
Moved by the plight of the American Indian, Doris Duke provides funds via the Doris Duke Foundation to develop an authentic and elaborate oral and cultural history of the Native American Indian. Universities receiving grants of roughly $50,000 for the American Indian Research Project (or American Indian Oral History Project) include the University of Arizona, University of Oklahoma, and the University of Illinois. Doris continues to support the American Indian cause through the 1980’s.
Transfers stock and proprietary lease of New York Apartment at 3 E. 84th Street to New York University.
Doris Duke transfers the stock and proprietary lease of her New York Apartment at 3 E. 84th Street to New York University. The house was purchased in 1952 and boasted 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, 2 master bedrooms, and a terrace surrounding the apartment with private hedges. New York University sells the property in 1968.
Concerned for the state deterioration of Newport, Rhode Island’s historical architecture, Doris Duke establishes the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF), with John Perkins Brown as Executive Director. Over the next 14 years, Doris Duke gives $21.9 million to the NRF, ultimately restoring eighty-three properties. The donation is the largest philanthropic gift made to a single organization during her lifetime.
Purchases four farm parcels that abut the western boundary of Duke Farms.
To curb the growing suburban development of Somerset County, N.J., Doris Duke purchases four farm parcels equal to 385 acres that abut the western boundary of Duke Farms. After buying the land, she makes the old houses habitable, upgrades obsolete dairy barns, brings in cows, and makes the farms operable again.
The Near East Dance Foundation, Inc. incorporates with the express purpose of stimulating “interest in and raise to a higher level of art and understanding all forms of Near East Dance through research, teaching, publication and performing”. Doris Duke is named President and Director, and Ibrahim Robert Farrah, a well-known performer and scholar of Middle Eastern dance, is hired as Executive Director. Farrah resigns in 1972 and the Foundation is dissolved in April, 1974.
Ships the buildings and works of art of the Thai Village to Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ.
Unable to identify and acquire the ideal plot of land on which to build the Thai village, Doris Duke ships the buildings and works of art to Duke Farms in Hillsborough, NJ. While this organization never created the museum she hoped for, Doris Duke opens an exhibit of the finer objects from the SEAAC collection in the Duke Farms’ Coach Barn on December 9, 1972.
To accommodate both her continuing love of travel and her desire for privacy, Doris Duke purchases a Boeing 737-300 and it is placed into service. As part of the airplane purchase from a Middle Eastern businessman, she also acquires two Bactrian camels, Baby and Princess, who reside at both the Rough Point and Duke Farms estates.
Doris Duke hires Bernard Lafferty as her butler at the Duke Farms estate. He remains in this position until Doris Duke’s death in 1993, after which he becomes the executor and pivotal figure in the dispute over her will.
Doris Duke dies in her Beverly Hills home Falcon Lair, at the age of 80, with a net worth of nearly $1 billion. She states in her will that Rough Point is bequeathed to Newport Restoration Foundation, to be maintained according to professional standards for historic preservation. Bernard Lafferty is named as the executor of her estate and for a brief period of time he was President of the Doris Duke Foundation. After a lengthy trial disputing the provisions of the will, Bernard Lafferty surrenders his post as co-executor and membership in the foundation. He is replaced by a Board of Trustees who took control over Doris Duke's assets.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is established.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is established, supporting four national grant making programs and the three properties that were owned by Doris Duke in Hillsborough, New Jersey; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Newport, Rhode Island. The foundation is headquartered in New York and is governed by a board of 11 Trustees. Bernard Lafferty dies the same year and wills his estate to the Foundation. To learn more about the DDCF, see
Pieces of the collections Doris Duke amassed for the Thai Village are donated.
Some of the most important pieces of the collections Doris Duke amassed for the Thai Village are donated to The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California and The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland by the Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture.