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Doris Humphrey Society Records

Identifier: Dance-MS-Humphrey-Society

Scope and Content of the Collection

The Doris Society records include: administrative files; promotion/publicity files; the records of the dance company MOMENTA founded by society member Stephanie Clemens; biographical information about Doris Humphrey; a collection of postcards, photographs, travel guides, and maps; photographs of Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and their company, as well as a collection of family photographs; and audiovisual materials, chiefly VHS tapes.

Types of materials contained in the Doris Humphrey Society records are as follows: files related to activities and workshops facilitated by the Doris Humphrey Society; board meeting agendas and minutes; correspondence; grant information; tax records; and promotion and publicity files which include brochures, clippings, invitations, press releases, and programs related to activities, campaigns, projects, and workshops spearheaded by the society and also performances put on by MOMENTA. There is also a lot of biographical information related to Doris Humphrey that was collected, maintained, and used by the society; clippings about Humphrey and Charles Weidman; information about dancers who Humphrey and Weidman trained such as Letitia Ide, Eleanor King, Jose Limón, Sybil Shearer, and Ernestine Stodelle; works by and about Humphrey; and works by her father, Horace B. Humphrey.

Humphrey’s mother traveled with her on the Denishawn Dancers’ tour of South Asia from 1925-1926. Julia Ellen Humphrey collected postcards, photographs, travel guides, and maps from China, Japan, India, Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka), and Burma (today known as Myanmar) to name a few. In the materials collected by her mother, there is also a program for a Folies Bergère performance that features Josephine Baker. These materials not only speak to an interesting time in the history of modern dance when companies and dancers traveled throughout the world and especially in Asia, but highlight the visual history related to the twentieth-century colonial period throughout South Asia.

The photographs of Doris Humphrey collected and preserved by her son Charles Woodford and the Doris Humphrey Society are mostly black and white and include: portraits of Humphrey; still shots of Humphrey dancing, sometimes for specific productions and repertory; photographs of Humphrey and Charles Weidman; photographs of productions by the Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company, many of which are Humphrey’s choreography; and family photographs.

The audiovisual materials include Betacam tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, VHS tapes, and UMatic tapes. The majority of these tapes are related to the preservation of Humphrey’s dance technique. Ernestine Stodelle, who danced with Humphrey and Weidman, is coaching the technique to contemporary dancers. Some of the choreographies of Humphrey’s that are reflected in these materials are: “Air for the G String,” “The Call/Breath of Fire,” “The Shakers,” “Two Ecstatic Themes,” and “Water Study.”


  • Creation: 1870-2011
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920 - 1997



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have not been digitized and are unavailable for use at this time.

Conditions Governing Access

The Doris Humphrey Society Records are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Doris Humphrey Society Records are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright held by Doris Humphrey Society. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

History of the Doris Humphrey Society

Founded in 1989, the Doris Humphrey Society, in Oak Park, Illinois preserves materials related to modern dancer Doris Humphrey. Stephanie Clemens, a member of the society, also founded her own dance company in Oak Park – MOMENTA. Through the society and MOMENTA, Clemens has carried on Humphrey’s dance technique. The society and MOMENTA have done productions of Humphrey’s work and also received grants to preserve Humphrey’s technique. In the mid-1990s the society received grant support to have Ernestine Stodelle, who danced with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, coach current dancers on Humphrey’s technique. The end result of this project included the distribution of videos edited of Stodelle’s instruction by Princeton Book Company (Humphrey’s son, Charles Woodford, is the company’s president).

Biography of Doris Humphrey

Modern dancer and choreographer.

Doris Humphrey was born on October 17, 1895 in Oak Park, Illinois to Horace B. Humphrey, a journalist and one-time hotel manager, and Ellen Julia Humphrey (née Wells), a concert pianist. While she danced from an early age with many ballet masters, Humphrey’s greatest teacher was Mary Wood Hinman, who taught dance at the Francis Parker School. Humphrey graduated from the Francis Parker School in Chicago in 1915, and afterward opened a dance school in Oak Park, in order to support herself and family. Her mother served as the school’s manager and accompanist. The school offered classic, gymnastic, and ballroom dancing for children and young adults.

Hinman continued to serve as a mentor to Humphrey, and encouraged her to go to Los Angeles, California to participate in a summer course offered by the renowned dancers, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, who directed the Denishawn Dancers and the Denishawn Dance School. Humphrey’s talents were recognized and she was given solos roles in productions and also taught dance classes, which aided in her financial independence. Ruth St. Denis encouraged Humphrey to choreograph her own works. Some of Humphrey’s early choreographies were “Valse Caprice” (also known as the “Scarf Dance”), “Soaring,” and “Scherzo Waltz.”

From 1925-1926, Humphrey toured throughout South Asia with the Denishawn Dancers. Humphrey’s mother accompanied her on this tour and collected postcards, photographs, and travel guides throughout the trip. After several seasons of dancing, her and fellow Denishawn Dancer, Charles Weidman, broke away in 1928 and settled in New York City. Together they founded the Humphrey-Weidman Company.

The Humphrey-Weidman Company trained many modern dancers such as Letitia Ide, Eleanor King, Jose Limón, Sybil Shearer, and Ernestine Stodelle. Humphrey worked with the principle of fall and recovery from gravity, and with it developed a large repertory of choreography including, “Life of the Bee,” “The Shakers,” “Two Ecstatic Themes,” and “Water Study.” The Humphrey-Weidman Company toured throughout the 1930s and became known for their innovations in dance.

In 1945, suffering from arthritis, Humphrey turned her attention to serving as the artistic director for the Jose Limón Dance Company. In this role, she continued to choreograph works. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1949 and joined the faculty of the dance department at Juilliard in 1951 and in 1954, the school formed the Juilliard Dance Theatre under direction. In 1958, she authored, “The Art of Making Dance,” where she described her choreographic principles.

Humphrey married Charles Francis Woodford in 1932 and gave birth to their son, Charles Humphrey Woodford in 1933. She died on December 29, 1958 at the age of 63.


16.8 Linear Feet (17 boxes, 2 postcard boxes, 5 record cartons, and 2 oversize boxes)


Records of the Doris Humphrey Society, a cultural non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of dance and dance theory. Includes administrative and promotional files for the Society from the 1980s to late 2000s. Collection also includes photographs, audiovisual, biographical, and promotional materials of Doris Humphrey and her dance career, with personal photographs of her childhood and family. Also includes a small number of materials from the MOMENTA dance company.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Administrative Files, 1987-2008
Boxes 1-5
Series 2: Promotion/Publicity Files, 1981-2008
Box 5
Series 3: MOMENTA Records, 1988-2007
Box 6
Series 4: Doris Humphrey Biographical Information, 1900-2011
Boxes 7-9
Series 5: Denishawn Tour, approximately 1923-2001, bulk 1923-1926
Boxes 10-12
Series 6: Photographs, 1870-1970, bulk 1930-1950
Boxes 13-16
Series 7: Audiovisual, 1994-2002, bulk 1994-1997
Boxes 17-25
Series 8: Oversize – Administrative and Promotion/Publicity Files, 1931-2007
Box 26

Collection Stack Location

3a 45 3


Gift, Doris Humphrey Society, 2009 and 2017.

Separated Materials

The following materials from the Doris Humphrey Society Records and were separated out to be cataloged individually. See the Newberry Library online catalog for call numbers.

  • Doris Humphrey: The Collected Works. Volume 1 (Water Study, Shakers, and Partita V). New York: Dance Notation Bureau Press, 1978.
  • Doris Humphrey: The Collected Works. Volume 2 (Air for the G String, Two Ecstatic Themes, and Day on Earth). New York: Dance Notation Bureau Press, 1978.
  • Owen, Norton. A Certain Place: The Jacob's Pillow Story. Foreword by Sali Ann Kriegsman. Becket, Massachusetts: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, 1997.

Processed by

Stephen Sherwood and Samantha Smith, 2020.

Inventory of the Doris Humphrey Society Records, 1870-2011, bulk 1920-1997
Samantha Smith and Stephen Sherwood
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States