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May O'Donnell papers

Identifier: Dance-MS-O'Donnell

Scope and Content of the Collection

Collection relates to May O’Donnell’s professional career as a successful modern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Includes advertising and announcements, articles and clippings, programs, reviews and photographs. Also, a few miscellaneous items, one of which is a compact disk of the music of O’Donnell’s husband, composer Ray Green.


  • Creation: 1934-1996



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The May O’Donnell papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The May O’Donnell papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of May O’Donnell

May O’Donnell, an early principal dancer with the Martha Graham Company and a noted performer, choreographer and teacher, was born in California in 1906. Early deciding that she was not physically built for the ballet, O’Donnell instead was drawn to contemporary modern dance, and by 1932 she was studying in New York at the Martha Graham School, eventually becoming one of Graham’s most successful soloists. O’Donnell choreographed from 1937 to 1988, and in 1949 she founded a New York-based company that performed into the 1980s.

Her works of musical abstraction freed the dancers from themes and storylines, and her modern-dance classic, the 1943 “Suspension,” was described as “a poetical cloud of movement that refused to be hurried.” O’Donnell was an influential teacher, and among her students were Gerald Arpino, Robert Joffrey, Ben Vereen and Dudley Williams. Her repertory of fifty documented pieces included many collaborations with her husband, composer Ray Green.

May O’Donnell died in 2004.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)


Material relating to the career of modern dancer May O’Donnell, consisting of advertising and announcements, articles, reviews, programs and photographs. Also a few miscellaneous items, some of which relate to O’Donnell’s husband, musician Ray Green.


Arranged by type of material.

Collection Stack Location

3a 48 11


Gift of Marian Horosco, 2004.

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith.

Inventory of the May O’Donnell papers, 1934-1996
Virginia Hay Smith
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