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Edna L. McRae papers

Identifier: Dance-MS-McRae

Scope and Content of the Collection

The extent and range of materials in the Edna McRae Papers present a picture of the life, career and legacy of an influential dance teacher in twentieth-century Chicago.

The collection includes correspondence, biographical items regarding McRae's education, training and teaching, brochures, clippings, programs, and numerous photographs. Also included are her dance routine notation notebooks, personal notebooks, address books, card files and eight albums kept by Edna and her sister Elma Marie, commemorating their personal lives, education and travel. At the end of the collection there is a miscellany of plaques, diplomas, and other memorabilia.

Among the correspondents represented with notes or letters are George Balanchine, Adolph Bolm, Anton Dolin, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Alan Howard, Leonide Massine, Serge Oukrainsky, Ruth Page, Vera Trefilova and Mark Turbyfill. There are copious files on McRae's early education, the many schools where she earned her professional training and the places where she was an instructor. Miscellaneous material includes clippings, photographs and programs concerning her and/or her "McRae Dancers", plus her awards, her biography, her many travels, and memorabilia relating to her sister Elma (who died in 1968). Also, there is a large collection of notes and clippings relating to individual dancers, the history of dance and the Chicago production of the Nutcracker ballet, as well as an extensive collection of photographs of dance productions and individual dancers. There are eight albums containing photographs, postcards and memorabilia mostly concerned with the personal lives of Edna and Elma, their friends and family.

The dance notation notebooks contain mimeographed routines of ballet, tap, character, clog and other dances often with the music to be used. There are smaller notebooks consisting of personal and teaching notes, music and choreography, collected on specific topics such as Class Notes, Pointe Exercises, Summer Course Dances, and Nutcracker. Also, Foreign Notes, which includes articles on the dance by Phyllis Bedells, Tamara Karsavina and Peggy Van Praagh, and teaching instructions by Nicolas Legat. There are five address notebooks and four metal file trays of address cards, all of which relate to students, friends and acquaintances, accompanists, performances, teaching positions, businesses, places and things.

Sheet music, much of it filed with appropriate dance steps, and 60 reel-to-reel tapes of music recorded for classroom use, are now located in the Keith Allison Studio Records collection.


  • Creation: 1910-1990



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Edna L. McRae papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Edna L. McRae 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.

Biography of Edna L. McRae

Chicago dancer, choreographer and teacher of ballet.

Edna Louise McRae was a Chicago ballet teacher who received national recognition as a trainer of young dancers, and from the 1920s to the 1970s she helped make Chicago a major ballet center.

Born in Chicago in 1901, Edna and her sister Elma attended Schurz High School and the Chicago Normal School of Physical Education, where in both schools they were interested in dancing. While Elma went on to become a teacher of physical education, Edna decided on a career as a ballet dancer. She studied with, and danced in the companies of, such prominent Chicago teachers as Andreas Pavley, Serge Oukrainsky and Adolph Bolm. She also studied ballet in New York, London and Paris, and like many dancers and teachers of her time, was trained in other forms such as Spanish and tap.

McRae opened her own Chicago school in 1925, and until her retirement from regular teaching in 1964, her school was one of the places where touring dancers would often take classes when they were appearing locally. She also taught at the Pavley and Oukrainsky Ballet School of Chicago, the Adolph Bohm School of the Dance, and the Perry-Mansfield Camp in Colorado. She was choreographer for the "Enchanted Island" Theatre at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 1933, the Chicago Park District, and the initial season of the Lyric Opera Company.

In 1962 McRae opened a new studio with teacher Keith Allison, but poor health caused McRae to retire in 1964. However, she continued to devote herself to special projects in the world of dance until she suffered a heart attack in 1974. Among other activities, she supervised the original Joffrey Apprentice Program in New York in 1965, and was on the faculties at the Juilliard School in New York in 1969 and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in 1973. One of her most memorable engagements was a yearly position, 1965 to 1972, as associate director in charge of the children for the "The Nutcracker" ballet, Ruth Page's production presented by The Chicago Tribune

McRae received a number of awards and honors. She became an honorary member of the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters in 1963, and received a plaque from that organization in 1982 for her outstanding achievement in the teaching of dance. In 1974 the Cliff Dwellers presented her with a medal for her distinguished service to the Arts in Chicago, and in 1986 the Ellis-DuBoulay School of Ballet established the Edna McRae Scholarships. The Chicago Dance Arts Association gave her the Ruth Page Award in 1987, and Schurz High School elected her to its "Hall of Fame" in 1990.

As a teacher, Edna McRae was a stern disciplinarian with high standards of performance, and she sent many young people on to careers on the stage or in television. Her dance training methods, emphasizing fundamentals, was firm and demanding; some of her students eventually would open dance schools of their own. After a long life of learning and teaching, Edna McRae died one week short of her 89th birthday in 1990.


14 Linear Feet (27 boxes, 1 oversize box, and 2 metal card files)


Dancer, choreographer, and teacher Edna McRae started dancing in Chicago Public Schools and studied with Andreas Pavley, Serge Oukrainsky, and Adolph Bolm, among others. She operated a ballet school in Chicago from 1925 to 1964, becoming known as the grande dame of the Chicago Ballet community. Papers include correspondence, biographical information, brochures, clippings, programs, numerous photographs, personal and dance notation notebooks, card files, address books, and eight albums relating to education, travel and personal life kept by Edna and her sister Elma Marie.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1917-1986
Boxes 1-4
Series 2: Miscellaneous, 1912-1990
Boxes 5-11
Series 3: Albums, 1910-1932
Boxes 12-16
Series 4: Personal and teaching notebooks, 1931-1974
Boxes 17-18
Series 5: Address Books, approximately 1961-1986
Box 19
Series 6: Dance notation notebooks, 1931-1964
Boxes 20-25
Series 7: Artifacts, 1963-1982
Box 26
Series 8: Oversize, 1911-1959
Box 27
Series 9: Card files, undated
Boxes 28-29

Collection Stack Location

3a 49 9-10


Gift, Edna L. McRae, 1982; Carolyn Marshall, 1986; Jean White, 1988; Barbara Dubosq, 2013.

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2012.

Inventory of the Edna L. McRae papers, 1910-1990
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