Born on November 22, 1912 in New York City, Doris Duke was the only child of James Buchanan (J.B.) Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company, and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman Duke. When J.B. Duke died in 1925, he divided his fortune between Doris, who was then only 12 years old, and the Duke Endowment—a foundation he established to serve the people of the Carolinas.
Adventurous, intelligent and independent, Doris Duke used her wealth to pursue her many interests, which included travel, the arts, historic preservation, environmental conservation, preservation of wildlife and ornamental horticulture.
Doris Duke held a deep appreciation for different cultures, and on her many travels, she not only acquired countless treasures from around the world, including a remarkable collection of Islamic and Southeast Asian art, but commissioned works from living artists. Most of this collection is now on display at Shangri La, which was once her seasonal home in Honolulu, Hawaii and is now a museum for learning about the global cultures of Islamic art and design.
Lover of the Arts
In addition to collecting art, Doris Duke was both a patron of and a participant in the performing arts. She actively pursued various art forms, including jazz piano and composition, which she studied at the famed Jazz Loft in New York City, as well as modern dance, which she studied with celebrated choreographer Martha Graham.
Doris Duke was an environmentalist long before it was fashionable. She demonstrated an especially keen interest in conservation and horticulture. In her will, she envisioned that Duke Farms, a 2,000-plus acre property in central New Jersey which she inherited from her father, should serve to protect wildlife as well as be used for agriculture, horticulture and research. Inspired by this guidance, Duke Farms’ mission today is one of environmental stewardship, and is open for learning and recreation to the public at no charge in what is the most densely populated state in the nation.
Doris Duke contributed to a number of public causes, including child welfare, medical research and Native American communities, throughout her life. When she was just 21, she established a foundation called Independent Aid through which it is estimated that she gave away the equivalent of more than $400 million in today’s dollars during her lifetime—often as anonymous contributions. In 1968, Doris Duke also established the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) to save the rapidly disappearing 18th-century architecture in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon her death, she requested that NRF also take ownership of Rough Point, her home in Newport, and open it to the public as a museum.
In her will, Doris Duke left her fortune, her properties and her extensive collections of art to a foundation to be created in her name: the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). Simultaneously, she requested the establishment of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, which is an extension of DDCF. The foundations have developed their activities based on her written guidance as well as the personal passions that she pursued and supported throughout her life. With this approach, the mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, wildlife conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties.