Ted Shawn Costume Collection



Repository Name: Jacob's Pillow
Repository Location: 358 George Carter Road, Becket MA, 01223 USA


1915 – 1940 (Bulk date(s))
1900 – 2001 (Inclusive date(s))


94 boxes

Related Entities

Ted Shawn (is related to)
Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers (is related to)
Denishawn Company (is related to)

Administrative/Biographical History

Edwin Myers Shawn was born on October 21, 1891 in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Denver, Colorado. While studying to become a minister, Shawn suffered a bout of diphtheria at the age of 19, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. On the advice of his physician, he took up dance as a form of physical therapy. Dancing cured Shawn's paralysis and left him with a passion that would guide and direct him for the rest of his life.

Although Shawn's first dance experience was with a Metropolitan Opera ballerina and he achieved some success as part of an exhibition ballroom team, it was meeting Ruth St. Denis in 1914 that would set his artistic life in motion. They were married that same year.

During the next 15 years, the activities of their Denishawn Company and School changed the course of dance history; many of today's modern dancers can trace their ancestry to Denishawn. It was Shawn who first recognized Martha Graham's potential and he was instrumental in shaping the early careers of Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey and Jack Cole. While St. Denis provided most of the creative sparks, Shawn had the business sense to make Denishawn a coast-to-coast success.

Shawn and St. Denis separated in 1930 and this also brought about the dissolution of the Denishawn Company. With the purchase that same year of a rundown farm in the Berkshires known as Jacob's Pillow, Shawn laid the groundwork both for his revolutionary company of men dancers and America's oldest dance festival. In March 1933, Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers gave their first, historic, all-male performance in Boston. By May 1940 when Shawn disbanded the group, the Company had danced for over a million people in all of the United States, in Canada, Cuba and England, having challenged and irrevocably changed the course of American dance. For the final three decades of his life, Shawn became a major impresario, bringing dance to mainstream America through the theater and school at Jacob's Pillow. To promote his principle of the importance and universality of dance, Shawn introduced countless foreign companies to American audiences, provided opportunities for promising young artists and trained countless students in a full range of dance styles. Shawn presented premieres by both the established and emerging talents of his day including Agnes de Mille, Anton Dolin, Pearl Lang, Merce Cunningham, Anna Sokolow, Alvin Ailey, and Robert Joffrey.

There are a number of "firsts" achieved by Ted Shawn during his lifetime:
• The first American man to achieve a world reputation in dance
• Conceived, choreographed and appeared in one of the first dance films, the Thomas Edison Company's Dances of the Ages in 1912
• The first American dancer to be awarded an honorary degree by an American college (1936)
• The first male dancer to be listed in Who's Who in America

Shawn was honored with the Capezio Award (1957), the Dance Magazine Award (1970) and he was knighted by the King of Denmark for his efforts on behalf of the Royal Danish Ballet (1957). Posthumously, Shawn was named as one of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000.

In spite of declining health, Shawn remained at the helm of Jacob's Pillow until his death on January 9, 1972, at the age of 81.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Ted Shawn Costume Collection. Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Archives, Becket, MA.


In 1932, after the Denishawn Company had disbanded, the Denishawn costumes, props, and sets were divided between Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Each kept items which were particularly meaningful to them or that could be used again. After the division was complete, it was decided that the rest should be burned ‘with a cleansing fire’. The costumes and props that Shawn saved from the fire were brought to Jacob’s Pillow and form the nucleus of the Ted Shawn Costume Collection.

In the 1930s Ted Shawn's Men Dancers bought, made, and altered a variety of costume items to wear in performance. Many of those costumes stayed at Jacob's Pillow after the Men Dancers company disbanded in 1940 and now make up another significant portion of the the Ted Shawn Costume Collection.

Over time other additions were made to the the Ted Shawn Costume Collection: two trunks of costumes and accessories belonging to former Denishawn Dancer Mary Howry, a trunk of East Indian costume and accessories owned by Mrs John Millet, a trunk of costumes owned by Haddassah (Hadassah Spira Epstein), items donated by Jane Goldberg, and items donated by Malcolm McCormick.

Scope and content

The Ted Shawn Costume Collection includes costumes from the following works:
  • Denishawn Company: Black and Gold NautchCuadro FlamencoDeath of a Bull GodThe Egyptian BalletFeather of the DawnGeneral Wu’s Farewell to His WifeJosephine and HippolyteMomijii GariThe Siamese BalletXochitl
  • The Men Dancers: Dance of the Ages - Fire, Air, Water, and Earth sections, Danza Afro-CubanaThe Forty NinersThe Jazz Decade, Kinetic MolpaiMaori War Haka, Olympiad - Basketball and Cheerleaders sections, Osage-Pawnee Dance of GreetingPonca Indian Dance
  • Unidentified costumes that need further research in order to be connected with a specific work

System of arrangement

Until 2018 the Ted Shawn Costume Collection was housed in a series of touring trunks dating from the time of Denishawn, Ted Shawn's Men Dancers, and afterwards. In 2018, Archives and Preservation Fellow Caroline Hamilton assigned unique numbers to each costume item and catalogued the complete collection. She also re-housed all of the costume items in archival boxes. The arrangement of the Ted Shawn Costume Collection comes from the original order of the items in the historic touring trunks. In the catalog record for each item, the physical location corresponds to the Costume Box number where it is currently stored, but the original trunk information has been retained in the provenance.

Conditions governing access

This collection is open to research by appointment only. Please contact the Director of Preservation for more information.

Processing Information

Date Created: 2018
Information: Caroline Hamilton, Archives and Preservation Fellow