Ted Shawn/Jacob’s Pillow Correspondence



Repository Name: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Repository Location: Becket, Massachusetts 01223


1891 – 1972 (Inclusive date(s))


51 boxes

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.


Primarily this collection comprises incoming personal and business correspondence addressed primarily to Ted Shawn, Founder and Artistic Director of Jacob’s Pillow. The materials mostly date from 1946 to his death in 1972, with the exception of some materials Shawn inherited from his step-mother concerning family papers and photographs dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It is virtually impossible to separate Ted Shawn’s personal correspondence from the daily business of operating Jacob’s Pillow; he developed personal relationships with everyone he worked with, from the postmistress in Lee to the visiting performing artists and teachers. The business material concerns the daily operations, events, performances and visitors to Jacob’s Pillow, such as letters and applications from students, employment inquiries, book orders, fund raising matters, press materials and some financial papers and receipts. The personal correspondence also concerns performances and visitors to Jacob’s Pillow, including letters from faculty, visiting artists and companies, writers, board members, family, friends and fans. There are some photographs throughout the collection and some carbon copies of outgoing letters from Shawn.

Preferred Citation

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


Ted Shawn maintained and arranged all of his incoming correspondence, usually by year, and the only rearrangement since his death has been transferring the contents of each box into acid-free folders and boxes.

Scope and content

This collection comprises incoming personal and business correspondence addressed primarily to Ted Shawn, Founder and Director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. The correspondence spans mostly from 1946 to Shawn’s death in 1972. The business material concerns the daily operations, events, performances and visitors to Jacob’s Pillow, such as letters and applications from students, employment inquiries, book orders, and fund raising matters. It also contains financial papers, receipts, insurance papers, deposit slips, press clippings and press materials. There is also significant correspondence and financial material concerning the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Tour in 1952. The personal correspondence includes letters from faculty, visiting artists and companies, dance historians and writers, photographers, Jacob’s Pillow board members, students, supporters, family, friends and fans. Of note is the correspondence both to and from his wife Ruth St. Denis and with other important and emerging dancers and companies during this time such as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Robert Joffrey, Alicia Markova, Lester Horton, Talley Beatty, and Martha Graham. This collection also contains some correspondence with former members of the Denishawn Company and with Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers including Barton Mumaw, Frank Overlees, Fred Hearn and Foster Fitz-Simons. Personal correspondence also includes important local supporters such as Margaret French Cresson and Gertrude Robinson Smith; board members such as Alfreda Joslin and Murray Smouse; patrons such as Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Katherine S. Dreier; colleagues such as Connie Felten Coates, Ann Hutchinson, Joseph and Clara Pilates; and faculty members of Springfield College.

System of arrangement

The Ted Shawn/Jacob’s Pillow Correspondence Collection is arranged into 1 series and divided into 45 subseries chronologically. SERIES I: Ted Shawn/Jacob’s Pillow Correspondence 1891 - 1972

Conditions governing access

This collection is open for research. Advance notice required for access by contacting the Director of Preservation.

Related archival materials

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Archives:
Barton Mumaw Collection
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Collection
Jess Meeker Collection
Larry Humphries Collection

New York Public Library:
Ted Shawn Collection
Ted Shawn Papers, 1913-1982
Denishawn Collection

Processing Information

Date Created: 2014
Information: Margaret Cherin, Project Archivist, 2013-2014; Brittany Austin, Associate Archivist & Librarian 2015-2017

Collection Contents