Ref NoDWE
TitlePapers of Dorothy Whitney Elmhirst
DescriptionThe papers of Dorothy Whitney Elmhirst (1887-1968) were accumulated over the course of a long and busy life. Subjects and correspondents represented in the collection reflect the very broad range of social and professional contacts maintained by Dorothy Elmhirst. From artists and academicians, to potters and politicians, the collection provides a rich source for modern art history, British and American social history, as well as the social and cultural experiment founded by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst at Dartington Hall, which is the collection's main focus.

Dorothy Elmhirst's correspondence and business papers were first maintained and filed by her private secretaries. In the 1950s, the historian Victor Bonham-Carter was given access to the Dartington Hall Trust archive with the intention that he would write a history of the enterprise. Over a period of several years, Bonham-Carter and Trust Records Officer, Robin Johnson, organised the Trust archive into broad categories and subjects. The principal record groups, DWE, T(Trust), and LKE (among others) were established in order to assist Bonham-Carter in writing his history. The present arrangement of the archive collection does not necessarily reflect the original order of the papers. Partly as a result of this, there is considerable overlapping of subjects throughout the administrative records and personal papers in the archive.

Series in the DWE collection include Arts; Cornell University; Dartington Hall School; Donations; Family; Gardens; General Correspondence; Household Accounts; Lectures; Law and Finance; Staff; and US Office.

For further information see:
Victor Bonham-Carter: Dartington Hall (unpublished reports 1925-1965)
WA Swanberg: Whitney Father, Whitney Heiress (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980)
Michael Young: The Elmhirsts of Dartington (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982, The Dartington Hall Trust 1996).
AuthorElmhirst; Dorothy Whitney (1887-1968)
Date1896-1968
SubjectCulture
History
Philanthropy
Cultural finance
Social reform
AdminHistoryDorothy Whitney Elmhirst was born Dorothy Payne Whitney in Washington DC, United States of America on 23 Jan 1887. Her father, William Collins Whitney, was a financier and millionaire, statesman and connoisseur of the arts, and her mother, Flora Payne, was from a wealthy family of social standing. Her mother died when she was six and she received her education at home until she was 12 years old, before commencing at a small school in New York on the recommendation of Beatrice Bend, who was appointed as companion to Dorothy. Her father died in 1904, leaving Dorothy at the age of 17 an extraordinarily wealthy and independent woman. From this point she became a member of the topmost echelons of New York society, leading a full and gay social life with many friends and suitors. She also became actively involved in social welfare work in New York, becoming president of the National Junior Leagues, and was involved in organisations of a more radical nature, like the suffragettes and the Women's Trade Union League. She travelled widely accompanied by her companion Beatrice Bend and Miss Bend's mother, visiting Europe, Mexico and the Far East. On one of these trips to China she met Willard Straight who was at the time the representative of a consortium of United States business interests, promoting railway development in China, with whom she had previously been acquainted in the United States. They married in Geneva in September 1911 and moved to Peking until the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in early 1912 forced their return to America. They settled in New York where they had three children; Whitney in 1912, Beatrice in 1914 and Michael in 1916. In 1917 Willard Straight went with the United States army to France and died in 1918 from pneumonia shortly after the end of World War I, leaving Dorothy a widow at 31 with three children.

During that time Dorothy was actively involved in war-work. After Willard's death she continued to be involved in social activism, and educational, industrial and economic enterprises, supporting women's suffrage, disarmament and trade unionism and became particularly interested in education and the arts. She promoted four American magazines: 'The New Republic', a weekly journal of liberal opinion founded by Willard Straight and Herbert Croly; 'Asia', which she had started with Willard Straight, and 'Theatre Arts' and 'Antiques', which she took over after his death. In 1920 she met Leonard Knight Elmhirst, son of an English clergyman and a student at Cornell University, who assisted her in her plans to build Willard Straight Hall at Cornell. They married in 1925 and purchased Dartington Hall in Devon, England with the aim of setting up a school for their children and the children of those who would work on the estate. Both Dorothy and Leonard disliked the type of formal schooling which Leonard had experienced and wished to form a school where children could develop their own personalities in a free atmosphere. Together they planned their experiment in education, research, rural regeneration and the arts. Two further children were born, Ruth in 1926 and William in 1929. Dorothy Elmhirst died on 14 December, 1968 at the age of 81.
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