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Agnes de Mille papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00046

Scope and Contents

The Agnes de Mille papers consist of correspondence, biographical and autobiographical material, research notes, manuscripts and typescripts, printed material, photographs, published writings, and memorabilia. The bulk of the papers date from 1914 to 1960 and focus on both personal and professional aspects of de Mille's life. Personal material can be found in the correspondence, especially to her mother, Anna George de Mille, and in the manuscript and research material for her two autobiographical books, Dance to the Piper and Promenade Home. Her professional life is reflected in the clippings and material related to her other writings about dance. The collection also includes three films shot at Smith College.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1897 - 1993


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections. Some letters were formerly closed at the direction of the donor until her death in 1993.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owned copyright, Agnes de Mille transferred literary rights to her son, Jonathan Prude, upon her death in 1993, in her works donated to Smith College. Copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, or which may regard materials in the collection not created by Agnes de Mille, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Agnes George de Mille was born in New York City, September 18, 1905, daughter of film producer, William de Mille and Anna (George) de Mille, daughter of economist Henry George. When Agnes was nine years old the family moved to Hollywood where her uncle, Cecil B. de Mille, was a motion picture director. Agnes entered university at age sixteen graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in English. Although she began dancing in her early teens, it was not until after her graduation from college that she seriously considered dancing as a career. She studied with Theodore Koslov, Marie Rambert, Antony Tudor, and Tamara Karasvina, becoming a proficient ballet dancer. In 1925 her parents divorced and she and her sister, Margaret, moved back to New York with their mother. De Mille's first New York performance was in MacKlin Marow's production of Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera in 1927. She choreographed productions through the early 1930s, returning to Hollywood in 1934 to participate in Cecil B. de Mille's Cleopatra, from which she withdrew after differences arose over the dances. De Mille spent the 1937-38 season in England helping to form a ballet troupe in Oxford and choreographing Cole Porter's The Nymph Errant starring Gertrude Lawrence. She staged dances for Leslie Howard's Hamlet (1936), Ed Wynn's Hooray for What?(1937), Swingin' the Dream (1939), and a jazz version of A Midsummer's Night Dream. In 1939 she joined the New York Ballet Theatre as choreographer and performer. During her first season she choreographed Black Ritual, the first ballet of a classical American ballet company to be danced by all black dancers. She then established a company of her own and began a national tour. In 1941, de Mille devised a scenario for Rodeo for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo which was presented in 1942. In 1943 she did the choreography for Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein's hit musical Oklahoma!. She was one of the first women choreographers to work on Broadway doing the choreography for One Touch of Venus (1943), Bloomer Girl (1944), Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), and Paint Your Wagon (1951). De Mille also published articles on dance and several books. These include two autobiographical works: Dance to the Piper (1952), and Promenade Home (1958), To A Young Dancer (1960), The Book of Dance (1963), Lizzie Borden: A Dance of Death (1968), The Dance in America (1971), and Speak to Me, Dance With Me (1973). Despite a stroke and heart attack in the mid 1970s, de Mille continued her writing, publishing two memoirs, Where the Wings Grow (1978) and Reprieve (1981). She also choreographed the ballets The Informer (1988) and The Other (1992).

Agnes de Mille combined American folk dances and American music into classic art and was an innovator in dance who transformed the world of musical comedy forever. She received many awards including twelve honorary degrees, the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best choreography (1947 and 1962), Theatre Hall of Fame (1973), Handel Medallion (1976), John F. Kennedy Center Career Achievement Award (1980), and the National Medal of the Arts (1986).

On June 14, 1943 Agnes de Mille married Walter Foy Prude. They had one son, Jonathan.

She died October 7, 1993 in Manhattan at the age of 88.


5.272 linear feet (13 containers)

43.71 Gigabytes (3 MOV files)

Language of Materials



Agnes de Mille was a dancer and choreographer. The first woman to choreograph on Broadway, Agnes de Mille was an innovator who combined American folk dances with American music and transformed the world of musical comedy forever. Papers include writings, extensive family correspondence, photographs, research notes for two autobiographies, and memorabilia. Correspondence describes her life and activities in great detail and discusses many notable people including Cecil B. de Mille, Rebecca West, Fannie Hurst, Cole Porter, Martha Graham, Oscar Hammerstein, and Richard Rogers.


The first three series of this collection (Biographical Material, Correspondence, Works and Writings) contain materials donated by de Mille or purchased by the library. The fourth series contains three films donated by Lester Tome.


This collection has been added to over time in multiple "accessions." An accession is a group of materials received from the same source at approximately the same time.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

As a preservation measure, researchers must use digital copies of audiovisual materials in this collection. Links to online versions of these materials are included with their individual descriptions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Agnes de Mille donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection between 1959 and 1968, and her Dance To The Piper was purchased in 1994.

Three films were donated by Lester Tome in 2010.

Related Material

Additional papers are located at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Performing Arts Research Center Dance Collection. There is also material related to de Mille's Smith College honorary degree (1954) located in the Smith College Archives.

Processing Information

Between September 2022 and February 2023, Smith College Special Collections renumbered many boxes to eliminate duplicate numbers within collections in order to improve researcher experience. The following changes were made in this collection: Accession 2010-S-0037, Box 1 renumbered as Box 12

Finding aid to the Agnes de Mille papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Susan Boone
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss11 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:10-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-03-25: Added pencil edits on paper FA and updated finding aid
  • 2019-03-29: Revised accession 10s-37 entry and re-published.
  • 2022-09-22: Updated description of films series with information from digitization, added links to online versions of films

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063