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Dorothy Dushkin papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00243

Scope and Contents

The Dorothy Dushkin Papers occupy nine linear feet of shelf space and consist of correspondence; diaries and other writings; scrapbooks; photographs; memorabilia; scores; tape and disc recordings; and miscellaneous papers. The material documents Dorothy's life from the time she began her diary at age 15. David Dushkin's papers are primarily related to his post-marriage life.

While the bulk of these papers belong to Dorothy Smith Dushkin, a substantial portion were generated by David Dushkin, and especially in Series V, "Professional Activities," their papers are somewhat intertwined, as were their professional lives. Series I through IV contain largely personal papers, but to the extent that the Dushkins' professional and personal lives overlapped, this distinction is somewhat artificial. For instance, Dorothy's diaries are a highly personal account of her emotional life in which she writes of her dual identities as composer and family caretaker. The diaries, kept faithfully from age 15 to 84, are exceptionally introspective and reflect a lifelong tension between these identities. They reveal a passionate woman coping with, among other things, the worry and strain of many commitments, the untimely death of a daughter from cancer, and the health challenges of aging. The carefree girl of 1919 becomes a sometimes frustrated woman trying simultaneously to satisfy her creative urges and maintain her many responsibilities.

The personal correspondence is indicative of the ways in which music was a large part of each of the Dushkins' lives. The bulk of the family correspondence consists of letters received by Dorothy and David, though a significant number were written by them. Of special interest is the correspondence between David and his brother, Alex, and sister, Eva Kassan, living in Israel during the 1960s and 1970s. These letters and a number of others were apparently selected by Dorothy from "masses of family correspondence [from which she] saved just a random pile to represent extended family." Correspondence with friends and associates includes many of Dorothy's Smith College friends and professors, notably Jessie Lloyd O'Connor '25, Caroline Bedell Thomas '25, Ross Lee Finney, and Werner Josten. The most famous Dushkin correspondent was Nadia Boulanger, who wrote 14 letters and notes between 1926 and 1976. The family memorabilia and photograph collection is extensive, providing especially thorough documentation of the Dushkin children's activities. The discs, which recorded family events from baby noises to musical performances, are the equivalent of home movies. The scrapbooks also contain material related to the Dushkins' early teaching careers and activities at the Winnetka school.

The bulk of professional papers relate to Dorothy's composing. She kept much of her correspondence with publishers and a special file of programs, clippings and correspondence related to performances of her work. This material reflects her unstinting efforts to get her work the attention it deserved, sometimes successfully, but often with discouraging results. The scores of orchestral, chamber, solo, and other works constitute Dorothy Dushkin's major output as a composer. Most of the tape recordings are of performances of her work, many of which took place at Kinhaven Music School. Both Dushkins were interested in recorder manufacture and repertory, but the correspondence reflects David's more active involvement in this aspect of their professional lives. Dorothy and David participated equally in the founding and running of the two music schools, though it appears from the papers that David's role was more prominent while Dorothy did more work behind-the-scenes.

The general correspondence concerns miscellaneous professional activities of both Dushkins, such as their early teaching careers and the wide-ranging musical interests they shared with former colleagues, students, and parents of students. Throughout the correspondence there is evidence of the influence of the Dushkins' innovative educational theories on many of the people who came in contact with them professionally. There is also a substantial amount of Dorothy's correspondence negotiating potential performances of her work.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1906 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Dorothy Dushkin has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; however, 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 instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by [donor/creator], 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

Dorothy Brewster Smith was born in Chicago in 1903. She attended public schools in Glencoe and Winnetka, Illinois, and Bradford Academy in Massachusetts. She was graduated from Smith College with honors in music in 1925. A year later she went to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, where she met her future husband, David Dushkin, another Boulanger student.

David Dushkin was born in 1898 in a part of Russia that is now part of Poland. He emigrated to New York City with his family as a young child and grew up helping his father to run a kosher butcher shop. He spent one year at City College of New York and served in the army medical corps.

After returning to the United States from Paris, Dorothy Smith and David Dushkin both taught music in the Chicago area. They married in 1930.

In 1931 the Dushkins founded the School of Musical Arts and Crafts in Winnetka with the intention of using experimental teaching methods to stimulate creativity. Students made instruments in a shop, played in ensembles, and did ear training through games and puzzles. The Dushkins built a school/residence in 1934. During their tenure, the school was renamed the Dushkin School of Music, and finally, the Winnetka School of Music. After their departure, the school was taken over by the parents and operated as the Music Center of the North Shore.

In 1952, the Dushkin family, which by then included four children (Lelah, Nadia, David Alex, and Amanda), moved to Weston, Vermont. There Dorothy and David began the Kinhaven School of Music, a summer school devoted to chamber, orchestral, and choral music for musically gifted young people. At Kinhaven, the Dushkins continued to experiment with and adapt the basics of music education, shaping an intensive seven-week musical experience. In 1962 the school became a non-profit corporation with an elected board of trustees.

Dorothy Dushkin composed intermittently throughout her adult life. Her musical drama, "Poltarnees," was performed at her Smith College commencement. While teaching and helping to run the music schools in Illinois and Vermont, she composed many works for a wide variety of ensembles, instrumental and vocal, often tailoring her compositions to the needs of young novices. These works have been performed regularly at Kinhaven and all over the United States.

David Dushkin died in 1986. Dorothy Dushkin moved to Manchester, Vermont, in 1987 and later to Amherst, Massachusetts. Dorothy Dushkin died on March 3, 1992.


20.771 linear feet (23 containers)

Language of Materials



Composer and co-founder of music schools. Musical scores and recordings make up a large portion of the collection. Dushkin's diaries, kept from age 15 to 84, are highly detailed and personal and reflect a dual life as professional composer and family caretaker. Winnetka and Kinhaven music schools are documented by correspondence, writings, and photographs. Correspondents include Jessie Lloyd O'Connor, Caroline Bedell Thomas, and musician Nadia Boulanger.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. I. Biography
  2. II. Personal Correspondence
  3. III. Diaries and Other Writings
  4. IV. Memorabilia and Photographs
  5. V. Professional Activities


Series I is arranged alphabetically. The personal correspondence (Series II) is alphabetical within the subseries "family" and "friends and associates." (Professional correspondence is located in Series V., Professional Activities.) Within series III, the diaries are arranged chronologically. There are separate folders for Dorothy's other writings and David's poems and miscellaneous writings. Series IV is divided into the following subseries: miscellaneous memorabilia; scrapbooks; photographs; and discs. The photographs are arranged according to individual family members, family or other groups, other individuals, and places. The documentary and audiovisual materials in series V are divided into the following subseries: composing; recorder repertory and manufacture; Winnetka School of Music; Kinhaven Music School; miscellaneous; recordings; and scores.


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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Dorothy Dushkin donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1988. Her daughter, Lelah Dushkin, donated additional papers in 1991.

Related Material

Related correspondence is located in the Jessie Lloyd O'Connor and Caroline Bedell Thomas Papers. Other unpublished material can be found in the College Archives files for the class of 1925, and the papers of Dorothy Dushkin's sister, Gertrude Smith, a member of the music department faculty for many years.

Processing Information

Processed by Amy Hague, 1991.

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 1995-S-0046, Box 1 renumbered as Box 21

Dorothy Dushkin papers
Finding Aid
Amy Hague
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: mnsss14 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-04-16: Made paper FA pencil edit changes.
  • 2021-07-28: Content description added from accession inventory

Repository Details

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

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063