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Raymond Duncan Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Duncan, Raymond, 1874-1966
Title: Raymond Duncan Collection
Inclusive Dates: 1942-1949
Quantity: 0.25 linear ft (1 oversize flat box)
Abstract: Raymond Duncan, brother of famed dancer Isadora Duncan. Letters to/from, clippings and other printed material about.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Raymond Duncan (1874-1966) was an American dancer, artist, poet, craftsman, and philosopher. Born in San Francisco, he was the third of four children of Joseph Charles Duncan, a banker, and Mary Dora Gray, youngest daughter of Thomas Gray, a California senator (the other children were Elisabeth, Augustin, and Isadora). Raymond Duncan was drawn to the arts from an early age. In 1891, at the age of 17, he developed a theory of movement which he called kinematics, "a remarkable synthesis of the movements of labor and of daily life." He believed that the value of labor was the development of the worker, not production or earnings.

In 1898 he and his mother and siblings left America and worked for a time in London, Berlin, Athens, and Paris. Duncan's theory of movement led him to work particularly closely with his sister Isadora, a noted dancer. Duncan became particularly fond of Greece. He and his Greek wife, Penelope, lived in a villa outside Athens which they furnished in the manner of classical times, and many of the furnishings were handmade by Duncan, whose craft work included ceramics, weaving, and carpentry. No one was permitted to enter the villa in modern dress, and they themselves dressed in classical Greek attire both at home and abroad (when they visited Germany in 1907, the newspapers wrote that they "shock[ed] appearing in the streets and shops clad in Greek negligee...displaying most of the leg below the knee").

In 1909 Raymond and Penelope returned to the United States for a series of performances of classical Greek plays, touring Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Portland, and other cities. The couple also gave lectures and classes on folk music, weaving, dancing, and Greek music. They then spent several months in the Pacific Northwest with the Klamath Indians. In 1911 Duncan and Penelope returned to Paris and founded a school, the Akademia Raymond Duncan, at 31 Rue de Seine, which offered free courses in their specialty areas of dance, arts, and crafts; they later opened a similar school in London. Both schools were based on the idea of the Platonic Academy and both were "an open house for every new effort in theater, literature, music and art."

In addition to his artistic and creative pursuits, Duncan found time to write poetry and plays, as well as books, newspapers, and editorials expounding his philosophy of "actionalism." At the age of 73, he proposed creating the city of "New Paris York" at latitude 45N, longitude 36W (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean) as a symbol of cooperation and inter-cultural communication. In 1948 and 1949, he wrote and performed in Europe and the United States an autobiographical solo work in three acts whose subject was "the story, the author, and the leading role all in one." He was accompanied on this tour by his second wife, Aïa Bertrand, a Latvian whom he had met in Paris and with whom he had a daughter, Ligoa.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Raymond Duncan Collection consists of correspondence and printed material. Correspondence, all outgoing, is from Aia Bertrand (2 items) and Raymond Duncan (1 item) to a Roger Ashley, who apparently assisted with scheduling Duncan's events. Printed material includes programs, clippings, a poster, and "New Paris York" newsletters by Duncan, as well as one lengthy clipping about his sister, noted dancer Isadora Duncan, and her relationship with millionaire Paris Singer.

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Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically. Printed material is subdivided into Isadora Duncan and Raymond Duncan.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

Issues of New Paris York newsletters have been transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate these items.

Special Collections Research Center has made a concerted effort over the years to ensure that its manuscript and rare books holdings complement each other. As a result, many of our manuscript collections are supported by books, pamphlets, serials and other items which are cataloged in the Rare Books Collection. Please be sure to search the Classic Catalog for these related materials.

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Subject Headings


Bertrand, Aïa.
Duncan, Isadora, 1877-1927.
Duncan, Raymond, 1874-1966.


Education -- Philosophy.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Programs (documents)



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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Raymond Duncan Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Some items purchased, 2017, remainder unknown.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRC
Date: 2 Jun 2008
Revision history: 30 Oct 2014 - items transferred to Rare Books (MRC); 5 Jul 2017 - adds, promoted to regular collection (MRC)

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Oversize 1 Ashley, Roger 1948 - two from Aia Bertrand, one from Duncan
Printed material
Oversize 1 Duncan, Isadora 1942, 1943? - business card, clipping
Oversize 1 Duncan, Raymond 1947-1949, undated - programs, clippings, poster
"New Paris York" newsletters
Transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please see our catalog.

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