Born on November 22, 1912 in New York City, Doris Duke was the only child of John Buchanan Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company. Upon his death in 1925, his fortune was divided between Doris, who was then only 12 years old, and the Duke Endowment—a foundation he established to serve the people of the Carolinas.
Intelligent, daring and independent, Doris Duke used her wealth to pursue her personal interests, many of which were considered unconventional during the period but today reveal her prescience as a free-thinking adventurer. Among other things, she was a passionate patron, participant and lover of the arts, actively pursuing forms such as jazz piano and composition as well as modern dance—which she studied with celebrated choreographer Martha Graham.
She was also an early funder of AIDS research; an environmentalist and horticulturist who bred a new hybrid of orchid; a war correspondent in Italy during World War II; and a bold experimenter who learned to surf before the sport was widely known outside of Hawaii. Her abundant interests also extended to foreign cultures, international travel and the visual arts. Through her many trips around the world, she acquired countless treasures, most of which are currently on display at her former home, Shangri La —now a center for the study of Islamic art and cultures.
A lifelong philanthropist, Doris Duke also contributed to a variety of public causes, including medical research and child welfare. When she was just 21, she established a foundation called Independent Aid through which she gave away the equivalent of hundreds of millions in today’s dollars—often as anonymous contributions. At age 56, she then established the Newport Restoration Foundation to save the rapidly disappearing 18th-century architecture in Newport, Rhode Island. Finally, through her will, she established her ongoing legacy by calling for the creation of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which has to date awarded more than $1 billion in grants.
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