Doris Duke

Inducted: 2001
Born: 1912
Died: 1993

Duke, Doris, 1912-1993

The late Doris Duke formerly of Newport, famed tobacco heiress who is one of Rhode Island’s greatest philanthropists. In 1968, she helped to launch the Newport Restoration Foundation to preserve that historic city’s 18th and early 19th century domestic architecture. Later, Ms. Duke made a major gift to the nature Conservancy to preserve land in several communities and directed that her Newport mansion, “Rough Point,” become a public museum.

The ony child of tobacco and hydroelectric power tycoon James Buchanan Duke and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman, Doris Duke (and her mother) inherited the majority of her father’s estate in addition to an endowment upon his death in 1925. She was presented to Newport society in 1930 with a ball at Rough Point, the former Vanderbilt mansion her parents had purchased and renovated in 1922. Duke showed an interest in historic preservation at a young age. Duke successfully prevented the sale of a Manhattan mansion belonging to her father’s estate, which later became the home of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Rough Point was among her most prized properties, refusing to allow her mother to sell it.

Duke’s mother spent summers at Rough Point until the New England Hurricane of 1938 and with the advent of World War II, she came less frequently. In the early 1950s, Mrs. Duke moved permanently to New York City and emptied Rough Point of all its furnishings. Following the death of Mrs. Duke in 1962, Doris Duke returned to Newport and began refurnishing Rough Point. In 1958 and 1959 she purchased art and antiques for the house and combined these new pieces with family treasures. Rough Point was reopened in 1962 and, over the years, became one of Miss Duke’s favorite residences; she lived there May through November most years and continued to collect items for the house during her wide-ranging travels.

She spent her young adult years traveling and participating in a variety of occupations and activities, including journalism, surfing, horticulture, wildlife refuge support,environmental conservation and historic preservation. Duke’s first major philanthropic act was to establish Independent Aid, Inc., in 1934. In 1968, Duke created the Newport Restoration Foundation with the goal of preserving more than eighty colonial buildings in the town. Historic properties include Rough Point, Samuel Whitehorne House, Prescott Farm, the Buloid-Perry House, the King’s Arms Tavern, the Baptist Meetinghouse, and the Cotton House. Additional philanthropic work resulted in the foundation, Independent Aid, which later became the Doris Duke Foundation, which exists as a private grant-making entity. Following her death, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation was established in 1996, supporting four national grant making programs and Doris Duke’s three estates, Shangri La, Rough Point, and Duke Farms.

Doris Duke died on October 28, 1993, at the age of 80. Rough Point has been preserved in time, nothing removed or added since the death of Duke in 1993, and is open for limited public tours.

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