Posted in The Trials of Doris

ToD: Special Edition II


Doris Duke, 1930s
Photo of Doris Duke, dressed in long dress, gloves, and hat. Photo taken as a profile. Photographer: Montauk Photo Concern Photo by Bain News Service.

The fight for the mansion is far from over, but there is a lot more at risk here other than the historic home  of Doris Duke. The mansion is in many ways symbolic of Miss Duke, and indeed the estate as a whole; it considered the crown jewel of the Duke estate, and this happens to be her favorite property . The threat and implementation of demolition goes far beyond the removal of the home. Though there are few, if any, displays that mention Doris and her role in the preservation of the gardens, flora and fauna, some still exist within every detail of the estate. In her time, she was greatly involved with the maintenance and care of all the gardens and greenhouses on the property, and many of these have fallen into disrepair under the care of the DFF in the mid 2000’s.

Some examples:
1. The Orchid range doesn’t have a single visible specimen of the Phalaenopsis Doris, a special orchid that was developed on the estate and named after its benefactor.

2. A. The garden of nations: Dismantled after decision was made by the trustees in 2008 ( How ironic that this too had a successful opposition and was overturned. Nothing was gained by its destruction.
B. The many cultural gardens: uncared for, overgrown (outside) and abandoned.

This brings up a special consideration. Women’s history has forgotten her. Women’s rights and empowerment groups have not heard of her. Why is this? This destructive trail of events caused by the DDCF has erased her memory and her lasting impact from further encouraging future generations of women. Why would they do this? The answer is quite logical. This woman was never one to follow societal norms of any decade she lived through. She would protest, refute, and even threaten authority to maintain her personal integrity, her land, and any causes she felt strongly about. When anyone challenges the authorities, especially as a woman, there are sure to be negative social consequences- even today!

So here’s what we can learn from an empowering woman like Doris Duke:

  1. Pursue what makes you happy, even if it isn’t what everyone else likes.
  2. Don’t compromise the integrity of your family’s name
  3. Never be influenced by the tabloids- you are the one who influences them.
  4. Be unabashedly yourself, even in the face of adversity.
  5. Don’t ever feel like you have to give up on anything you believe in, whether that means the loveliness of your estate home or AIDS research.

There have been many unfounded comments comparing Doris to another heiress, one Paris Hilton, and this blatantly disregards how in the case of Hilton, she risked getting disowned by her family and I do not follow the tabloids, but if she was or wasn’t disowned by the Hiltons is irrelevant to me. Doris, while indeed an heiress to her family fortune, was a great entrepreneur and philanthropist. She grew her inheritance from millions into nearly 2 billion dollars, all the while preserving many historic homes in Newport RI, investing and growing her fortune, and giving generously to many charities. She did all of this while maintaining her many houses, and especially her home in Somerset County. The perception of Miss Duke as a spoiled heiress of the Duke fortune is an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of her, and her personal and business ethics. She was a woman who carried herself with dignity, and valued her privacy.

The attempted and desired demolition of her home on the Duke Estate by the foundations established in her last will and testament blatantly disregards the woman that made history on many occasions, first by successfully suing her mother in order to protect J.B. Duke’s fortune and legacy, and second by being one of the first women to win a legal dispute with her second husband, (forcing him to sign a prenuptial agreement). Her influence and generosity have been felt far and wide, and removing all memory and mention of her on the estate she entrusted to the DFF is a symptom of a greater social problem. When strong women challenge the status and power of social norms they are faced with ridicule and tabloid exploitation.

Please also see the recent pictures from the DORIS drone that prove just how little damage was done to the estate house here:

Keep Doris’s legacy and beautiful house on the map at Duke Farms! Want to help? Put a video up or a picture of you and your friends at the farms with the tags #DorisOnTheMap and #SaveDukeMansion and show your stuff! Share it with us at or on twitter @retrorevivalist Thank you to all our supporters!


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