Nancy Hanks papers, 1894-1987, bulk 1945-1983

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Hanks, Nancy, 1927-1983
77.3 Linear Feet
58,000 Items
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The papers of Nancy Hanks span the years 1894-1987 with the bulk occurring during the 1940s to 1983. Included are correspondence; minutes; reports; typed, mimeographed, and printed material; financial papers; clippings; mail logs; telephone records; calendars; office files; interviews, questionnaires; and diaries. In addition there are scrapbooks, pictures, photograph albums, slides, audio cassettes, videocassettes, and electronic documents. One series contains awards, honorary degrees, and memorabilia.

The Nancy Hanks collection is useful as a study of the development of private and governmental arts programs, in particular through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the personal life and career (1950s-1970s) of an upper-class single woman. Arts and the federal government is a recurrent theme. The collection also contains information about a variety of arts organizations in which Hanks was involved, often as a board member. Although the papers here document both her personal and professional life and present a balanced account, there are relatively few professional papers in the collection concerning her early career, 1951-1968.

The private life of Nancy Hanks is chiefly documented in the Personal Series. Although there are no diaries in the collection, the letters she wrote to her parents from the 1940s through the 1970s form a type of diary. This correspondence in the Personal Series often contains a detailed accounting of daily events from her college years at Duke University, where she majored in political science, and her early career in Washington, D.C., through the NEA years. Letters from her parents reveal their influence on her and often note their advice to her. Other correspondence is from friends, some during World War II, including extensive correspondence from 1946 to 1949 with William A. Carpenter, a former college friend. Other correspondents were Louis E. Reid, 1955-1961; John F. Watkins, 1949-1950; and Duke University Dean of Chapel James T. Cleland, 1949-1969. The financial papers in that series reveal her wealth, such as in real estate and stocks, as well as her long illness. There are gaps in the tax returns and bank statements from 1966-1975 and after 1979.

The Duke University, Bryan and Virginia Hanks, Larry Hanks, and Pictures Series all complete the story. In the Duke University Series, Hanks' financial contributions to the university are documented, including the Hanks Family Endowment Fund and the Hanks Family Chapel Fund.

The Bryan and Virginia Hanks Series and Larry Hanks Series contain records of Hanks' parents, Bryan Cayce Hanks, Virginia Wooding Hanks, and brother Lawrence (Larry) Wooding Hanks. Included in the Bryan and Virginia Hanks Series are late-nineteenth century documents, letters of Hanks' father from France during World War I and from a Colorado sanatarium, 1931-1932, as well as their courtship letters. Bryan Hanks was a lawyer in New York, Miami, and Fort Worth, and became president of Florida Power and Light Company in 1937. Also there is some Hanks and Wooding families history, including a few papers of Benjamin Franklin Wooding, Nancy's maternal grandfather. He was a medical doctor and inventor who developed an automatic train control device and automatic block controls for prevention of railroad accidents. The Larry Hanks Series tells the story of the early death of Nancy Hanks' younger brother, who was killed in a truck accident in California in June, 1950 at the age of eighteen while a student at Southwestern University.

In this collection it is primarily the NEA portion of Hanks' career, 1968-1977 during the Nixon and Ford years, that is represented. However, there is some information in the letters to Hanks' parents in the Personal Series which reflects her early work, 1951-1968. During her tenure at NEA there were vast increases in NEA funding. The NEA was established in 1965 with the National Endowment for the Humanities as components of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities. In the National Endowment for the Arts Series there is a narrative entitled, "Ten Years for Tomorrow," which contains much biographical information about Hanks' NEA years. While at NEA Hanks delivered numerous speeches; in fact from 1971 to 1974 she made about 100 addresses. These years are also documented in the American Film Institute (AFI), Commission on Critical Choices for Americans, and National Council on the Arts series, which depict related responsibilities of Hanks. AFI files document the organization's efforts to preserve the heritage and art of both film and television in America. National Council on the Arts files reflect programs in the areas of architecture, dance, education, expansion arts, literature, museums, music, visual arts, exhibitions, and theater. The Personal Series, Pictures Series, and Awards and Memorabilia Series provide supplemental information. Letters Hanks wrote to her parents as well as other correspondence and notes in the Personal Series relating to the NEA show her continuing interest in the agency after retirement. Related papers for the NEA are housed at the National Archives.

The alphabetical files in the Personal Series document her board work, memberships, and interest in a variety of organizations and institutions, including those related to the arts. They include the Awards in the Visual Arts, Commission on Museums for a new Century, Continental Oil Company (Conoco), the Conservation Foundation, the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S., the Independent Sector, the Indo-U.S. Subcommission on Education and Culture, Partners for Livable Places, the Phillips Collection, Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, Scholastic, Inc., and Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. One measure of the public recognition of Hanks' work is the fact that during 1970 to 1981 she received 27 honorary doctoral degrees. The National Endowment for the Arts Series office files, Rockefeller Brothers Fund Series, and the Personal Series alphabetical files all contain single folders for a variety of art, dance, and music organizations.

Papers relating to Nelson Rockefeller are scattered throughout the collection. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund Series contains material relating to Nelson A., John D., 3rd, and Laurance. In the Personal Series is information on Nelson A. Rockefeller and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Hanks' correspondence with her parents also discusses her relationship with Nelson Rockefeller.

There are papers in the collection that reflect both Hanks' retirement years as well as activities of colleagues after her death in 1983. One measure of Hanks' post-NEA involvement is that in 1982 she was on the boards of three corporations and a foundation, as well as being trustee or advisor for 20 non-profit organizations. Related materials are in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center, Inc. series. The papers of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where Hanks was a vice chairman, do not appear to provide a complete record of her work there. These files are probably scattered ones that she kept at home and often were not clearly defined.

The U.S. government designated the Old Post Office space on Pennsylvania Avenue as the Nancy Hanks Center. The Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center was formed to initiate programs commemorating Hanks' life and advancing her values. Most of the interviews in this series were conducted by Peter Jessup, but Donna Mitchell conducted a number of them. Many of these interviews exist as electronic files and are available to researchers. These files are listed in the container list for the Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center, Inc. Series.

A related collection in the Duke University Special Collections Department is the Philip Hanes collection. In addition, Hanes material appears in the Hanks Papers in the Personal Series both under his name and in the Awards in the Visual Arts folders.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
1927, Dec. 31
Born, Miami Beach, Fla.
Graduated, Montclair High School, Montclair, New Jersey
1946, summer
Attended the University of Colorado
1948, summer
Attended Oxford University
B.A., magna cum laude, Duke University
Secretary to the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization
President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization
Assistant to the Under Secretary, Department of Health, Education and Welfare
1955-1956, Feb.
Assistant to the Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs
Assistant to Nelson A. Rockefeller
Associate, Laurance S. Rockefeller; Executive Secretary, Special Studies Project, Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Project Coordinator, The Performing Arts: Problems and Prospects; and Staff Coordinator, Prospect for America
Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts and National Council on the Arts
Vice Chairman, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation
1983, Jan. 7

Board of Directors: Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S., Continental Oil Company (Conoco), Scholastic, and Salzburg Seminar in American Studies

Member: American Council for the Arts (President, 1968-1969), American Association of Museums (Member council, 199), American Society of Landscape Architects, National Commission for Urban Recreation, Indo-U.S. Sucommission on Education and Culture, and White House Conference on Aging

Trustee: Duke University (also on executive committee), Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., and Conservation Foundation

Numerous awards and honorary degrees

Acquisition information:
The papers of Nancy Hanks (1927-1983), arts organization administrator and consultant, were a series of gifts to the Duke University Library from 1980 to 2000.
Processing information:

Processed by: Sharon Knapp, Lynne Derhammer, and Kelly Cottrell

Additional processing by Walt Evans

Date Completed: June 14, 1991

Last updated: June 11, 2001

Encoded by Jackie Dean, Josh Kaiser and Walt Evans

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Portions of the collection are restricted, in particular some of the Friends of the Nancy Hanks Center interviews and questionnaires.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in the papers of Nancy Hanks have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Nancy Hanks Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.