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Dorothy Norman Research Collection

Identifier: NOR

Scope and Contents

During her twenty-year relationship with photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothy Norman, herself a photographer as well as writer, came to know artists such as John Marin, who were defining American modernism during the 1930s and 1940s. Norman published and edited writings about both men, and likely compiled this material in preparation.

The "Alfred Stieglitz" series documents Stieglitz's multiple careers as photographer, gallery owner and collector. Material consists primarily of exhibition announcements and checklists, and of images of Stieglitz's work as well as that of the European artists who inspired him and of the contemporary American artists he championed. Both formats chronicle Stieglitz's entire professional life. Images include his photographs of European people and settings of the late 19th century to the ethereal examinations of his "Equivalent" series done in the late 1920s and early 1930s. There are also images from his childhood and family, as well as of exhibitions he staged, including those at his first gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York. Exhibition checklists begin with one of Stieglitz's earliest U.S. shows, featuring his lantern slides (1896). Later exhibition checklists and announcements document his work as both artist and promoter. These include exhibitions he presented in New York at the Anderson Galleries from 1921 to 1925, a few at the Intimate Gallery, 1925 and 1929, and almost all of those at the second gallery he owned and operated, An American Place, from 1929 to 1946. Both formats also chronicle the works of the artists most associated with Stieglitz and his galleries; namely Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur G. Dove, and Charles Demuth. The series includes clippings from journals Stieglitz published; namely Camera Work, Manuscripts (MSS) and various-titled bulletins produced by An American Place. Other documentation consists of Norman's research notes as well as typescripts of an anecdote in which Stieglitz recalls "meeting" D.H. Lawrence--five years after the writer's death.

The second series, "John Marin," consists primarily of photographs and published writings regarding the life and work of this American painter and printmaker. Most of the photographs are informal portraits of Marin taken by Norman or are of his paintings. Published writings include newspaper clippings, magazine articles, books, and numerous catalogues of exhibitions. Also included are portions of a transcript to the 1954 radio interview of Norman and others talking about Marin. The collection also includes photocopies or typescripts of Marin's correspondence primarily to his family and to Norman, as well as a few of his writings. Ephemera and notes are also included.

Norman's own art collection and publication comprise the bulk of the final series, "Other subjects." More than 30 photographs document the exhibition of her collection organized at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1968. Circulars listing the contributing writers and titles make up most of the documentation and underscore the editorial emphasis of Norman's publication, "Twice a Year." There is also ephemera pertaining to the related publications put out by Twice a Year Press, including the Stieglitz Memorial Portfolio.


  • 1897-1992, undated


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Dorothy Norman Research Collection is the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Through her writings and photographs, Dorothy Norman advanced the causes she believed in; namely, social activism and artistic expression. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1905, Norman was the only daughter of Esther and Louis Stecker. She had two brothers, Robert and Jack. Growing up in a well-to-do Jewish family did not keep Norman from becoming a young rebel. She was fascinated with the idea of attending a New England boarding school, but her parents would only allow her to go as far as Washington, D.C. So at the age of 16, while her parents were away in Europe, Norman registered herself at the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island. After Wheeler, Norman's restless nature accompanied her to college, as she spent one year at Smith and two more at the University of Pennsylvania. Although she was disappointed to be back in Philadelphia, Norman decided to take a course that was offered to Penn students at the Barnes Foundation, which housed the primarily late 19th and early 20th century art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. The course introduced Norman to modern art, and as she later described it, the experience was life-changing. Norman sensed the connection between all forms of modern art and contemporary life, which in turn sparked in her a sense of revolution and social commitment. Such sentiments make her marriage in 1925 to Edward A. Norman seem all the more timely. The couple settled in New York City where Edward became interested in consumers' cooperatives. According to Norman, her husband believed such ventures could revolutionize the world's economy, freeing people from totalitarian government and capitalist control. New York City also provided Dorothy with venues for her social activism. During her first year there, she became a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union. Soon after, Norman also joined the Urban League and worked with Margaret Sanger to increase awareness of birth control.

Another encounter to alter Norman's life also occurred in New York City, when in 1927 she met the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who for the past two decades tirelessly promoted photography and modern art to the American public. Norman found a kindred spirit in Stieglitz's conviction of the artist's ability to help society develop and rebuild itself. He became her mentor, and despite their marriages to others, the two also became lovers. When the building that housed Stieglitz's gallery was demolished, Norman convinced him to open another. She was crucial in raising funds and in promoting this new venture, which opened in 1929 as An American Place. It was here that Norman would come to know America's avant-garde painters such as John Marin, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, and Stieglitz's wife Georgia O'Keeffe, who by that time began spending half the year in the Southwest. Contemporary writers, such as William Carlos Williams, Lewis Mumford and Hart Crane also frequented the gallery. Many of these artists became Norman's subject in her portrait photographs, noted for their small size and sense of intimacy. She also became known for her interior shots of An American Place and for her photos of New England landscapes and architecture. In her writings, Norman began her most ambitious attempt to combine arts and social action in 1938 with the publication of Twice A Year: A Semi-Annual Journal of Literature, the Arts and Civil Liberties. During its ten-year run, the journal covered issues such as the Spanish Civil War, civil liberties and racism, and Nazi atrocities, along with writings by e.e. cummings, Franz Kafka, and Anaïs Nin, and the photographs of Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. In her column for the New York Post, Norman continued to address the social issues of the day. She also contributed articles, reviews, poems and photographs to various journals and published several books on Stieglitz, John Marin and one on myth, which coincided with an exhibition she organized in 1958. Her meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru in New York City led to a close friendship with the Indian leader as well as her publication of a two-volume collection of his speeches and writings. In 1987 she published a book of her letters to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi. Norman spent her later years studying religion and philosophy and working to improve the social conditions of India. She died in 1997. Norman had two children, Nancy and Andrew.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s relationship with Norman spanned almost three decades. In 1968, Norman helped to establish the Alfred Stieglitz Center at the museum, giving a collection of more than 500 photographs by Stieglitz and others. She continued to donate works, and at the time of her death, the museum received her entire collection. In regard to her own work, the museum holds more than 500 photographs, and has made Norman the subject of three exhibitions, held in 1984, 1994 and 1998. The 1984 show examined the works of Norman and Stieglitz produced during their 20-year relationship. The latter shows featured Norman's own work and her personal collection, respectively.

Works Consulted

  1. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993. Abrahams, Edward. Preface to intimate visions: the photographs of Dorothy Norman.
  2. 12 Oct. 2006. The Getty Museum. Explore Art: Artists, s.v. Norman, Dorothy.
  3. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. Norman, Dorothy, 1905-. Encounters: a memoir.
  4. Oral history transcript for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 31 May 1979. Online 12 Oct. 2006. Norman, Dorothy. Interview by William McNaught.


4 linear feet

Language of Materials



Dorothy Norman was a writer, photographer, and activist. She had close relationships with artists Alfred Stieglitz and John Marin. Norman published and edited writings about both men, and likely compiled this material in preparation. This collection also contains material relating to Norman's other endeavors include ephemera of her publication "Twice a Year" and other works published by the same company. There are also installation photographs from the exhibition of her collection held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1968.


The collection came to the Archives in two transfers--one of Marin material, and the latter of Stieglitz. Other than those two divisions, there was no discernible arrangement of materials. In many cases, Norman's original folder titles were very general or inaccurate as materials were clearly transferred in and out of folders over the years. Many folders were overstuffed and about one-third of the material was loose. Materials were refoldered, and identified and arranged generally by format. Folder titles within quotation marks represent Norman's original naming that clearly explained the rationale of that grouping of material. Photocopies were made of folder fronts annotated with additional information.

Custodial History

Material originally came to the museum as a gift of Dorothy Norman estate, circa 1997. The department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs transferred the John Marin material to the Archives in September 2002. In February 2008, the department transferred the materials pertaining to Alfred Stieglitz.

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Bertha Adams. Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Guide to the Dorothy Norman Research Collection
Finding aid prepared by Bertha Adams
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States