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Dance Heritage Coalition

Administrative Information Table of Contents Scope and Content Note

Wolfe (Katharine) Papers, 1912-1972

- Biography

Biography

Katharine A. Wolfe (1904-1990) was a dance teacher, and, later, an administrator for Seattle Public Schools, who spent over ten years preparing a comprehensive study of twentieth century American concert dance, which, sadly, never found a publisher. Although she received formal degrees in botany and zoology, Wolfe also studied modern dance and educational techniques during the late 1920s. She became a dance teacher with Seattle Public Schools in 1926, beginning at Garfield High School, but moving on to Lincoln High School the following year, where she remained through 1944; among her students in modern dance was Martha Nishitani, who, for many years, operated one of the most influential dance studios in Seattle. While working in the public school system, Wolfe continued her own study of a variety of modern dance techniques, taking classes with Gret Palucca and Mary Wigman associate Lore Deja during her tenure at the Cornish School in Seattle and traveling to Dresden, Germany during the summer of 1934 to train with Wigman herself. She also spent several subsequent summers studying with major modern dancers in New York and Bennington, Vermont. It was while in Bennington in 1942, that Wolfe began work on what eventually would become The Concert Dance.

Wolfe had started writing pieces about those individual dancers with whom she had studied for the use of her own students, but gradually increased the scope of her research and writing to create a massive work, which, in the words of her literary agent, E. Harriet Gipson, could be viewed as "a definitive book on the history and significance of the concert dance." As part of her research process, she interviewed over forty dancers and choreographers, including many of the most prominent names in modern dance, as well as others whose reputations have since faded. Wolfe briefly left Seattle in 1949, but would return a few years later, becoming a consultant in health and physical education, responsible for developing the physical education curriculum for Seattle Public Schools. Although she remained based in Washington State for the period of her most intensive work on the manuscript, she received a sabbatical leave in 1957 and was able to spend time in New York to use the resources of the New York Public Library's Dance Collection, attend dance performances, and conduct additional interviews. She continued to work on the manuscript in her spare time (mainly the early morning hours) and had completed a 1600-page version of the text by 1958. Scribner's took an option on the manuscript that same year, but requested significant revisions, setting a June 1960 deadline for the new, shortened version. Although Wolfe diligently made extensive cuts and changes, the revised form ultimately was rejected by the firm. She apparently continued to tinker with the manuscript through 1964 and still was actively seeking a publisher following her retirement from Seattle Public Schools in 1969. Her last known contact with a publishing house was in 1971 when Wesleyan University Press also turned down the manuscript, which remained unpublished at the time of her death.


Administrative Information Table of Contents Scope and Content Note