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Dorothy Dandridge

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Title: Dorothy Dandridge  
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Subject: Carmen Jones (film), Porgy and Bess (film), Tarzan's Peril, 27th Academy Awards, Smooth operator (disambiguation)
Collection: 1922 Births, 1965 Deaths, 20Th Century Fox Contract Players, 20Th-Century American Actresses, 20Th-Century American Singers, Accidental Deaths in California, Actresses from Cleveland, Ohio, African-American Actresses, African-American Female Singers, American Film Actresses, American Musical Theatre Actresses, American Stage Actresses, American Television Actresses, Burials at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale), Drug-Related Deaths in California, Our Gang, Traditional Pop Music Singers
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Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge
Dandridge in trailer for The Decks Ran Red (1958).
Born Dorothy Jean Dandridge
(1922-11-09)November 9, 1922
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Died September 8, 1965(1965-09-08) (aged 42)
West Hollywood, California, U.S.
Cause of death Embolism[1] or Overdose[2]
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park
(Glendale, California)
Other names Dorothy Dandridge-Nicholas
Dorothy Nicholas
Dorothy Dandridge-Denison
Dorothy Denison
Occupation Actress, Singer, Dancer
Years active 1933–65
Spouse(s) Harold Nicholas (m. 1942; div. 1951)
Jack Denison (m. 1959; div. 1962)
Children Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas (b.1943; d.2003)
Parent(s) Ruby Dandridge
Cyril Dandridge
Family Vivian Dandridge (sister)
Nayo Wallace (great-niece)

Dorothy Jean Dandridge (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) was an American film and theatre HBO biographical film, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dandridge was married and divorced twice, first to dancer Harold Nicholas (the father of her daughter, Harolyn Suzanne) and then to hotel owner Jack Denison. Dandridge died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 42.[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Beginnings 2.1
    • Carmen Jones and 20th Century-Fox 2.2
    • Hollywood Research, Inc. trial 2.3
  • Decline 3
  • Recordings 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Death 6
  • Legacy 7
  • Filmography 8
    • As an actress 8.1
    • As herself 8.2
  • Stage work 9
  • See also 10
  • Footnotes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life

Dorothy Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio to aspiring entertainer Ruby Dandridge (March 3, 1900 – October 17, 1987/née Butler) and Cyril Dandridge (October 25, 1895 – July 9, 1989),[5][6] a cabinetmaker and minister, who had separated just before her birth.[7] Ruby created a song-and-dance act for her two young daughters, Vivian and Dorothy, under the name The Wonder Children, that was managed by Geneva Williams. The sisters toured the Southern United States almost nonstop for five years (rarely attending school), while Ruby worked and performed in Cleveland.[8]

During the Great Depression, work virtually dried up for the Dandridges, as it did for many Chitlin' circuit performers. Ruby moved to Hollywood, California, where she found steady work on radio and film in small domestic-servant parts. The Wonder Children were renamed The Dandridge Sisters in 1934, and Dandridge and her sister were teamed with dance schoolmate Etta Jones.



The Dandridge Sisters continued strong for several years, and were booked in several high-profile nightclubs, including the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.[9] Dandridge's first screen appearance was a bit part in an Our Gang comedy short, Teacher's Beau in 1935.[10] As a part of The Dandridge Sisters, she appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1936) with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, A Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers, and It Can't Last Forever (both 1937) with the Jackson Brothers.[11] Although these appearances were relatively minor, Dandridge continued to earn recognition through continuing nightclub performances nationwide.

Dandridge's first credited film role was in Four Shall Die (1940). The race film cast her as a murderer; it did little for her film career. She had small roles in Lady from Louisiana with John Wayne and Sundown (both 1941) with Gene Tierney. Dandridge appeared as part of a "Specialty Number" in the hit 1941 musical film, Sun Valley Serenade for 20th Century-Fox. The film marked the first time she performed with the Nicholas Brothers.[12] Aside from her film appearances, Dandridge appeared in a succession of "soundies"–film clips designed to be displayed on juke boxes including "Paper Doll" by the Mills Brothers, "Cow, Cow Boogie", "Jig in the Jungle", and "Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter's Rent Party" among others. These films were noted not only for showcasing Dandridge's singing and acting abilities, but also for featuring strong emphasis on her physical attributes.

She continued to appear occasionally in films and on the stage throughout the rest of the decade, but few of these appearances were noteworthy. In 1951, Dandridge appeared as Melmendi, Queen of the Ashuba in Tarzan's Peril, starring Lex Barker and Virginia Huston. When the Motion Picture Production Code tut-tutted about the film's "blunt sexuality", Dandridge was singled out for wearing what was permitting certain moments to be "provocatively revealing". The continuing publicity buzz surrounding Dandridge's wardrobe got her pictured on the April 1951 cover of Ebony. That same year, she had a supporting role in The Harlem Globetrotters (1951), which did no great thing to further her career.[12]

In December 1952, a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio agent saw Dandridge perform at the Mocambo and recommended to Production Chief Dore Schary that she might be cast as Jane Richards in Bright Road, which would be her first starring role as a "wonderful, emotional actress" as the trailer stated. The film, which plotted a teacher's struggles to reach out to a troubled student, marked the first time Dandridge appeared in a film opposite Harry Belafonte. She continued to perform in nightclubs thereafter and appeared on multiple early television variety shows, including Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town.[13]

Carmen Jones and 20th Century-Fox

Carmen Jones promotional poster, 1954.

In 1953, a nationwide publicity search arose as Carmen updated to a World War II-era African-American setting. Director and writer Otto Preminger initially did not consider her for the role, feeling her sophisticated look was more suited for the smaller role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge relented, but recalling her experiences of having to dress down to a demure school teacher for the screen tests of Bright Road, she outrageously reinvented a look with the aid of Max Factor make-up artists to obtain the appearance and character of the earthy title role, Carmen, and confronted Preminger in his executive office. With this meeting Preminger gave her the role and the rest of the casting followed with Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Madame Sul-Te-Wan (uncredited), Olga James, and Joe Adams.[14]

Despite her recognition as a singer, Dandridge's voice was dubbed by operatic vocalist Marilyn Horne for the film. Carmen Jones opened to favorable reviews and strong box office returns on October 28, 1954, earning $70,000 during its first week and $50,000 during its second. Dandridge's performance as the sultry title character made her one of Hollywood's first African-American sex symbols and earned her positive reviews. On November 1, 1954, Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman featured on the cover of Life. As Walter Winchell recalled, her performance was "bewitching" and Variety said her "performance maintains the right hedonistic note throughout".[15]

Carmen Jones became a worldwide success, eventually earning over $10 million at the box office and becoming one of the year's highest-earning films. Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first African-American to be nominated for a leading role. At the 27th Academy Awards held on March 30, 1955, Dandridge shared her Oscar nomination which such luminaries as Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, and Jane Wyman. Although Kelly won the award for her performance in The Country Girl, Dandridge became an overnight sensation. At the November 1, 1954 awards ceremony, Dandridge presented the Academy Award for Film Editing to On the Waterfront editor Gene Milford.

On February 15, 1955, Dandridge signed a three-movie deal with 20th Century-Fox starting at $75,000 a film. The head of the studio, Darryl F. Zanuck, had personally suggested the studio sign Dandridge to a contract. Zanuck had big plans for her, hoping she would evolve into the first African-American screen icon. He purchased the film rights to The Blue Angel and intended to cast her as saloon singer Lola-Lola in an all-black remake of the original 1930 film. She was also scheduled to star as Cigarette in a remake of Under Two Flags. Meanwhile, Dandridge agreed to play Tuptim in a film version of The King and I and a sultry upstairs neighbor in The Lieutenant Wore Skirts. However, her former director and now-lover Otto Preminger, suggested she accept only leading roles, and she rejected both roles. The roles certainly were appropriate to Dandridge had she played the lesser role of Cindy Lou in Carmen Jones but Dandridge was then for the moment an international stellar attraction of the first rank. They were eventually given to Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno.[12]

Hollywood Research, Inc. trial

Dandridge was one of the few Hollywood stars who testified at the 1957 criminal libel trial of Hollywood Research, Inc., the company that published all of the era's tabloid magazines.[16] She and actress Maureen O'Hara, the only other star who testified, were photographed shaking hands outside the downtown-Los Angeles courtroom where the well-publicized trial was held.[16] Testimony from O'Hara, as well as from a disgruntled former magazine editor, revealed that the magazines published false information provided by hotel maids, clerks, and movie-theater ushers who were paid for their tips. The stories with questionable veracity most often centered around alleged incidents of casual sex. When the jury and press visited Grauman's Chinese Theatre to determine whether O'Hara could have performed various sexual acts while seated in the balcony, as reported by a magazine published by Hollywood Research, Inc., this was discovered to have been impossible.[16]

Dandridge's testimony further strengthened the prosecution's case. Alleged by one tabloid to have fornicated with a white bandleader in the woods of Lake Tahoe in 1950, she testified that racial segregation had confined her to her hotel during her nightclub engagement in the Nevada resort city.[16][17] When she was not in the hotel lounge rehearsing or performing her singing, according to her testimony, she was required to stay inside her room where she slept alone.[16] This proved beyond any doubt that Hollywood Research had committed libel at least once. The judge ordered Hollywood Research to stop publishing questionable stories based on tips for which they paid, and this curtailed invasive tabloid journalism until 1971 when Generoso Pope, Jr. moved The National Enquirer, which he owned, from New York to Lantana, Florida.[18][19]


In 1957, after a three-year absence from film acting, she agreed to appear in the film version of Island in the Sun opposite an ensemble cast, including James Mason, Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins, and Stephen Boyd. Dandridge portrayed a local Indian shop clerk who has an interracial love affair with white man, played by John Justin. The film was controversial for its time period, and the script was revised numerous times to accommodate the Production Code requirements about interracial relationships. There occurred, however, an extremely intimate loving embrace between Dandridge and Justin that succeeded in not breaching the code. Despite the behind-the-scenes controversy and unfavorable critical reviews, the film was one of the year's biggest successes.[20]

Dandridge next starred opposite German actor Curd Jürgens in the Italian production of Tamango, which began filming in 1957, for $100,000. A reluctant Dandridge had agreed to appear in the film only after learning that it focused on a nineteenth century slave revolt on a cargo ship travelling from Africa to Cuba. However, she nearly withdrew her involvement when the initial script called for her to swim in the nude and spend the majority of the film in a two-piece bathing suit made of rags. When Dandridge threatened to leave the film, the script and her wardrobe was retooled to her liking. United States Production code requirements did not apply to this Italian production and a passionate and overwhelming kiss from her co-star Jürgens was accepted by Dandridge's Aiché. This gave Dandridge her first, and only, on-screen kiss with a white actor. Tamango was withheld from an American release until late 1959, and received mixed reviews from critics and minor success.

In MGM's The Decks Ran Red (1958), she co-starred with James Mason and Broderick Crawford as an exotic woman aboard a large ocean liner where numerous deaths are arranged to take place. Despite being universally panned, the film generated a respectable audience due to the controversy surrounding Dandridge's sultry wardrobe.

In late 1958, Dandridge accepted producer Otto Preminger, he informed Dandridge her performance was not credible and that she needed intensive coaching to handle such a role. Porgy and Bess had a long and costly production; its entire sets and costumes were destroyed in a fire, losing almost $2 million. Continued script rewrites and further problems that prolonged the production, pushed the film over-budget. When it was released in June 1959, it was critically bashed and failed to recoup its financial investment.

In 1959, she filmed a low-budget British thriller Malaga, in which she played a European woman with an Italian name. The film, co-starring Trevor Howard and Edmund Purdom, plotted a jewel robbery and its aftermath. Some pre-release publicity[21] invited the belief that Dandridge received her first, and only, on-screen kiss with a white actor (Howard) in this film. This was not so [see her film Tamango above] but the actor and actress, under László Benedek's direction, created some strongly understated sexual tension. The film was withheld from a theatrical release abroad until 1960, but went unreleased in the United States until 1962. It was her final completed film appearance.


Dandridge first gained fame as a solo artist from her performances in nightclubs, usually accompanied by Phil Moore on piano. As well known as she became from renditions of songs such as "Blow Out the Candle", "You Do Something To Me", and "Talk Sweet Talk To Me", she recorded very little on vinyl. Whether it was because of personal choice or lack of opportunity is unknown.

Recorded Song title Label Release Catalogue No. Issued Band
1940 "That's Your Red Wagon" Columbia 78 rpm #28006 1940 Jimmy Lunceford
"You Ain't Nowhere" Columbia 78 rpm #28007 1940 Jimmy Lunceford
"Minnie The Moocher Is Dead" Columbia 78 rpm #26937A 1940 Jimmy Lunceford
"Ain't Going To Go To Study War No More" Columbia 78 rpm #26938 1940 Jimmy Lunceford
  • As a solo artist:
Recorded Song title Label Release Catalogue No. Issued
1944 "Watch'a Say" (duet with Louis Armstrong from the film Pillow to Post) Decca 78 rpm #L-3502 1944
1951 "I Can't See It Your Way"/"Blow Out The Candle" Columbia 78 rpm DB 2923 1951
1953 "Taking a Chance On Love" MGM Records 78 rpm ? 1953
In 1958, she recorded a full-length album for Verve Records featuring Oscar Peterson with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, and Alvin Stoller (Catalogue #314 547-514 2) that remained unreleased in the vaults until a CD release in 1999. This CD also included four tracks from 1961 (with an unknown orchestra) that included one 45 rpm record single and another aborted single:
Recorded Song title Label Release Catalogue No. Issued
1958 "It's Easy To Remember" Verve Unreleased 21942-3 1999 (CD only)
"What Is There To Say Unreleased 21943-6 1999 (CD only)
"That Old Feeling Unreleased 21944-4 1999 (CD only)
"The Touch Of Your Lips Unreleased 21945-12 1999 (CD only)
"When Your Lover Has Gone Unreleased 21946-1 1999 (CD only)
"The Nearness Of You Unreleased 21947-7 1999 (CD only)
"I'm Glad There Is You Unreleased 21948-10 1999 (CD only)
"I've Grown Accustomed To His Face" Unreleased 21949-4 1999 (CD only)
"Body and Soul" Unreleased 21950-2 1999 (CD only)
"How Long Has This Been Going On?" Unreleased 21951-6 1999 (CD only)
"I've Got a Crush on You" Unreleased 21952-3 1999 (CD only)
"I Didn't Know What Time It Was" Unreleased 21953-3 1999 (CD only)
1961 "Somebody" 45 rpm single V10231 23459-2 1961
"Stay with It" 45 rpm single V10231 23460-4 1961
"It's A Beautiful Evening" Unissued single 23461-5 1961
"Smooth Operator" Unissued single 23462-2 1961

The above two tracks were aborted for release as a single and remained unreleased until the Smooth Operator CD release in 1999. These are the only known songs Dandridge recorded on vinyl. Several songs she sang, including her version of "Cow-Cow Boogie" were recorded on Soundies and are not included on this list.

Personal life

Dandridge married dancer and entertainer Harold Nicholas on September 6, 1942, and gave birth to her only child, Harolyn Suzanne Nicholas, on September 2, 1943. Harolyn was born brain-damaged, and the couple divorced in October 1951.

While filming Carmen Jones (1954), the director Otto Preminger began an affair with his film's star, Dandridge. It lasted four years, during which period he advised her on career matters, demanding she accept only starring roles, advice Dandridge later regretted accepting.[22] She ended the affair when she realized that Preminger had no plans to leave his wife to marry her.[23] Their affair was depicted in the HBO Pictures biopic, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, in which Preminger was portrayed by Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer.

Dandridge married Jack Denison on June 22, 1959; they divorced in 1962 amid financial setbacks and allegations of domestic violence. At this time, Dandridge discovered that the people who were handling her finances had swindled her out of $150,000 and that she was $139,000 in debt for back taxes. Forced to sell her Hollywood home and place her daughter in a state mental institution in Camarillo, California, Dandridge moved into a small apartment at 8495 Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood, California.


The "Four Ladies of Hollywood" gazebo at the western border of the Walk of Fame: Dorothy Dandridge, Dolores del Río, Anna May Wong, and Mae West.

On September 8, 1965, Dandridge spoke by telephone with friend and former sister-in-law[24] Geraldine "Geri" Branton. Dandridge was scheduled to fly to New York the next day to prepare for her nightclub engagement at Basin Street East. Several hours after her conversation with Branton ended, Dandridge was found dead by her manager, Earl Mills.[25] Two months later, a Los Angeles pathology institute determined the cause to be an accidental overdose of Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant.[2] Yet the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office came to a different conclusion: “Miss Dandridge died of a rare embolism—blockage of the blood passages at the lungs and brain by tiny pieces of fat flaking off from bone marrow in a fractured right foot she sustained in a Hollywood gymnasium five days before she died.”[1] She was 42 years old.

On September 12, 1965, a private funeral service was held for Dandridge at the Little Chapel of the Flowers;[26] she was then cremated[26] and her ashes interred in the Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery.[27]


Many years passed before the entertainment industry acknowledged Dandridge's legacy. Starting in the 1980s, stars such as Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Halle Berry, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Tasha Smith, and Angela Bassett acknowledged Dandridge's contributions to the role of Black Americans in film.[28]

In 1999, Halle Berry took the lead role of Dandridge in the HBO Movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which she also produced and for which she won the Primetime Emmy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award. When Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball, she dedicated the "moment [to] Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll."[29] Both Dandridge and Berry were from Cleveland, Ohio.

For her contributions to the motion picture industry, she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 671 Hollywood Boulevard. Dorothy Dandridge is also the most prominent figure of a huge mural of celebrities painted on an exterior wall of Hollywood High School.[30]

There is a statue of Dorothy Dandridge at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Catherine Hardwicke, built to honor multi-ethnic leading ladies of the cinema, including Mae West, Dolores del Rio and Anna May Wong.[31]

Recording artist Janelle Monáe performs a song entitled "Dorothy Dandridge Eyes" on her album The Electric Lady, with Esperanza Spalding.


As an actress

Year Film title Role Notes
1935 Teacher's Beau Dorothy
1936 The Big Broadcast of 1936 Member of the Dandridge Sisters
1937 Easy to Take Member of the Dandridge Sisters Uncredited
1937 It Can't Last Forever Dandridge Sisters Act Uncredited
1937 A Day at the Races Black Singer Uncredited
1938 Going Places Member of the Dandridge Sisters Uncredited
1938 Snow Gets in Your Eyes One of the Dandridge Sisters
1940 Irene The Dandridge Sisters Uncredited
1940 Four Shall Die Helen Fielding Alternative title: Condemned Men
1941 Bahama Passage Thalia
1941 Sundown Kipsang's Bride
1941 Sun Valley Serenade Specialty Act Chattanooga Choo Choo [with Nicholas Brothers]
1941 Lady from Louisiana Felice Alternative title: Lady from New Orleans
1942 Lucky Jordan Hollyhock School Maid Uncredited
1942 Night in New Orleans Sal, Shadrach's Girl Uncredited
1942 The Night Before the Divorce Maid Uncredited
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Dancer Uncredited
1942 Drums of the Congo Princess Malimi
1942 Orchestra Wives Singer/Dancer
1943 Hit Parade of 1943 Count Basie Band Singer Alternative title: Change of Heart
1943 Happy Go Lucky Showgirl Uncredited
1944 Since You Went Away Black Officer's Wife in Train Station Uncredited
1944 Atlantic City Singer Alternative title: Atlantic City Honeymoon
1945 Pillow to Post Herself-Vocalist Uncredited
1947 Ebony Parade Herself-Vocalist Uncredited
1951 Tarzan's Peril Melmendi, Queen of the Ashuba
1951 The Harlem Globetrotters Ann Carpenter
1953 Bright Road Jane Richards
1953 Remains to Be Seen Herself- Night Club Vocalist She sings Taking a Chance on Love
1954 Carmen Jones Carmen Jones Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1957 Island in the Sun Margot Seaton
1958 Tamango Aiché, Reiker's mistress
1958 The Decks Ran Red Mahia Alternative titles: Infamy
La Rivolta dell'esperanza (foreign releases)
1959 Porgy and Bess Bess Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1960 Malaga Gianna Alternative tiles: Moment of Danger
1961 The Murder Men Norma Sherman Television movie
1962 Cain's Hundred Norma Sherman Episode: "Blues for a Junkman"

As herself

Stage work

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ On November 1, 1954, Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman featured on the cover of Life
  16. ^ a b c d e
  17. ^ The Confidential Magazine Trial: An Account by Douglas O. Linder, 2010
  18. ^ Taming the Tabloids, by Darcie Lunsford, American Journalism Review edition of September 2000
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Mills, page 195
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Halle Berry's Acceptance Speech." March 26, 2002.
  30. ^
  31. ^


  • Dandridge, Dorothy & Conrad, Earl. Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy. Abelard-Schuman; 1st edition (1970). ISBN 0-200-71690-5. HarperCollins, New Ed edition (2000). - ISBN 0-06-095675-5.
  • Donald Bogle. Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, Amistad Press, 1997. ISBN 1-56743-034-1.
  • Mills, Earl. Dorothy Dandridge: An Intimate Portrait of Hollywood's First Major Black Film Star. Holloway House Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-87067-899-X. (first year of publication: 1970)
  • Rippy, Marguerite H. (2001). "Commodity, Tragedy, Desire - Female Sexuality and Blackness in the Iconography of Dorothy Dandridge". Classic Hollywood, Classic Whiteness (Chapter 9). Daniel Bernardi, Editor. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3238-3.

External links

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