Community Women

Women’s History Spotlight: The Amazing Dort Women

Featured photo: Marcia W. Dort

The Dort name is best known because of Josiah Dallas Dort, who was a major player in the beginnings of Buick and General Motors. His namesake landmarks have improved the lives of countless millions of people not just in Flint and Genesee County, but around the world. Dort was “a man of his time, his industry, and most assuredly the truest devotee of Flint ever,” according to

In the early 1900s, however, women were still largely in the background. They didn’t often go to college let alone work. It took decades – and another generation or two – for things to change. Marcia W. Dort, Dort’s second wife, bucked that tradition. She raised her children to be educated and community-minded. Music was also always part of the family culture.

Born in 1881, Marcia W. Dort graduated from both the University of Michigan and Vassar, a feat almost unheard of at the time. She worked as a piano teacher and played organ at the First Presbyterian Church, in Flint. Marcia joined St. Cecilia Society, a women’s music group still considered to be a major musical force in Flint. St. Cecilia was founded in 1890 by J. Dallas Dort’s first wife, Nellie (who died in 1900), and a dozen other women. St. Cecilia is still housed at FIM and holds performances in the MacArthur Recital Hall.

Marcia Webb Dort

Marcia W. Dort was 89 years old when the former Dort-home-turned-Flint-Institute-of-Music burned down in 1970. Her daughter-in-law, Patricia Dort, was 52. Her namesake granddaughter, Marcia Dort, was just 25. But the loss of the building didn’t deter Mrs. Dort or the next two generations of Dort women from carrying on their family’s passion for musical education in Flint and supporting what is now the eighth-largest community school of the arts in the country.

Thousands of students and patrons have benefited from the generosity of the Dort family and myriad music lovers and supporters since J. Dallas, a cellist, and Marcia Dort founded the Flint Community Music Association in 1917, which birthed a community chorus and symphony known today as the Flint Symphony Orchestra and Flint Symphony Chorus. After more than a century, countless young Flint Institute of Music students still benefit from honors strings programs, tuition assistance and world-class educational experiences.

“More than 100 years ago this family started forming what is now an exceptional, award-winning performing arts school and facility,” says FIM CEO Rodney Lontine.

“We wouldn’t be where we are if not for the time, talents and funds of founder J. Dallas Dort, but more importantly, the women in his lineage,” Lontine added.

Patricia Dort

Patricia Dort, an amateur pianist, married David Dort in the late 30s. She volunteered as a truck driver for the Red Cross during World War II. She was president of Junior League and the Child Welfare Society, which owned and operated Cedar Street Children’s Center. She was also one of the most-respected members of the 20th Century Club, according to Dallas C. Dort, whose grandmother was a member of the club as well. This was a group for intellectual women who wrote and presented papers. Most never worked because women just didn’t back then.

Patricia discovered there was a need for textbooks for the visually impaired, according to her family. She not only read and recorded textbooks, but she also learned how to translate texts into Braille.

Marcia W. Dort donated her home to the Flint College and Cultural Development Committee of Sponsors in 1958. The home became the Dort Music Center. It would eventually become the Flint Institute of Music in 1966, thanks in part to the efforts of son David Dort and his wife Patricia Dort. It was sadly lost to fire in 1970 while an addition was being built. The current FIM building replaced it.

Thanks to a gift made on behalf of the Dort Family Trust in the early 2000s, the Dort Honors String Quartet started at the Flint School of Performing Arts. The annual Mrs. J. Dallas Dort Award also stands in Marcia Dort’s name to honor someone who has given significantly of their time and talents to FIM. There are also the FSPA/FSO Chamber Music Series, FSPA Honors String Quartet, Marcia W. Dort String Scholarship and the FSPA Super Strings Program.

“My grandparents and parents all had a long-time love of music,” said Dallas C. Dort. “If you’re a Dort, you’re into music. No one told us we had to; we were just devoted supporters, listeners, performers. My parents’ siblings and my siblings all have music in their blood. Mother had a lovely touch on the piano.”

Marcia Dort Hinckley

The third generation of Dort women is represented by Marcia Dort Hinckley, who now lives in Connecticut. She has very fond memories of her mother and grandmother and their affinity for the arts.

“My mother, Patricia was happy and proud that her siblings as well as our family participated in reinvigorating FIM,” she said. “When my husband and children visited Flint, mom was always pleased to take us to FIM to see what had come to fruition. Mom, too, was modest and humble, but it meant a lot to her that our family was able to contribute in some way to this wonderful place that made music available to all Flint families.”

Hinckley stays connected to FIM because she wants to give back to the city that was her home. She credits Davin Pierson Torre, Flint School of Performing Arts Director, for connecting her to programs that match her interests.

“I’m interested in making music available for all children,” Hinkley said. “It helps with development of both sides of the brain.

Hinkley taught pre-K music for many years.

Hinckley has been grateful to contribute to the Seeing Stars! tuition assistance program. She especially loves the pre-K program at FSPA, and how Torre and her staff work with public schools to get teachers involved. FSPA’s Carnegie Lullaby Program, which introduces music as a way to help young parents bond with kids, is also one of her favorites.

Torre had nothing but praise for the Dort family and all of its contributions.

“They’re amazing,” she said. “We have enriched our programs largely because of them, and other donors of course. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough. We are eternally grateful.”

Their children and grandchildren believe Marcia and Patricia would be pleased to see and hear all of the music being played today in “that house.”

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