Duncan's parents divorced when she was an infant, and her mother moved the children to Oakland. Both of Duncan's parents had an interest in the arts, and Isadora's mother continued to encourage her daughter's passion for dance, even as the family lived in genteel poverty. Duncan and her three older siblings offered dance lessons to neighborhood children to earn extra money for the family.
As an adult, Duncan gained fame for her innovative approach to dance, as well as her unconventional, colorful lifestyle. Always more acclaimed in Europe than in her own country, Duncan nonetheless returned to San Francisco in 1917 for what would be her last visit to her birthplace. She gave cold-out performances at the Columbia Theater, now the Geary Theater.
Duncan is perhaps as famous for her tragic death as for her life and art. In 1927, while riding in an open car, Duncan's trademark long, flowing scarf became entangled in the spokes of one of the car's tires, breaking her neck.