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Ash, Mary Kay (12 May 1918-22 Nov. 2001), founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, known as Mary Kay, was born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Texas, north of Houston, the daughter of Edward Alexander Wagner, an invalid, and Lula Vember Hastings, a restaurant manager. Texas has no record of Mary Kathlyn Wagner’s birth for 1918–the year she usually claimed–nor for 1916, the date cited second most often; she may have been born as early as 1915. By 1920, her family moved to Houston’s bleak Sixth Ward.

 

When Mary Kay was about seven, her father returned home after four years in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Because her mother worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, Mary Kay was put in charge of her bedridden father, the household, and herself. Coaching the little girl through the cooking, shopping, and chores, Lula would say, “You can do it, Mary Kay! You can do it!”–a statement that later became a famous “Mary Kay-ism” endlessly repeated to motivate the Mary Kay Cosmetics sales force. For the rest of her life, Mary Kay would cite Lula’s crushing workload as an example of how unjust it was that even the hardest-working woman could not earn wages equal to a man’s.

 

Mary Kay graduated from Houston’s John H. Reagan High School, winning prizes as an orator, and she longed to attend college. Instead, in 1935, she married Ben Rogers, a gas-station attendant who also played with a local band called the Hawaiian Strummers. Unable to afford their own home, the newlyweds moved in with Mary Kay’s mother. They later had three children: J. Ben, Marylyn, and Richard Raymond. During much of her marriage, Mary Kay was in effect a single mother, often supporting the family with commissions from various door-to-door sales jobs. Despite all that, Mary Kay eventually managed to save enough money to enroll at the University of Houston. During her first semester, Rogers who had served in World War II, returned in 1946 and requested a divorce, announcing that he’d had a years-long affair with another woman.

 

Humiliated, depressed, and virtually incapacitated by symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Mary Kay continued to toil in direct sales. After selling a variety of products door-to-door, she began work for the well-known Stanley Home Products in 1939. Although she was a small woman, ill-suited to lugging the heavy household cleaning product cases, she consistently won prizes for sales. Later she would adapt Stanley’s home demonstrations and “house party” business model to her own company. However, even more influential upon her later endeavors was Stanley’s ongoing refusal to promote her.

 

In 1952 she quit her job with Stanley and moved to Dallas to work for World Gift, where her sales record was so spectacular that one year she single-handedly increased company-wide sales by over 50 percent. Mary Kay was unstoppable: afflicted with a tic that distorted her face, she bought a pair of big sunglasses and kept selling for years until she could have the condition corrected. But at World Gift she also felt that history was repeating itself–that her abilities and hard work were being ignored because she was a woman. In 1963, when she was passed over for promotion in favor of a man whom she had trained, she quit in disgust.

 

Initially intending to retire and write a book about selling, Mary Kay soon decided that her book notes could be the recipe for the success of her own venture. She promptly acquired the skin care formulas developed by an Arkansas tanner named J. W. Heath, who had noticed that his hands stayed soft and wrinkle-free while he worked with hides. She spent $500 to get the formulas from Heath’s daughter Ova Spoonemore–whom she had met years before during a Stanley Home Products party–and used the rest of her life savings of $5,000 to create a direct-selling company around them. In July 1963, with the company about to launch, Mary Kay married George Hallenbeck, who also hailed from the world of sales and who would be in charge of the new company’s finances. But only a month into the marriage–and only a month before the company’s launch date–Hallenbeck died of a heart attack. Mary Kay went full speed ahead with the company anyway, pressing her twenty-year-old son Richard into Hallenbeck’s role and opening Beauty By Mary Kay for business on Friday, 13 September, in a five-hundred-square-foot Dallas storefront with only nine saleswomen signed up. She picked pink for her packaging.

 

Based on those Arkansas tanner’s formulas, Mary Kay’s five foundation products were Cleansing Cream for $2, Nite Cream for $4.95, Skin Freshener for $3.50, Day Radiance for $1.50, and Magic Masque for $4. Using the same “house party” model perfected by Stanley, Tupperware, and dozens of other mid-twentieth-century American companies, a Mary Kay representative would invite her friends over for free facials, then pitch the products.

 

For a female entrepreneur to found an empire on skin care was nothing new, even in 1963. As far back as the 1880s Harriet Hubbard Ayer had made a fortune pitching skin creams. Helena Rubinstein had used them to become the richest self-made woman in the world at the start of the twentieth century. Elizabeth Arden had traveled the same road to glory after founding her company in 1910, as had Estée Lauder when she began in the 1940s. The idea–then and now–was that a satisfied customer for skin care would eventually repeat the purchase and automatically become a potential customer for makeup and adjunct products.

 

Mary Kay was also far from the first to pitch cosmetics through direct sales. In 1886, the bible salesman David H. McConnell inadvertently founded Avon when he discovered that the perfume samples he gave away were more popular than his main product, whereupon he concentrated on cosmetics and hired a woman named Mrs. P. F. E. Albee to sell them for him. In the early twentieth century the African American entrepreneurs Annie Turnbo Malone of Poro hair care and Sarah Breedlove, known as Madame C. J. Walker, founded beauty empires in which they invoked racial pride, economic independence, and godliness while using earthly rewards like diamond jewelry as incentives for their top saleswomen.

 

But unlike Avon, where women were the majority of the sales force and the minority of the management, Mary Kay was a very visible, very active, and almost ridiculously feminine-looking role model: a God-fearing, hard-working, immaculately groomed mother of three who was doing everything within in her power to see other women get ahead, and who loved mentoring so much that she referred to her saleswomen as her “daughters.” Also unlike Avon, Mary Kay made her saleswomen more profit per unit: a Mary Kay lipstick cost roughly double the price of an Avon lipstick and hence made twice the profit, while the home-party format meant that several customers could be approached at once. And unlike the businesses of Annie Turnbo Malone and Madame C. J. Walker, Mary Kay made her company purposely inclusive, enabling her rapid expansion into Australia, South America, Europe, and Asia.

 

Playing up her equal-pay-for-equal-work credo, Mary Kay tapped into the emotions of every woman who had ever been miserable, underpaid, or patronized. “Instead of a door marked For Men Only, our company opened its doors wide with welcome–especially for women,” she said. In Mary Kay Cosmetics, every consultant paid a standard price for her starter products. If she recruited other consultants, she also received a small commission on everything they sold. Consultants who recruited other consultants were pushed further up the sales ladder, thereby motivating them to help women who followed them.

 

The recipe worked. Within months of its founding, Mary Kay’s company was profitable. By year’s end, she had hit $198,000 in sales. To celebrate, in 1964 the new entrepreneur staged her first sales convention, called “Seminar,” in a warehouse decorated with balloons and catered with chicken and Jell-O salad that she had made herself. By the time of Mary Kay’s death, Seminar had become an institution at the enormous Dallas Convention Center: an annual three-day, song-and-dance production comparable in cost and staging to the Academy Awards. Although every representative had to pay her own way to Dallas and also pay for a ticket, Seminar sold out so often that by the 1990s it was split into five identical editions (Pearl, Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby, and Emerald) run back-to-back for a yearly total of roughly thirty-five thousand attendees.

 

From the start, Seminars were emotional extravaganzas. Tears were shed. Vows were made. And in the midst of motivational films and fashion shows, new products were announced and women were very publicly promoted. During Seminar, Mary Kay rewarded her sales force with incentives like fur coats and foreign vacations, which she called “Cinderella gifts.” In 1968, after ordering a pink Cadillac for her own use, Mary Kay realized that she had hit upon the most enduring Cinderella gift: by the next year, top performers were driving company-leased pink Cadillacs–or, as the program expanded, a pink Toyota in Taiwan, or a pink Mercedes in Germany. Other emblems included bumblebees–a symbol of determination since it was supposed to be aerodynamically impossible for any bumblebee to fly–and ladders, as a sign of the route to success. During Seminar, Mary Kay would also recite inspirational songs and intone her many motivational slogans–her famous “Mary Kay-isms”–such as:

 

“God first, family second, career third,” often paraphrased as “God first, family second, Mary Kay third” and known as the company’s “Golden Rule.”
“P&L means People and Love.”
“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!”
“What do you have that you can’t have fixed?”
“Fail forward to success.”

 

Throughout its first decade Mary Kay Cosmetics had double-digit growth–sometimes as high as 30 or 40 percent–every year. In 1969, the company broke ground on its own manufacturing plant, an unusual move in a business mostly served by jobbers. By 1979, it topped $100 million, then proceeded to double that in less than a decade. Listing its first share in 1968, the company was traded on the New York Stock Exchange beginning in 1976. In 1985 Mary Kay bought back her company–much as Helena Rubinstein had done decades before–through a leveraged buyout, and by 1993 she was listed on the Forbes 500. In her business, success followed success. In 1993, on the company’s thirtieth anniversary, she also opened the Mary Kay Museum near company headquarters in Addison, Texas, where the flashy gowns she wore during Seminar were preserved in vitrines on Mary Kay mannequins.

 

For years Mary Kay lived in a famously over-the-top nineteen-thousand-square-foot pink palace in North Dallas, where she would invite her top saleswomen and show them her crystal chandeliers and the huge player piano stocked with melodies by her friend Liberace. Otherwise her personal life was quiet. In 1966 Mary Kay married Melville Jerome Ash, “Mel,” a retired salesman. After Ash died of cancer in 1980, Mary Kay added cancer research to the list of charities she endowed, and then she kept right on working. In 1994, she sold her pink palace and retreated to smaller quarters. Then in February 1996 the girl who had won prizes for oratory, the admitted workaholic, the best-known saleswoman in the world, suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak or leave her house.

 

Mary Kay died in North Dallas, leaving a personal fortune estimated at $98 million, more than two-thirds of it in company stock. At that time her company had more than $1.2 billion in sales and an international sales force of more than eight hundred thousand in at least three dozen countries.

 

Thanks to American National Biography Online – http://www.anb.org
Bibliography
Mary Kay Ash wrote a best-selling life story, Mary Kay (1981); a management primer that makes ample use of autobiography, Mary Kay on People Management (1984); a self-help book, Mary Kay, You Can Have It All: Lifetime Wisdom from America’s Foremost Woman Entrepreneur (1995); and the posthumously published Miracles Happen: The Life and Timeless Principles of the Founder of Mary Kay, Inc. (2003). When telling her own story she tended to gloss over bits of biography that are unglamorous or off-message, and she was disingenuous about dates. For that reason most of the journalism about Mary Kay and her company is unintentionally inaccurate. Among the best journalism is Morley Safer’s 1979 segment entitled “The Pink Panther,” 60 Minutes, CBS News, and Skip Hollandsworth, “Hostile Makeover,” Texas Monthly, Nov. 1995. Hollandsworth’s article inspired the 2002 CBS television film Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay, starring Shirley MacLaine. Mary Kay’s life and the history of her company are considered in the context of other direct-selling ventures in Mary Lisa Gavenas, Color Stories: Behind the Scenes of America’s Billion-Dollar Beauty Industry (2002). Mary Kay is the only woman featured in Daniel Gross, Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time (1996).

 

Mary Lisa Gavenas

 

—–
Walker, Madame C. J. (23 Dec. 1867-25 May 1919), businesswoman, was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana, the daughter of Minerva (maiden name unknown) and Owen Breedlove, sharecroppers. Her destitute parents struggled mightily against the system of racism and oppression in the post-Civil War years but were defeated by it and died, leaving Sarah an orphan at six years of age. She lived next with her sister, Louvenia, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but life was not much better there. In 1881, at the age of fourteen, she married Moses “Jeff” McWilliams, having one daughter, Lelia (later to call herself A’Lelia). In 1887 McWilliams was killed, possibly lynched during a race riot. Sarah Breedlove, twenty years old, barely literate, unskilled, and with a two-year-old child, faced a desperate situation. Leaving Mississippi, she headed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis where she became a washerwoman.

 

Every day, hour after hour, for years, Sarah Breedlove stood over the steaming hot wash tubs, her hands, face, and hair assaulted by the hot water and the steaming vapors of chemicals and fumes. As a result, like many other black women forced to work in this situation, she started to lose her hair. Breedlove began experimenting with the various chemicals she used every day, trying to find some kind of preparation that would aid in the care and grooming of the hair and skin of black women like herself. Sometime between 1900 and 1905 she came up with a new hair care formula for black women. The nature of the formula was always kept secret by her and the company, but it seems probable that the highly touted “secret ingredient” was sulphur. Some people at the time, however, claimed that Breedlove bought a product made by Annie Turnbo Malone’s Poro Company, analyzed it, and then copied it.

 

At about the same time, Breedlove’s firm also developed an improved version of the hot comb, made out of steel to make it more useful to African Americans. With her ointment and her steel hot comb, Breedlove developed what would later be known as the “Walker System” for straightening hair, though she always insisted that her major contribution was the growing, not the straightening, of African-American hair. Nonetheless, a major emphasis of the Walker System was the removal of “kinks” from the hair of black women–to straighten their hair–so it was often referred to as the “Anti-Kink Walker System.”

 

After meeting with some success, Breedlove decided in July 1905 to move to Denver, where she took a job in a laundry and began peddling her hair product in her spare time. Soon thereafter Breedlove met Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman and publicist, who gave her tips for marketing and advertising her product. It was he who evidently convinced her to use the name Madame C. J. Walker. The Walker business proved highly successful in Denver, and the two were married a few months later. Charles Walker handled advertising and promotion and tended to affairs at the home “office,” while Madame Walker continued to go door-to-door marketing the product. As the popularity of her hair-care products grew, Walker began training “agent-operators.” She traveled extensively in the South and East, giving lectures and demonstrations at black clubs, homes, schools, and churches.

 

The Walker System became so popular in the eastern states that Walker decided it was imperative to establish an office closer to those markets. While on her travels in 1910, she stopped in Indianapolis and decided to move the headquarters there, establishing a large-scale manufacturing operation. Later she would add a training center for her salespeople, along with research and production laboratories, and another beauty school.

 

Walker at this time also began to organize her agents into a series of “Walker Clubs” that gave cash prizes to the clubs doing the largest amount of philanthropic work. These clubs became engines of business growth as well as community and individual uplift. Then Walker began to bring her agents together in national conventions. The first of these was held in Philadelphia in 1917, when 200 Walker agents convened for the first meeting of the Madame C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America. Coming from the deep South, the North, and the West, they met to learn new techniques, to share business experiences, and to tell their own personal success stories. At these conventions Walker would personally hand out $50 prizes to the clubs that had been most generous in supporting their churches and missionary societies. The annual meetings also became venues for the empowerment of African-American women.

 

Walker became increasingly involved in club and philanthropic work. She joined the National Association of Colored Women when it met at her church in St. Louis in 1904. She also became a staunch benefactor of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, leaving it $5,000 in her will, and gave sizable contributions to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During her time in Indianapolis, she donated $1,000 to the YMCA and made further donations to homes for the aged and the needy. In addition, she maintained scholarships for young women at Tuskegee and gave money to Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina.

 

As Walker became wealthier from her hair preparation business (the firm by 1917 had business amounting to $500,000 annually), she began to invest her profits in other endeavors, particularly real estate. In 1916 she left Indianapolis to live in New York City, where she engaged in an increasingly more opulent lifestyle. She bought a four-and-a-half-acre estate in Irvington on the banks of the Hudson and built a gracious mansion with a formal Italian garden and swimming pool, costing over $350,000, called “Villa Lewaro.” By this time, her health began to fail, and soon thereafter she died at her new home. She had divorced her husband in 1912.

 

Walker was a washerwoman until age thirty-eight; when she died thirteen years later, she left a fortune of between a half million and a million dollars, having successfully operated the largest black-owned business in the United States. Nonetheless, her cultural legacy is somewhat ambiguous. Although she served as a model of black entrepreneurship, gave pride and empowerment to a generation of African-American women, and generously contributed to worthy groups and causes, the source of her fortune was a product that exploited a desire to lessen the distinctiveness of black identity. During an era in American history when poverty often seemed the inevitable lot of the descendents of slaves and the ridicule of black features was pervasive, the use of Madame C. J. Walker’s Hair Grower to straighten one’s hair enabled African Americans to suppose that they could look more like people of European origin. Nearly half a century would pass before the Afro would become an assertive statement of black identity.

 

Bibliography
Some of Madame Walker’s personal papers, as well as those of her company, amounting to some eighty boxes of material and forty-seven ledgers of business interest are deposited at the Indiana Historical Society. There are also a number of letters between Walker and Booker T. Washington and Emmett J. Scott, along with some Walker Manufacturing promotional materials, in the Booker T. Washington Papers at the Library of Congress. Walker’s last letter to her daughter, along with a brief account of her life was published in A’Lelia P. Bundles, “Madame C. J. Walker to Her Daughter A’Lelia Walker–The Last Letter,” in SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women 1, no. 2 (Fall 1984), 34-35. Useful biographical accounts appear in Charles Latham, Jr., “Madame C. J. Walker & Company,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 1, no. 3 (Summer 1989): 29-34, and Leon Davis, Jr., “Madame C. J. Walker: A Woman of Her Times” (master’s thesis, Howard Univ., 1978). Lengthy obituaries are in the New York Times, New York Sun, Indianapolis News, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 27 May 1919.

 

John N. Ingham
—-
Malone, Annie Turnbo (9 Aug. 1869-10 May 1957), African-American businesswoman, manufacturer, and philanthropist, was born in Metropolis, Illinois, the daughter of Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook, farmers. Little is known of the early childhood of Annie Turnbo Malone, except that she was second youngest of eleven children. Her parents were former slaves in Kentucky. Her father joined the Union army during the Civil War, and her mother escaped to Illinois with her small children. After the war, Robert Turnbo joined his family at Metropolis, where he became a farmer and landowner. Following the death of both parents, Annie went to live with older brothers and sisters in Metropolis and, later, Peoria and Lovejoy, Illinois. She completed public school education in Metropolis and attended high school in Peoria. Because of ill health, she did not complete her high school education. In these early years, Malone dreamed of making products to enhance the beauty of black women. She experimented with chemistry while in high school, and believing that “woman’s crowning glory is her hair,” she developed a scalp treatment solution to grow and straighten hair.

 

In 1900 Malone, with assistance from her sister Laura Turnbo Roberts, began to manufacture hair products from the rear of a small building in Lovejoy. Her customers experienced amazing results through the treatments, and Malone’s fame spread across the river to St. Louis. In 1902 Malone moved her growing business to 2223 Market Street in St. Louis. Plans were under way for the world’s fair in that city. Malone realized that thousands would visit the fair, and she sensed greater demands for her preparations. She began canvassing house-to-house to advertise her work and enlist customers. She held press conferences with representatives of the Associated Negro Press, and orders came from faraway states.

 

In 1906 Malone copyrighted her products under the trade name Poro. The business moved to larger facilities at 3100 Pine Street in 1910, and four years later it was considered one of the largest black enterprises in St. Louis.

 

Malone had constructed a new three-story building at St. Ferdinand and Pendleton streets, where she opened Poro College in November 1918. Black beauticians came from all over the country to study hairdressing. Her business now consisted of a factory and a store for hair and cosmetic products, a hairdressing school, a dormitory and a business office, plus a large 500-capacity auditorium and dining room that served as a community center for religious, fraternal, civic, and social organizations.

 

Malone promoted her business by placing ads in black publications and by touring the South to demonstrate her products. In 1912 she created an exhibit of her beauty aids for display at the exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Poro College established branch offices in principal cities throughout the United States. Her products were sold not only in the United States, but in other countries as well. By 1920 some 200 employees worked at Poro College and in the large mail-order department.

 

A brief marriage for Malone in 1903 ended when she thought her husband began to interfere in her business affairs. In 1914 she married Aaron E. Malone, a former schoolmate and school principal. Thirteen years later, however, that marriage, too, ended in a stormy divorce. Legal entanglements between the two threatened to destroy Poro College, but Malone managed to keep her business intact.

 

Malone may well have exerted the greatest economic and social influence of any individual in St. Louis’s black community during the early twentieth century. Her beautiful building, located in the center of the business district, encouraged others in the neighborhood to clean and refurbish their homes and businesses. Malone said, “Poro College is an industrial effort of the Colored people . . . and the education we have to offer is the education of example.”

 

In addition to her business responsibilities, Malone participated and held offices in the Colored Women’s Federated Clubs of St. Louis, the National Negro Business League, the St. Louis Community Council, the Commission of Inter-Racial Cooperation, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

 

Deeply religious all her life, she established daily chapel services for her students and employees. At age sixteen she began teaching Sunday school classes and represented the African Methodist Episcopal church at several state conventions during these early years. At a young age Malone joined the temperance forces and signed the WCTU pledge, which she kept throughout her life.

 

Because of her interest in young people, Malone gave generous financial assistance to the St. Louis Maternity Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the YMCA, St. James AME Church, and the St. Louis Colored Orphans’ Home. For the latter, she donated $10,000 to purchase land on which to build the orphanage. In 1920 she spearheaded a fund drive for construction of the building. The drive raised $60,000 in nine days. She served as board president of the home from 1919 until 1943 and returned regularly to its May Day celebrations. The orphanage was named for her in 1946. Malone was also generous to her employees and students at Poro College and to members of her family. Following the St. Louis tornado disaster of 1927, Poro College, as one of the relief units of the American Red Cross, fed, sheltered, and clothed thousands of sufferers.

 

In 1930 Malone moved her business to Chicago, where she purchased a complete city block from 44th to 45th streets on South Parkway, a main thoroughfare on Chicago’s thriving South Side. By this time she was considered one of the world’s wealthiest black women. Poro College continued to operate in Chicago, but it did not attain its former prominence. The St. Louis building was sold in 1937 under foreclosure to the Mississippi Valley Trust Company of St. Louis. Poor bookkeeping had resulted in income tax problems. A large percentage of unemployed blacks during the depression and the aggressive promotion of the hair straightener by white manufacturers caused Poro College business to decline.

 

Always interested in education, Malone made large financial contributions to Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Wilberforce University in Ohio.

 

At the time of her death in Chicago, Poro colleges still operated in over thirty cities. Malone’s nephews had operated her business in later years.

 

Malone’s life provided inspiration to young black people, particularly women. She exemplified to them the traditional spirit of American business, as she rose from meager circumstances to a position of affluence through remarkable executive power and business acumen. Her accomplishments were remarkable for a black woman of her time.

 

Bibliography
Biographical and business promotional material about Annie Turnbo Malone and Poro College are in the Chicago Historical Society and in the Western Historical Society Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri-St. Louis. Biographical sketches featuring Malone appear in Mary K. Dains, ed., Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies (1989), and Dains, “Missouri Women in History,” Missouri Historical Review 67 (July 1973): inside back cover. Black St. Louis newspapers, the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Argus, provide business and personal reference data. Obituaries are in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 May 1957; St. Louis American, 16 May 1957; and St. Louis Argus, 17 May 1957.

 

Mary K. Dains

 

—-
Arden, Elizabeth (31 Dec. 1878?-18 Oct. 1966), businesswoman, was born Florence Nightingale Graham (her legal name throughout life) in Woodbridge, near Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Graham and Susan Tadd, farmers. Florence would remain a citizen of Canada until she married an American, Thomas Jenkins Lewis, in 1915. Her mother died when Florence was a small child. Unable to finish high school because of her straitened finances, she entered nursing but found that she disliked working with sick people. She moved quickly through jobs as dental assistant, stenographer, and cashier and finally followed her brother William to New York City. By then she was about thirty, although her youthful complexion made her look about twenty. In 1908, as a cashier in a New York beauty salon, she persuaded her employer, Eleanor Adair, to teach her how to give facials, and she quickly mastered this “art of the healing hands.”

 

After a short, unsatisfactory partnership in a beauty salon with Elizabeth Hubbard at 509 Fifth Avenue in New York City, Florence Graham took over the business in 1909. She assumed a new name by scraping “Hubbard” off the front door and substituting “Arden,” a name she remembered, she said, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem Enoch Arden. Her slim capital was augmented by a loan of $6,000 from her brother. Except for one short-term bank loan (she met her first husband while applying for it), this was all the outside financing she would ever need.

 

Elizabeth Arden believed in elegant surroundings, including antiques and oriental carpets, and her embellishments paid off handsomely. Her red door would become famous as the trademark of hundreds of Elizabeth Arden salons in the United States and Europe. Despite the outbreak of World War I in 1914, she traveled to Paris to see how facials were done in the city’s beauty salons (except that of her arch rival, Helena Rubinstein) and discovered the value of cosmetics, such as mascara, eye shadow, rouge, and lipstick. With their adept use, she could make women in the United States look as stylish as Parisian women.

 

Elizabeth Arden the enterprise moved triumphantly up Fifth Avenue, to no. 673 in 1915 and no. 691 in 1930. The rich profits from cosmetics subsidized the salons and made such growth possible; yet without the salons, the Elizabeth Arden name would not have acquired its cachet. Arden gave close attention to product research. Her most successful product, developed by chemist A. Fabian Swanson, was Amoretta, a fluffy, nongreasy face cream. Arden also gave her clients advice on proper diet and offered an exercise salon once exercising became popular. Apart from her natural youthfulness, freshness, and elegance, her profound practical knowledge of female psychology was her greatest asset.

 

Arden and Rubinstein shared many talents, but because only one could sit atop the beauty culture pyramid, they remained bitter enemies. “That woman,” Arden called Rubinstein, who gave as good as she got. After hearing that Arden had lost the tip of the index finger of her right hand to a horse’s bite, Rubinstein is said to have asked, “What happened to the horse?”

 

Arden’s one deep interest, apart from her business, was breeding and training racehorses, at which she was so successful that in 1946 she was featured on the cover of Time magazine as the owner of a stable. The next year, one of the horses, Jet Pilot, won the Kentucky Derby. Her marriage to Lewis, who had filled a subordinate post in the company for years, ended in 1934, and her 1942 marriage to a Russian émigré, Prince Michael Evlanoff, resulted in divorce in 1944. She had no children from either marriage.

 

Arden advertised extensively in slick magazines, lecturing her advertising agency on the right way to promote her salons, but her best investment in advertising, she said, was her charity balls, which were always featured prominently on the society pages. Her message to all women remained, “Hold fast to life and youth.” Eventually she had annual sales of $60 million and a net worth that, although never disclosed, must have reached well into the eight figures.

 

Arden owned every share of stock in her company and consistently rejected her advisers’ urgings to make provision for the continuation of the company in its same legal form after her death, which would have saved millions in tax liabilities. Arden, who loved horses, travel, and big parties, remained in firm control of her business virtually to the day she died in New York City. Apart from substantial legacies to her sister, Gladys, who had managed the Arden salon in Paris, and a loyal niece, Patricia Young, her estate was liquidated by taxes. To take care of death duties, the business was sold for $37.5 million to Eli Lilly & Company.

 

Bibliography
No papers of Elizabeth Arden, the person or the business, are publicly available. Arden’s birth year is not substantiated; there is no record in the Office of the Registrar General in Toronto. There is a biography, Miss Elizabeth Arden (1972), by Alfred Allen Lewis and Constance Woodworth, in the writing of which the authors had the cooperation of former Arden employees and relatives, but the book is rather superficial. Articles on Elizabeth Arden are Margaret Case Harriman, “Glamour, Inc.,” New Yorker, 6 Apr. 1935, pp. 24ff.; “I Am a Famous Woman in This Industry,” Fortune, Oct. 1938; the Time cover story, “Lady’s Day in Louisville,” 6 May 1946, pp. 57-63; and Hambla Bauer, “High Priestess of Beauty,” Saturday Evening Post, 24 Apr. 1948, pp. 26-27, 189-90. See also obituaries in the New York Times, 19 Oct. 1966, and in Time, Life, and Newsweek, 28 Oct. 1966.

 

Albro Martin
—-
Rubinstein, Helena (25 Dec. 1870-1 Apr. 1965), cosmetics entrepreneur, was born in Cracow, Poland, the daughter of Horace Rubinstein, a food broker, and Augusta Silberfield. Helena and her sisters were taught the value and import of beauty by their mother. The daughters used jars of cream concocted by a chemist for their mother’s friend, the actress Helena Modjeska. Rubinstein attended the University of Cracow. Her father wanted her to study medical science, but a brief stint of lab work in medical school in Zurich, Switzerland, made her physically ill. Her father relented; she could end her studies, but she should marry instead. Rubinstein balked at his choice of a 35-year-old widower. When her parents forbade her to marry the young man she chose, Rubinstein asked if she could live with her maternal uncle and his family in Australia. She packed pots of what would become a famous beauty cream for her personal use. In Australia, where sun damage ruined many a complexion, Rubinstein’s skin looked especially beautiful. She found herself giving away the jars of cream. She decided that there was enough demand for the creams to start selling them as a business. With financial backing from Helen MacDonald, a satisfied customer, Rubinstein opened a shop in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Rubinstein used the loan from MacDonald to cover the cost of a large quantity of the cream, rent, and furnishings for the shop. She did the painting and decorating herself. Furthermore, she realized that different creams would help different kinds of skin. Without any formal training in chemistry, she experimented with different creams for different skin types. She gave a personal skin analysis with each jar of cream purchased. Newspaper coverage of her growing business netted her a surge of orders–so many that she was able to afford to bring over Jacob Lykusky, the chemist who had created the original formula. Accounts vary from two years to eight years as to how long it took her to repay the debt to MacDonald. She hired family members to run various parts of her business.

 

Ever receptive to refining her products, she traveled to Europe intermittently to study with skin care and nutrition experts. Throughout her meteoric rise, she focused on her work instead of relationships. Despite falling in love with American newspaperman Edward William Titus, she refused his initial marriage proposal, saying she wanted to open a salon in England before she married. When he asked again after she had opened a salon on London’s Grafton Street, she agreed to the marriage. Their private civil ceremony took place in 1908. Edward continued his writing and even wrote advertising pieces for her products. After their children were born in 1909 and 1912, Rubinstein devoted more time to family matters, but by the time the youngest was two years old, she decided to expand her business by moving to Paris to open a salon. The next year her husband, worried about living in Europe during the escalating war years, convinced her to move to the United States. Rubinstein opened her New York salon, Maison de Beauté Valaze. By 1916 she began expanding her American market to other cities, opening salons in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and then in Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. She also opened a salon in Toronto, Canada. She gained more publicity for her products when movie stars such as Theda Bara and Pola Negri began using them, with Rubinstein’s direction. These stars popularized the “vamp” look, using mascara to highlight their eyes. Meanwhile Rubinstein also selected stores in which to sell her products and trained the women who would sell them.

 

In her autobiography, My Life for Beauty (1966), Rubinstein writes poignantly about giving up her life for her beauty business. At one point she hoped to solve problems in her marriage by selling the business. She did sell it to the Lehman Brothers for $7.3 million, but it was too late for the marriage, which ended in divorce about 1938. However, her decision proved fortuitous, for after the stock market crashed, Rubinstein was able to buy back the business for only $1.5 million.

 

She was less fortunate in her personal life, as she continued to suffer losses. The death of both of her parents before she had a chance for one last visit was emotionally difficult for her. A physician friend suggested that she recover in Europe. She returned revived and ready to try a new idea–”A Day of Beauty” in her salons. She also found some personal comfort, meeting a Georgian named Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia in 1935. She married him three years later, and they remained married for twenty years. They had homes in New York City and in Paris. They were fortunate to have left their Paris apartment in 1939, a year before the fall of France during World War II. Some people criticized Rubinstein for producing luxury goods during the war, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed with Rubinstein that her products were keeping up the morale of the American women. In terms of innovations, Rubinstein tried a line of men’s colognes named after her husband, but the House of Gourielli was an idea ahead of its time.

 

Despite her pain at the loss of her second husband in 1956 and her second son two years later, Rubinstein continued her active business life. Surviving a frightening robbery attempt at her New York apartment at the age of ninety-three, Rubinstein, whom associates addressed as “Madame,” died in New York City. She will be remembered for the cosmetics business she started with a few pots of cream and turned into a business worth millions; estimates of its worth at the time of her death range from $17.5 to $60 million. She had laboratories and salons in fourteen countries. She had given some of her immense wealth to charities through the Helena Rubinstein Foundation. She also gave a large donation to create the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion at the Tel Aviv Art Museum in Israel, where a magnificent collection of miniature rooms is on display.

 

Bibliography
Books about Helena Rubinstein include Margaret Allen, Selling Dreams: Inside the Beauty Business (1981), Maxene Fabe, Beauty Millionaire: The Life of Helena Rubinstein (1972), and Patrick O’Higgins, Madame: An Intimate Biography of Helena Rubinstein (1971). See also Elinor Slater and Robert Slater’s piece, “Helena Rubinstein,” in Great Jewish Women (1994). A lengthy obituary is in the New York Times, 2 Apr. 1965.

 

Sara Alpern
—-
Ayer, Harriet Hubbard (27 June 1849-23 Nov. 1903), businesswoman and journalist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Henry George Hubbard, a real estate dealer, and Juliet Elvira Smith. Her father died when Harriet was three years old, but his legacy of valuable land purchases enabled the family to live comfortably. Poor health limited Harriet’s early education to private tutors. Although Episcopalian, she entered the Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart at the age of twelve, graduating three years later.

 

Harriet, a shy young woman whose facial features paled against those of her attractive mother and sisters, often felt left out of a family whose lives centered on physical beauty. Although Harriet later emerged as a beauty, at the age of fifteen her supposed deficits marked her as an unlikely candidate for suitors. When Herbert Copeland Ayer, son of a prominent iron manufacturer, asked for Harriet’s hand, her mother consented. The pair married in 1865 and had three children. An infant died of smoke inhalation in the Chicago Fire of 1871, a disaster that also destroyed their home.

 

During construction of a new house Harriet Ayer traveled to Paris, where she took French lessons, read extensively, dressed in designer fashions, and acquired a taste for the finest of society’s offerings, which included attending the opera and fashionable dinner parties. When she returned to Chicago she retained a taste for the cultured life and entertained lavishly.

 

Ayer and her husband drifted apart. They separated in 1882, and she moved to New York with her two children. Shortly after she left, her husband lost his business and his fortune on account of unwise speculations. Financially strapped, she obtained employment as a sales clerk with Sypher & Company, an antique and furniture establishment, the owners of which saw the downtrodden socialite as a means to attract clientele. Ayer proved to be an excellent saleswoman, and the company allowed her to work out of her home. Personalizing service for the very rich, she traveled to Europe in search of unusual decorative pieces. In Paris she allegedly visited a chemist, buying from him the formula for a miracle skin cream once used by Madame Récamier, a beauty of Napoleon’s era who was said to have retained youthful skin for forty years.

 

In 1886 Ayer returned to New York City. In that same year, she and her husband divorced. She received financial backing from multimillionaire Jim Seymour to start Récamier Manufacturing Company to produce the skin cream. After experimenting with the formula in her kitchen and finding an attractive jar for packaging, she then rented a factory to start production. She labeled the cream with Récamier’s name, her own name, and the Hubbard coat of arms, a combination that went against societal conventions. Claiming that the cream removed facial spots and wrinkles, Ayer employed actresses and famous personalities to endorse her products, including stage star Lily Langtry. She used the endorsements in newspaper advertisements. Emphasizing the cream’s healing qualities, she reminded her readers that the cream had kept Récamier’s skin flawless for years. Her talent for writing and her tremendous promotional abilities created novel methods for merchandising, and her business quickly became a success.

 

Tensions began building between Ayer and Seymour, which escalated with her daughter’s engagement to his son. Sensing impending trouble, Ayer worked hard and paid off her debt, but complications occurred when a dispute of unknown circumstances erupted with Seymour. He filed a lawsuit charging her with mismanaging business finances. She countersued, claiming her debt to him was paid but that he had not returned the stock certificates, and accused him of trying to poison her. Although she won the suit, Seymour convinced his new daughter-in-law and Ayer’s exhusband that Ayer’s mental condition was unstable and that she was an alcoholic. Rumors that she took morphine for insomnia added to the scandal. The family committed her to an institution in 1893. Both daughters severed ties with their mother, and Ayer’s former husband won custody of their minor daughter.

 

Lawyers obtained Ayer’s release after she had spent fourteen months in the asylum. Her once-thriving business had foundered in her absence, and she had little hope of reviving it. The former beauty, who had advocated the healthiness of being plump, had lost forty pounds. Lackluster skin and gray and brittle hair were hardly advertisements for beauty product sales.

 

After months of recuperation a rejuvenated Ayer began a successful lecture tour called “Fourteen Months in a Madhouse.” She told her audiences of her unwilling incarceration in an airless and padded room, where she was force-fed and made to wear ragged clothes. She wrote an exposé on the horror of asylums, which was handed out at her lectures and later reprinted in newspapers. Her lectures and writings drew attention to the horrible conditions of asylums and the danger of doctors and relatives committing mentally stable people. Sometimes she charged an admission fee, the proceeds of which were used to help other victims.

 

When Ayer saw an advertisement for the newly created women’s page of the New York World, she quickly responded and immediately composed a sample health and beauty column. Hired as the beauty advice columnist, she received nearly 20,000 letters a year. She targeted her mass-circulated columns toward the working woman; to identify with her audience, she donned the new working woman’s clothes, which included a jacket, shirtwaist, and skirt, with a hem that rose four inches above the floor. She joined the Rainy Daisy moderate-dress reform group and was critical of tightly laced garments. She always advised women to “use common sense” and “never overdo a good thing.”

 

Within a short time Ayer doubled as a reporter and feature story writer. She gathered her articles and advice, publishing them in Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Book: A Complete and Authentic Treatise on the Laws of Health and Beauty (1899). In 1902 she traveled to England to write a “Harriet Hubbard Ayer Abroad” series for the paper. She also wrote a pamphlet for the Pond’s Extract Company, titled Beauty, A Woman’s Birthright: How Every Woman May Look Her Best (1904). Eventually she reconciled with her daughters. She died of pneumonia in New York City at the age of fifty-four.

 

A forerunner of the promotional strategies that would characterize the booming cosmetics industry of the twentieth century, Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s innovative advertising techniques set the pace for modern merchandising. Ayer helped change women’s thinking regarding healthy eating, proper exercise, and dress reform, while advocating a freer lifestyle. During her final years her contact with women from different socioeconomic levels increased her interest in feminism. But her attitude that wives needed beauty to keep husbands and that working women needed physical appeal to move ahead in the workplace kept her within traditional attitudes of her time.

 

Bibliography
Ayer left no papers. A memoir written by Henry E. Hamilton is in the library of the Chicago Historical Society. The best source on Ayer is her biography by her daughter Margaret Hubbard Ayer, with Isabella Taves, The Three Lives of Harriet Hubbard Ayer (1957). Other details of her life and career are in Caroline Kirkland, Chicago Yesterdays (1919), Albert Payson Terhune, To the Best of My Memory (1930), Maggie Angeloglou, A History of Make-up (1970), Caroline Bird, Enterprising Women (1976), Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (1983), Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, Mothers of Invention (1987), and Autumn Stephens, Wild Women (1992). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, 26 Nov. 1903.

 

Marilyn Elizabeth Perry
—-
Citation:
Mary Lisa Gavenas. “Ash, Mary Kay”;

http://www.anb.org/articles/10/10-02284.html;

American National Biography Online May Update 2008.
Access Date: Thu Jan 05 2012 01:20:57 GMT-0500 (EST)
Copyright © 2008 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.


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