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Birth of Ida Cohen Rosenthal, co-founder of Maidenform

January 9, 1886
Maidenform bra advertisement
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A vintage Maidenform advertisement. Photo courtesy of Lobstar28 via Flickr.

Ida Cohen Rosenthal, co-founder of Maidenform, the first company to make modern bras, was born on January 9, 1886 in Tsarist Russia. Shortly after immigrating to New Jersey in 1904, she married William Rosenthal. With little money in her pocket, she bought herself a Singer sewing machine on the installment plan and began working as an independent seamstress.

Ida's sewing business boomed during World War I, and soon she and her husband, along with business partner Enid Bisset, opened a custom dress shop called Enid Frocks. The popular "flapper" style of the day demanded a flat-chested look, which women achieved by wearing uncomfortable bandeaux. But the Rosenthals disliked the way their dresses fit women with artificially flat chests, and so they developed a new undergarment that would support and accentuate woman's natural figure: two cups connected by shoulder straps and a band that fastened in the back. At first, the partners simply gave the new bras away with each dress they sold. As the popularity of their new undergarment grew, however, they gave up dressmaking altogether and focused exclusively on producing and selling bras. To distinguish their product from the "boyish form" bandeaux, they called their new garment "Maidenform." The new company was called the Enid Manufacturing Company until, in 1930, it became the Maiden Form Brassiere Company to be more identified with its principal product. The firm survived both the Great Depression and Bisset's retirement and, by the end of the 1930s, department stores across the country and around the world were selling Maidenform bras.

While William focused on design—inventing standardized cup sizes, maternity and nursing bras, and adjustable straps—Ida ran the business, negotiating with unions and introducing assembly-line production. A marketing genius, she began an aggressive print and radio ad campaign, making Maidenform the first intimate apparel company to advertise. In 1949, Ida came up with the now-famous "I dreamed I... in my Maidenform bra" campaign, depicting brassiered women in a range of unexpected settings (like driving a chariot), which ran successfully for 20 years.

After William's death in 1958, Ida became the company's president and then chairman of the board. She continued working until she suffered a stroke in 1966, after which she stayed on as honorary chairman of the board until her death in 1973. Her daughter, Beatrice, inherited the multimillion dollar family company. Maidenform is now run by Ida's granddaughter, Elizabeth Coleman.

To learn more about Ida Cohen Rosenthal, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Jewesses With Attitude - "I dreamed I blogged in my Maidenform bra" and "What would Ida Cohen Rosenthal think of your bra as a symbol for breast cancer awareness?"; Advertising and Consumer Culture in the United States.

Sources: www.sil.si.edu/exhibitions/doodles/innov_rosenthal.htm; www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/rosenthal_hi.html; www.csupomona.edu/~plin/inventors/rosenthal.html; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 1181-2.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Birth of Ida Cohen Rosenthal, co-founder of Maidenform." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jan/09/1886/ida-cohen-rosenthal>.