Department store pioneer Beatrice Auerbach receives Tobe Award
Beatrice Fox Auerbach, the longtime proprietor of the G. Fox & Company department store in Hartford, Connecticut, was born on July 17, 1887 [some sources say July 7, 1887]. Auerbach was raised in Hartford, where her father ran the department store originally founded by his father, Gerson Fox, and named for him. In 1911, Auerbach moved to Salt Lake City to help her new husband run his family's department store there. The couple returned to Connecticut six years later when the G. Fox & Company building burned. Beatrice Auerbach's husband became secretary and treasurer of the rebuilt store, which occupied a twelve-story Art Deco building that dominated Hartford's Main Street.
When her husband died in 1927, Auerbach stepped into his shoes. She proved so good at running the business that when her father died in 1938, she became president of G. Fox & Company. Over the next three decades, Auerbach built the business into the largest privately-held department store in the United States. Under Auerbach's leadership, the store was known for excellent service, but it was also remarkable for the benefits extended to employees. Auerbach was among the first employers to introduce paid vacations and sick leave, and also among the first to hire African-Americans in meaningful professional positions. Her contributions to the field of retail were recognized with a Tobe Award, an annual prize for outstanding achievement in that field, presented on January 14, 1948 at a New York City banquet.
Auerbach sold G. Fox & Company to the May Company, owner of Macy's, in 1965, though she remained involved in the day-to-day operations of the store. The sale allowed Auerbach to increase the charitable contributions for which she was already well-known in Connecticut. The Service Bureau for Women's Organizations that she had established in 1945 taught leadership skills to members of women's groups. She also collaborated with Connecticut College for Women for over twenty years (1938-1959) in a retailing program that allowed participants to try out theories in the G. Fox store. Among the other beneficiaries of Auerbach's philanthropy were Trinity College, Wesleyan University, the University of Connecticut, and several Hartford-area cultural organizations. Auerbach died on November 29, 1968. G. Fox & Company closed permanently in 1992. The building, still a Hartford landmark, was later converted for use as a community college and retail shops.
To learn more about Beatrice Auerbach, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 99-100; New York Times, January 15, 1948, October 28, 1965, December 24, 1965, December 1, 1968; Preservation Online, September 10, 2002.