Mildred Elizabeth Levine Albert
Mildred Elizabeth Levine Albert carved a niche for herself in the fashion world as the head of a modeling agency and an inventor of new kinds of fashion shows. Falling in love with teaching early on, Albert began as a fine arts teacher for girls at a settlement house in Boston, going on to found a finishing school and create a six-week fashion course for brides. In 1944, she cofounded the Hart Model Agency, and later initiated poolside, luncheon, and cocktail fashion shows. Albert was also a media personality, running two weekly radio shows and reporting on fashion shows for CBS and several newspapers. She generously turned her money and skills to philanthropic causes, coordinating fashion shows for charities such as UNICEF.
“M.A.” and “The Mighty Atom,” as Mildred Albert was called, charmed the fashion world as an international fashion consultant, lecturer, columnist, and radio and television personality.
The youngest of four children of Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Elizabeth (Sugarman) and Thomas Levine, Mildred was born in Russia on January 14, 1905, and grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Her father was a builder and real estate developer in Brookline. She was about to enter the Sargent School of Physical Education (now part of Boston University) when she met James Albert, a freshman at Harvard. After meeting at “The Crest” at Winthrop, Massachusetts, where their families summered, they began a courtship that lasted throughout their college years. In 1926, Mildred graduated and began teaching gym classes at Somerville High School in Massachusetts, while James Albert continued his education at law school. After they married in 1928, Albert worked at Florence Street Settlement House in the South End of Boston, where she taught art, dance, and literature to women and teenagers. The couple had three children: Justine Iris (Joy), born in 1930; Jeanne Marion, born in 1931; and Robert Alan, born in 1933.
From a finishing school to a modeling agency
The idea for creating the first finishing school in New England came to Albert when she was teaching posture at Massachusetts General Hospital. Among the enthusiastic students was the daughter of a prominent Boston family, to whom Albert taught good posture and etiquette in preparation for the debutante’s “coming out” party. The results were so successful that Albert was asked to give private lessons to several of the young woman’s friends. In 1936, with those six women as her first pupils, Albert created a finishing school called the Academie Moderne. Many thought she was foolish to begin this venture in the middle of the Depression, but her husband and father supported her. Her course included more than lessons on poise, proper walking, and good diction. She also developed students’ cultural tastes by taking them to museums and ballet performances.
When some former finishing school students sought her advice for modeling at their Junior League fashion shows, she decided to open a separate school for women who wanted to become career models. In 1944, she co-founded Hart Model Agency and Promotions, Inc., with Muriel Williams Hart and her husband, Francis Hart. During those years, Albert also began covering major designer fashion shows. She became Boston’s “First Lady of Fashion,” initiating around-the-pool fashion shows, luncheon fashion shows, and the first cocktail fashion shows. In addition, she organized the first Million Dollar Back Bay Fashion Show for the Back Bay Association. Innovative in her business, Albert set up a six-week fashion course for brides in 1959. In 1981, she sold both businesses, but remained dean emeritus to the school and consultant to the agency.
Public life: a personality, a philanthropist
In addition to her entrepreneurial successes, Albert enjoyed a secondary career as a media personality. She had a weekly WEEI radio program, “Youthful Loveliness,” in the late 1930s, and a WCRB program, “Fashion As I See It,” in the 1960s through the 1970s. In the 1980s, she continued to report on fashion shows for the CBS Good Day Show. Late in life, she covered fashion shows and various benefits for The Tab newspapers.
A legendary figure in the fashion world, Albert shared her name and money as a generous philanthropist. She coordinated fashion shows for various charities such as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the March of Dimes, and UNICEF. She was an overseer of the Wang Center for the Performing Arts and a cofounder of the Boston Arts Festival.
Albert was also involved in Jewish life. While only somewhat religiously observant, she identified strongly with Jewish history and culture. In the late 1920s, she taught Sunday school at Temple Israel in Boston, and served on the board of the Hebrew Teachers College in Boston in the 1920s and 1930s. While Albert identified herself more as a cultural Jew, she never hid her Judaism during her work with the predominantly non-Jewish society world.
Albert received numerous awards for her work from institutions such as Public Action for the Arts, Boston University, Sargent College, the National Foundation for the March of Dimes, and the USO Greater Boston Soldiers and Sailors Committee. On October 29, 1986, Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis issued a proclamation honoring her. That year, she celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Academie Moderne.
At age eighty-two, she was quoted as saying, “I’m not retiring. . . I wouldn’t dream of stopping. . . I believe if you retire, you die.” Energetic until the end, Albert died in Boston on August 26, 1991.
Albert, Mildred Elizabeth (Levine). Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.
Davis, Jeanne, and James Albert. Interviews with the author.