Business & Economics: Entrepreneurs
In the twentieth century, Jewish women played a disproportionate role in the development of American consumer culture because of a combination of factors. For one, American industry became increasingly consumer-oriented, and consumer industries were comparatively open to small entrepreneurs. For another, Jewish immigrants and their children tended to display strong entrepreneurial tendencies.
Beatrice Alexander established her doll business in her home in 1923, and since then the Madame Alexander Doll Company has created more than 5,000 different dolls. Employing more than 650 people at its factory in Harlem, New York, the Alexander Doll Company is one of the largest doll manufacturing companies in the United States.
Launching a business devoted to women’s skin care in 1959 with $400 she had earned from baby-sitting, Arpel is now president and CEO of Adrien Arpel, Inc., an enterprise with approximately 500 salons across the United States and Canada.
Fashion designer, publicist, entrepreneur and sales representative, Claire Bodner, with virtually no formal training in fashion or business, developed and ran her own successful fashion business, Ducaire Timely Separates, in New York City from 1941 to 1949.
Hattie Carnegie led a fashion empire that set the pace of American fashion for nearly three decades.
The related fields of typography and graphic design played a vital role in the advent of modernism in early twentieth-century Europe, with many vanguard groups—better known for painting, sculpture, architecture, and manifestos—using design to test the practical application of their new modes of artistic production. The European avant-garde, imported to the United States by a wave of emigrés in the late 1930s, was embraced by a new breed of designers, eager to build upon the principles of an incipient “international style.” Elaine Lustig Cohen, with her husband, Alvin Lustig, were among the most prominent graphic designers to adopt these advanced aesthetic concepts for use in the American market.
Esther Pinheiro, Esther Brown, Rachel Luis, and Simja De Torres were widows, each held property, each was at one time or another a merchant. Although all lived in New York City for a time, none were born there. Pinheiro died on the Island of Nevis, and the other three in New York. All four have been overlooked by history. They have been included here because written records survive documenting their activities.
Impulsive, adventurous, and outspoken, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp ran away from home when she was seventeen years old. Two years later, she joined destinies with western lawman, gambler, and entrepreneur Wyatt Earp. For forty-seven years, they roamed the West, mingling with well-known westerners on both sides of the law. Her name was rarely in print until her published memoir revealed an overlooked western folk female hero, long on daring, short on propriety, and, of all things, Jewish.
Of all Jewish immigrants to the United States from 1886 to 1914, forty-four percent were women, far more than for other immigrants groups arriving during the heyday of mass immigration. The more than two million Jews from the Russian Empire, Romania, and Austria-Hungary who entered the United States in the years 1881 to 1924—when the American government imposed a restrictive quota system—came to stay. Only 7 percent chose to return to Europe, as opposed to about 30 percent of all immigrants. Jewish immigrants intended to raise American families. Ashkenazi (European) Jewish culture and American values as conveyed by social reformers as well as by advertising, and the economic realities of urban capitalist America, all influenced the position of women in immigrant Jewish society in America. Jewish immigrant women shared many of the attributes of immigrant women in general, but also displayed ethnic characteristics.
The dictionary definition of entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” Following this definition to its logical conclusion, every pre-modern woman who managed a household was an entrepreneur since the household, at least until the seventeenth—in some places until the eighteenth—century, was an economic enterprise. For the purposes of this article, however, we have limited this broad definition of entrepreneurship, concentrating on women who specialized in commerce, selling what they themselves produced or what others produced and, in later centuries, women who were actively involved in the money economy.
Sara Nachamson Evans, the wife of Mayor Emanuel J. Evans, served as the “first lady” of Durham, North Carolina, from 1951 to 1963. Known affectionately as “Miz Evans” by her friends and family, she was, in her own right, a prominent local, regional, and national leader of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization with a national membership of 300,000 Jewish women.
The impressive and full life of Ruth Lewis Farkas spanned many occupations: educator, sociologist, businesswoman, philanthropist, inventor, wife, and mother. She was born on December 20, 1906, and raised in Manhattan, the fourth of Samuel Lewis and Jennie Bach’s five children. Farkas’s parents were in the real estate business, but Jennie Lewis also worked with the poor of Manhattan and occasionally allowed her young daughter to accompany her into tenements. She gave Ruth this advice: “No matter what your station in life, always try to contribute to those less fortunate.”
The period 1820–1880 has generally been considered the era of German Jewish immigration to the United States. Issues of gender and family shaped this migration from the Germanic regions, and from other parts of Central and Eastern Europe from 1820 to 1880.
Jean Gordon had two successful careers in her lifetime, as a founder of the Advance Pattern Company and as the owner and publisher of Dance Magazine.
Art dealer, collector, and influential businesswoman, Edith Halpert changed the way Americans perceive their art. Born in Odessa, [now] Ukraine, on April 25, 1900, she was the daughter of Gregor and Frances (Lucom) Fivoosiovitch. Her father died when she was very young and when she was six years old, her mother brought her and her sister to New York City. While in high school, at age fourteen, Edith took classes at the National Academy of Design after convincing the instructors she was really sixteen.
Best known as the inventor of the Barbie doll, Ruth Mosko Handler combined her marketing genius with her husband Elliot Handler’s creative designs to form the toy company Mattel, Inc. Starting in their garage in 1939, the Handlers produced Lucite gifts, wooden picture frames, and dollhouse furniture before developing their first toy, the Uke-A-Doodle, in 1947. The success of the Uke-A-Doodle was followed by a series of rubber-belt-driven musical toys, including the Jack-in-the-Box, as well as toy guns such as a Winchester rifle replica. Yet it was the Barbie doll, created in 1959, that “ran off the counter.” Thirty years later, sales of the doll that Handler named after her daughter exceeded one billion dollars.
Sylvia Hassenfeld is one of the most important American Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists of the twentieth century. Born in Philadelphia, the only child of Sophie and Joseph Kay, Hassenfeld has been an international leader in business, philanthropy, Jewish communal service, and non-governmental organizations.
The date and place of Anna Held’s birth are shrouded in mystery, confusion or vanity. They range from March 18, 1865, in Warsaw, Poland, to 1878 in Paris, France, a thirteen-year difference. That she was born in Warsaw on March 18, 1873, may be most accurate. Held was the youngest and only survivor of eleven children. Her parents were Maurice (or Shimmle), a glovemaker, and Yvonne (or Helene) Pierre. Some sources suggest that both her parents were Jewish, while one source states that her mother was Catholic.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” In 1901, Lizzie Kander and Mrs. Henry Schoenfeld used this adage in the title of a cookbook produced for the benefit of the first settlement house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 1984, nearly two million copies of The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart had been sold. Its success can be attributed to the determination and ingenuity of a woman known as the “Jane Addams of Milwaukee.”
Not just an ordinary fashion designer, Donna Karan has proved she is an extraordinary New York designer. She has stretched her role as “artist” in the high-paced designer world to include aspects of life far beyond the typical wardrobe.
“Here rests a woman who was outstanding among her people and in her fatherland” is written on the gravestone of “Madame Kaulla” in the Hechingen Jewish cemetery. This refers to her charity as a wealthy and pious Jewish woman and to her significant achievements in serving the Grand Duke (later King) of Wuerttemberg and the imperial army (Reichsarmee). Chaile Raphael Kaulla was the most influential Jewish woman entrepreneur and one of the last Court Jews in eighteenth-century Germany.
Lillian Kasindorf Kavey was a banker, a community activist, and an advocate for Conservative Judaism and Ethiopian Jewry. She was born in New York City on July 19, 1889, and married Abraham H. Kavovitz, an itinerant clothing merchant and shoe salesman, in 1908. They settled in Port Chester, New York.
In 1982, when she retired from the presidency of Kessler International Corporation, Lillian Kessler prepared a brochure listing the principal export items of the company she had founded in 1946. The list included abrasives, adhesives, locomotive parts, chemicals, navigational and meteorological instruments, tank and jeep bearings, crankshaft and camshaft grinders, and many other automotive parts.