Mary Vail Andress

by Mary Goljenboom

In 1924, Mary Vail Andress was hired by Chase National Bank to be an assistant cashier, thus becoming the bank’s first female officer. She left the Paris office of Banker’s Trust Company to take the position at Chase. Bankers magazine included the following information about Miss Andress’ new job:

“Miss Andress will be associated with the main office of the bank and will occupy a desk on the officers’ platform together with the other operating officials. It is understood that her duties will be the same as any other official of similar rank. This is a most forward step in the position of women in banking . . .”

 

A most forward step . . . a woman, hired to a position currently occupied only by men, expected to do the same job as the men.

Andress held her position with Chase for fifteen years, until 1940 when she left to help the war relief efforts in Europe.

 

Notes
In December 2013, Sotheby’s auctioned a Cartier enamel, diamond, and gold compact inscribed to Mary Vail Andress from Bankers Trust Company, Paris. View the Sotheby’s catalog entry.

 

Copyright 2013 Ferret Research, Inc.

Mildred King Archibald

by Mary Goljenboom

Over time, the stories that make up our history sometimes change. Usually they are modified to be simple and concise. Often in business history this means that women’s roles are diminished or ignored entirely. One example: Mildred King Archibald of Fannie May Candies.

A quick internet search lists the founders of Fannie May Candies as “H. Teller Archibald and his wife, Mildred”. Mr. Archibald is always listed first. We are left with the impression that he was the primary force in starting the business and that his wife’s role was secondary. She helped, taking on responsibilities under his management and guidance. But in a 1928 interview in the Chicago Daily Tribune*, Mrs. Archibald tells the story in a slightly different way:

We opened our first shop on La Salle Street . . . with a small amount of capital and in a small way. Our kitchens were in the back room of the shop. Mr. Archibald continued his real estate business, with the shop only as a side line. But the business grew. One shop seemed to lead to another and almost before we knew it we had a chain store system.

While her husband worked primarily in his real estate business, Mildred Archibald “was willing to work night and day” to see the candy shop succeed. And succeed it did. When the first Fannie May shop opened in 1920, the business was one of about 200 candy/confectionary manufacturers in Chicago. Even with all that competition, three years later Fannie May Candies had ten shops. While it is unclear when Teller Archibald joined the business full-time, it is clear that Mildred’s full-time efforts got the business up and running successfully.

Interestingly, later in the interview she says “But please don’t think that I am entirely responsible for the success of this business. I should much rather give the credit to my husband, who is president of the firm, and my brother, who is manager of the kitchens.”

Modesty? Perhaps. Social convention? Maybe. Within nine months of the published interview, the Archibalds’ marriage was over. Newspaper reports say that part of the strife came from differences of opinion on the business. The divorces (there were two: one in Florida and one in Illinois) were acrimonious; when all was finally settled, Mildred received $1 million (about $13 million today), in part to repay the money she invested in starting up Fannie May Candies. Teller kept the business. Thus, when the story of the founding of Fanny May is told, his name is always listed first.

Sources
*Chicago Daily Tribune, February 19, 1928

 

Copyright 2013 Ferret Research, Inc.

Working Mothers circa 1940

by Mary Goljenboom

Shirley Polykoff faced the difficult choices most working mothers struggle with today. She was a working mother in the 1930s and 40s.

In the midst of the Depression, I had borne two daughters. And in the next ten years I had experienced all the problems of trying to hold onto a career so that the family wouldn’t notice that I had one (although my daughters have since assured me that they certainly did notice) and to handle the home so that it wouldn’t appear to the career that there even was a family that might make any claims on my attention.

Who was Shirley Polykoff?

Today she is remembered as one of the most successful advertising copywriters of her time and, in 1959, the first woman elected vice president of the Foote, Cone & Belding agency. The famous Clairol hair color slogan, “Does she . . . or doesn’t she? Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure,” is Polykoff’s. But in the 1930s and 40s she was a young woman constructing a career in advertising, a marriage, and a family.

As a young married couple, Polykoff and her husband, George Halperin, tried to find the roles that fit their personalities and aspirations. Halperin’s law partners “did not find it seemly” that a wife should work, so, for a time, Polykoff attempted the role of stay-at-home wife and mother. It was not satisfactory for the family and in her autobiography she describes how they ended it. “George was very patient for about two weeks. Then one evening he came home with flowers. ‘Listen, sweetie. You make a lousy little woman in the kitchen.’” Polykoff happily returned to advertising work. She figured out ways to juggle work and family, including hiring nannies to assist her.

Obviously much has changed since Polykoff and her husband made their decisions about work and family balance. As a society we still need to improve the supports available to workers with family obligations. In this area there is no “one size fits all”. The supports that former Yahoo’s executive Marissa Mayer can afford to put into place—building a nursery next to her office—are available to those of us working from home but not those of us working from company cubicles. Flexible schedules and workplaces and good child- or elder-care options are vital.

 

Source
Does she … or doesn’t she? : And how she did it by Shirley Polykoff

 

Copyright 2013 Ferret Research, Inc.