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.
*Chicago Daily Tribune, February 19, 1928
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