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Ophelia DeVore

Pioneering entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore was born on August 12, 1922 in Edgefield, South Carolina. Her father, John Walter DeVore, was of German and French descent and her mother, Mary Emma Strother, was a combination of Native American and African American. During the 1920s, DeVore attended segregated schools until age nine, when she moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to live with her uncle, John Strother, who was co-owner of the African American transportation system, Safeway Bus Company. In 1933, her parents sent her to New York City to live with her great-aunt, Stella Carter, in order to complete her studies. DeVore received her diploma from Hunter College High School and attended New York University where she studied mathematics and languages.

Having attended the Vogue School of Modeling in New York, DeVore became one of the first African American models in the America in 1938 at the age of sixteen. Keenly aware of how African Americans were stereotypically depicted in the printed media, she made it her mission to change these images. In 1946, with the help of four friends, she founded the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency and in 1948, she opened the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. Since then, thousands of people have been nurtured by her agency including Diahann Carroll, Barbara McNair, Cicely Tyson, Richard Roundtree and Raymond St. Jacques. DeVore made a name for herself in Europe as well as in America. She is credited for entering Cecelia Cooper, an African American dancer, into the Miss Festival beauty contest at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, which she won. In 1960, LeJeune Hundley also from DeVore’s agency was crowned Miss Festival at the Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to her modeling agency, she owns The Columbus Times, a Georgia-based newspaper begun by her second husband, the late Vernon Mitchell. She has maintained the thirty-two year old paper’s strong journalistic excellence and emphasis on African American life and history. Due to her business acumen, she has served as consultant to many of America’s Fortune 500 corporations. DeVore has received more than 200 awards and honors from corporate, political, educational, governmental and social agencies.

DeVore lives in New York with her family.

Accession Number

A2006.035

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/14/2006

Last Name

Devore

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Hunter College High School

Edgefield Academy

I.S. 164 Edward W. Stitt Junior High School

New York University

First Name

Ophelia

Birth City, State, Country

Edgefield

HM ID

DEV01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Comment allez-vous?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/12/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Turkey (Dark Meat)

Death Date

2/28/2014

Short Description

Fashion and talent entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore (1922 - 2014 ) became one of the first African American models in America in 1938. She is a co-founder of the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency, and founder of the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ophelia DeVore's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her parents' interracial marriage and her identity as an American

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her father, John DeVore

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore describes her parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore recounts her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore describes meditating as a child and her early determination to change perceptions of people of color

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore remembers holiday celebrations as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about mimicking her mother's poise and attending boarding school

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore remembers living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with her Uncle John Strother, co-owner of Safeway Bus Company

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore talks about attending the white Stitt Junior High School in New York City, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Ophelia DeVore talks about a memorable experience at the Cannes Film Festival

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Ophelia DeVore talks about attending the white Stitt Junior High School in New York City, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ophelia DeVore recalls her early years in the fashion industry

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore describes the founding of Grace Del Marco and attending the Vogue School of Modeling in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the beginning of her charm school in 1948 and the departure of her co-founders from Grace Del Marco

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore describes her co-founders at the Grace Del Marco Agency

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her first husband and integrating her children into her business

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore talks about working as a fashion columnist

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore recalls the events leading up to her heart attack in her early twenties

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore talks about training her models for fashion shows

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore recalls the models of color that broke into the fashion industry

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about starting ABC's 'Spotlight in Harlem' with Ralph Cooper

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore remembers HistoryMaker Diahann Carroll's breakthrough in 'Jazz Train' and 'Chance of a Lifetime'

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Olivette Taylor shares her testimonial about Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Devette Taylor shares her testimonial about Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Patricia Myers shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Eleanor Williams shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Adamoli, a teacher at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Pamela Pryor, co-president of the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Catherine Peppers, a teacher at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Camille Petty shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dell Pinckney, one of the first students at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimony

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore talks about guiding Cecelia Cooper's historic win as Miss Cannes Festival 1959

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes Helen Williams' historic feature as a model in Johnson & Johnson's "Modess...because" ad campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about LeJeune Hundley's coronation as Miss Cannes Festival 1960

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her husband, Vernon Mitchell, publisher of the Columbus Times

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore recalls her role as a marketing consultant at Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough Corporation in getting black models on TV

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore talks about HistoryMaker Diahann Carroll's start in television and her marketing strategy that appealed to whites and blacks alike

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore talks about how she met her second husband, Vernon Mitchell

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the Nigerian Civil War

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about working as an investigative journalist in Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore details her lawsuit against Life magazine in 1971

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the racism she encountered in the modeling industry

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Ophelia DeVore talks about Beverly Johnson, Vogue's first African American model, and her lawsuit against Life magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ophelia DeVore remembers her students including Cicely Tyson, Bea Richards, HistoryMaker Susan Taylor, Gil Noble, and Richard Roundtree

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore recalls how she helped ABC's first black newscaster Melba Tolliver get in the door

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes her plans to go into the nursing industry

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Emily Post and her training at the Vogue School of Modeling in New York City, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her health issues and her pride in her children

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the Columbus Times

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore describes the importance of history

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore and Camille Petty talk about the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association and the school's nursing initiative, pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore and Camille Petty talk about the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association and the school's nursing initiative, pt.2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

2$6

DATitle
Ophelia DeVore describes the founding of Grace Del Marco and attending the Vogue School of Modeling in New York
Ophelia DeVore recalls her role as a marketing consultant at Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough Corporation in getting black models on TV
Transcript
Well, what year did you or what provoked you to attend the New York Vogue School of Modeling?$$Okay, well, what happened, we opened--I, I was convinced to start the business by five, four of my friends. So there were four or five of us that started the business in 1946.$$Can you name the five people?$$Yeah, let's start with Marie Mell [ph.] was one--and I'm starting with her because I'll tell you why again. Albert--what was Al's--Murphy was the other one, Al Murphy, M-A-R-C--Charlie Mell [ph.], Rupert Calendar [ph.] and Ophelia DeVore. Okay, that was the five of us. And the reason why I put them in that order because in order to get the name of an agency, we had "Grace" by these five people. "M", was Marie's first name, "A" is Albert's first, you know, letter, first letter in his name, and so it goes down. That's how we got the name. Often people say, who is "Grace"? There's no such person as Grace, Grace Del Marco. It's "Grace" by these five people. But we were in the business only about a couple of years. But there was no money. There was no market for it. We weren't making any money. But before that happened, before they left, now, we started an agency, and then, in our naive minds, to think that they had people ready to go into the modeling business, knew the modeling--and who had the knowledge and be experienced, even if they didn't have experience, they have the knowledge. They didn't have the knowledge. They didn't have the experience. They didn't have the awareness most of the time, of a, of a modeling business. So if you're going to have it and make sure the business is successful, you've got to have people who are totally prepared. So to do that, then I went to the modeling school to get a complete background, to get a finished background. In other words, when I was modeling before I was using my ballet background because, actually, the modeling profession is based on ballet, the poses and the movement and what not. And so I had to go and get a background. And I went to Vogue School of Modeling. And that was on 57th Street and 5th Avenue. Now, I went through the whole class and, and had a great time, wonderful. They just loved me. They, you know, thought I was just something. I guess they thought I had a suntan. I don't know what it was, but anyway, I, I--and I say that because, yes, at the end of my class program, a young lady came in who wanted to join the school. And she was cafe au lait, and my goodness, you'd think we were, the whole place was on fire. Everybody was going crazy in the school. And I was wondering, and I was, you know, I was young. I didn't know what was happening, what was going on. So finally, someone said, oh, we have someone who is not white out here, and, you know, and they want to join the school. So I was so naive, I didn't know they didn't know I was African--or black or whatever, African American or people of color. I--in my mind, this is the way I thought. I was a teenager. I said, if they didn't know what I was, they were pretty dumb because they were adults. See, that's the way (laughter) I figured it out. And, but that's how bad it was. That's why I went to the Vogue School of Modeling, to get that thorough background 'cause I don't like to do something and get up there and guess because, as it was, you know, people get up there, and they'll take a pose and the pose might look good to someone who doesn't know, but it looks ridiculous to someone who is professional. And then, if you're going to tell your clients to use certain type models and what not, you want to make sure they are showing the clothes in the acceptable fashion.$Matter of fact, at one time, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, two of them were my clients, you know. And well, Schering had, Schering was the other, one of my other pharmaceutical firms. And they wanted a larger share, and they had products too. They felt that they could, we could have people of color to carry--as the, as the message carriers. And so I told 'em, so we--that's when, I said, okay, well, we'll do that. So I showed them how to do television, how to bring blacks into television in a modeling way and as a communicator. Now, you remember I told you I had to get experience with Ralph Cooper a long time ago? You know, see, all that stuff you learn and get experience, comes in handy. So when I was their marketing consultant, I told, okay, let's go on TV. Bring the models in TV, the people of color. And they did, and they made a fortune. They made a fortune, and they loved me, and, and that's how we got in TV. They made TV commercials, and some of the commercials were across the board. They didn't just go into white--black publications. They went into white publication and other publications too. But if you made it in a way that it was acceptable by the majority population, they weren't offended. They weren't offended. So you had to present your company's message so it doesn't offend anybody, you know. And you communicate with them, and they wanted to, you know, buy into it. And that's what I did.