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Mary "Betty" Brown

Civic leader, newspaper columnist, and nurse Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Brown has been a steady and stylish presence in Chicago and in Elgin, Illinois for more than thirty-five years. From her column, "Steppin Out with Betty Brown” in the Elgin Courier to serving as the first black nurse at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Joliet, Illinois, Brown has always been a trailblazer.

Born in Chicago, but raised in Schaumburg, Illinois on the estate of her father's employer, Brown and her two brothers had to learn to play quietly because the employer did not know his chauffeur's children lived in his coach house. Brown's mother also worked as the family cook, and after saving enough money, Thermon and Margaret Stephens moved their children to Elgin, Illinois. A multi-talented student of voice and dance, Brown was well known at her church, St. James AME Church, Wing Elementary and Elgin High School, but her mother discouraged her from pursuing singing.

Brown’s mother was a nurse's aide at Sherman Hospital and Brown decided to apply to the nursing program there, but she was promptly rejected. Disheartened, Brown approached St. Joseph's Hospital and became the first black nursing student in Joliet, Illinois. Not long after graduating, she married her sweetheart, Floyd Brown, who was just beginning to make a name for himself in Chicago radio. Brown served as a wardrobe and makeup consultant to Miss Illinois in the Miss America pageant for four years. She was named one of the One Hundred Women of Destiny selected by Marilyn Miglin & Associates. Brown received numerous awards for her civic work, including HI CHIC Award in Fashion, the Altrusa Outstanding Woman of the Year, Outstanding Woman in Advertising and the YMCA Margaret Henry Award.

Brown and her husband, Floyd Brown, live in Elgin, Illinois. They have two children and several grandchildren. Their son, F. Keith Brown, was the first black judge in the Northwestern Illinois suburbs. Their daughter, Diane Douglas, works in human resources.

Mary "Betty" Brown was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 26, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.008

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/26/2006

Last Name

Brown

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Elgin High School

Abby C. Wing School

St. Joseph Hospital School Of Nursing

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Mary "Betty"

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

BRO35

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy, Paris, France, Switzerland

Favorite Quote

Ye Know Not When The Son Of Man Is Coming, And I'm Ready.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/7/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Trout, Vegetables

Short Description

Civic leader, newspaper columnist, and nurse Mary "Betty" Brown (1932 - ) is a noted style maven in Chicago, serving as a wardrobe and makeup consultant to Miss Illinois in the Miss America pageant for four years. She was also named one of the One Hundred Women of Destiny selected by Marilyn Miglin & Associates.

Employment

St. Joseph's Hospital

Sherman Hospital

NorthShore Magazine

Elgin Courier News

State of Illinois Department of Nursing

Favorite Color

Jewel Tones, Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:4180,150:5016,164:12320,290:13220,304:13520,309:14120,322:18245,405:19220,425:23345,532:32746,621:35056,685:35848,701:36310,709:36706,717:37036,723:40535,756:41033,763:41448,769:41780,774:42527,785:42942,792:44270,817:45183,832:51657,940:60209,1022:60541,1027:61122,1035:61620,1042:68637,1118:70909,1167:73181,1221:74033,1239:74601,1249:75098,1257:76589,1286:81111,1318:81347,1323:81701,1330:85636,1377:86637,1394:87561,1411:87946,1418:89871,1450:92489,1506:100229,1609:100534,1615:107947,1691:112133,1828:120966,1994:123112,2029:125036,2078:132778,2165:133122,2170:133638,2178:133982,2183:142407,2267:158672,2491:159365,2505:159750,2511:161906,2550:166271,2579:166793,2586:169751,2628:175200,2665$0,0:4830,112:11480,250:12110,260:13930,293:24162,386:25064,398:49517,720:54753,835:56447,884:63575,1034:64250,1044:64775,1053:66650,1079:72425,1208:73025,1220:75575,1281:76025,1288:90000,1486:95320,1576:99728,1655:115746,1937:132450,2214:135740,2287:136860,2310:138750,2353:140080,2379:142110,2432:142460,2438:142810,2472:158984,2657:159820,2675:160504,2685:162556,2742:165976,2813:166280,2818:166584,2823:167040,2830:176936,2951:190723,3214:191234,3223:191964,3236:194811,3288:195103,3293:195906,3306:202390,3359:203300,3378:203790,3386:204210,3393:204910,3409:208730,3471
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mary "Betty" Brown's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mary "Betty" Brown lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes where she was born

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mary "Betty Brown describes her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her parents' family backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her early childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her experiences at Abby C. Wing School

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her sibling rivalry with her brothers

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes Elgin High School

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mary "Betty" Stephens describes her childhood career aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her experiences at Elgin High School

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Mary "Betty" Brown recounts the beginning of her nursing career

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes Elgin, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls her nursing experiences at Saint Joseph Hospital

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her training as a nurse

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls treating tuberculosis patients as a nurse

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mary "Betty" Brown recounts meeting her husband, Floyd Brown

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls visiting family in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes living on the estate of her father's employer

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her and her husband's occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls marrying Floyd Brown and the birth of her son

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her children

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her volunteer activities

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her private duty nursing and civil rights activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her experiences with racism

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her and her husband's careers

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls her activities after her children left for college

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls being a stylist for the Miss Illinois and Miss America pageants

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her fashion sense and extravagant wardrobe

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mary "Betty" Brown remembers teaching etiquette classes

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes being a member of One Hundred Women of Destiny

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mary "Betty" Brown recalls her work for the Illinois Department of Public Health

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes being a society columnist

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes being a member of the Fashion Group International

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Mary "Betty" Brown explains why she chose to live in Elgin, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mary "Betty" Brown talks about establishing her own identity

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mary "Betty" Brown details learning how to iron from her mother

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her children's musical talents

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her son's cooking

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her grandchildren

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mary "Betty" Brown reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mary "Betty" Brown describes her close-knit community in Elgin, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mary "Betty" Brown talks about travelling with her husband and continuing her column

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Mary "Betty" Brown remembers her mother and grandmother

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

13$5

DATitle
Mary "Betty" Brown recounts the beginning of her nursing career
Mary "Betty" Brown describes her fashion sense and extravagant wardrobe
Transcript
Nineteen fifty-one [1951] you graduated [from Elgin High School, Elgin, Illinois], you decide that you want to pursue nursing?$$Well, I wanted to. I worked at the hospital there. My mother [Margaret Brown Stephens] was a nurse's aide by then at Sherman Hospital [Elgin, Illinois], and so naturally she said that I could work there for the summer. She'd let me--find me a job although they only had two blacks in the whole hospital working as aides.$$Now, where is this Sherman--?$$Because Sherman Hospital is in Elgin [Illinois] because they were prejudice, and somehow my mother got the job and she worked in central service, and that's where I worked and I thought, well that's a good job for me because I'll be going into nurse's training. And so I worked there that summer and then I wanted to pursue nurse's training, so I went to the, the director of nurses and told her I wanted to come in to nurse's training because they had a school of nursing there. And she said to me, "I'm sorry that you couldn't pursue that because nobody would like you to give them the bed pan." And so that's when it--prejudice really slapped me in the face because there were Spanish people working there. In fact, there was one Spanish girl that worked in central service with me that was the same color as me, and she could just barely speak English and they took her in.$$So--$$So, that was the big hurt that I felt that I really realized that, "Oh, my. There is a difference." And the other thing I realized that I wanted to get a job at Woolworth's [F.W. Woolworth Company] and they would not have blacks work there also. So--$$So could you shop there?$$Oh yeah, we could shop there, and you could eat at the fountain.$$But you couldn't work there?$$Work there, no.$$'Cause that's an interesting flip.$$Very interesting. But my mother had a friend who worked for the mother head of Saint Joseph's Hospital [Saint Joseph Hospital; Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center] in Joliet [Illinois], the mother superior, and so her friend said, "I'll intercede for you," and her name was Sister Priscilla [ph.], "And maybe Sister Priscilla would take you in," 'cause she was very fond of this lady who worked for her. And so she did intercede for me and Sister Priscilla said that she would interview me. And I went for my interview and she was a very strict woman, very--. I, I liked her though from the beginning and she said, "Ms. Stephens [HistoryMaker Mary "Betty" Brown], I will treat you no better and no worse than any other student," and I was her first black student at Saint Joseph Hospital in Joliet.$$What year was that?$$That was 1951 'cause I went right in.$--But I would be the wardrober and meanwhile while I wardrobed the Miss Illinois pageant, I got to meet all the designers in, in Ill--Chicago [Illinois], the top ten designers. Of course, they all want to--just like with being the president's wife, everybody wants to wardrobe somebody who's famous and say, "That's my dress." And so she had quite a wardrobe and all the Miss America contestants from Illinois had fabulous clothes and wardrobes, and they had cars that--they didn't give them to them, but they had free use of that--those cars, and cleaning bills--everything.$$Right, right. So this (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So I got to meet all the designers and so I figured if they're designing from them, they ought to design for me (laughter).$$(Laughter) That's right.$$And when I went to Atlantic City [New Jersey], they all laughed. They'd say, "Boy, you look as good as the Miss America ladies" (laughter).$$Like, "Of course. Why shouldn't I."$$It, it, it was a good lesson and it, it, it exposed me to a whole different group of people and fashion, but I will say that I had an aunt--and she's still living--she's ninety-six years old and she lives in Harlem [New York, New York] and she's lived there all her life. And of course, I have to tell you about Harlem afterwards, and she worked for Mollie Parnis who wardrobed all the presidents' wives. And so I had these gorgeous clothes because if somebody didn't like them, they just threw it away. That's how extravagant the whole field--it's like food, they throw it away. Our country throws away things. And so my aunt would send me these beautiful clothes and little did I realize and one day I'm looking in the back of one of my dresses and I--and I was reading a magazine. I said to my husband, "Mollie Parnis?" I said, "That's what I wear," and Floyd [Floyd Brown] says, "Oh, you don't wear Mollie Parnis." (Laughter) And there it was, and the lady that wore the same size as me was Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson.$$Oh, Lady Bird [Lady Bird Johnson].$$Lady Bird, and so he [President Lyndon Baines Johnson] didn't like anything 'cause he would come there and help pick her clothes and he would reject everything, so everything he rejected, my aunt would pick it up and she'd send it to me.$$(Laughter) That is too funny.$$So when I was a young woman, I had these five thousand dollar gowns and things. I didn't have that kind of money, but I had those gowns. In fact, they used to say that, "No wonder poor Floyd works so hard, his wife is in those thousand dollar gowns," (laughter).$$She's running him ragged (laughter).$$Yeah. And then I really became very friendly with a lot of the designers here in the city and they were very nice to me. Lots of times they would just like to--I paid for them, but maybe not the cost that most people would but they would--if I was going to something, they would make sure I had on their gown.$$Like who, who were some of those designers?$$Oh, the one that's--Yolanda [Yolanda Lorente] who is--has a showroom in the Bloomingdale Building [Chicago, Illinois] on the fifth floor. She designs most of my things now.$$Really? Now who designed this outfit that you're wearing today?$$Oh, this was just off the rack. I have a sense of style and color though. I just know clothes because if you're around them, it doesn't have to be expensive. I keep telling people that. You just have to look a lot (laughter).$$This is very true.$$Thank you.

Audrey Lavinia Smaltz

Fashion show manager Audrey Lavinia Smaltz was born on June 2, 1937 in New York City. Growing up in the Harlem River Houses with neighbors such as Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Bob Moses and David Scott, Smaltz attended P.S. 46 and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Girls Junior High School. Accepted into New York City’s High School of Music and the Performing Arts, she took her first professional modeling job from baseball’s New York Giants. After graduating high school in 1955, Smaltz worked as a model and fashion commentator. An art major at the City College of New York, Smaltz also worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance and the Rueben H. Donnelly Corporation.

In 1962, Smaltz worked as a model and salesperson at Bloomingdale’s and she became an assistant fashion coordinator for the store in 1964. Hired by Lane Bryant Clothing in 1965, she worked as a model and buyer and also as a fashion coordinator. Moving to Chicago in 1969, Smaltz joined the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1970 as a commentator and fashion editor. In 1977, Smaltz organized her Ground Crew team, a backstage management group which has staffed many fashion shows including those by Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Betsey Johnson, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Alice Roi, Michael Kors, Luca Luca, Nanette Lepore, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Ralph Rucci. Smaltz has also worked with corporations like Nike, Vogue, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and J. Crew.

A contributing editor to Vogue, Mirabella and Mode magazines, Smaltz appears frequently on QVC and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a board member of the Black Fashion Museum, Dress for Success, the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and Fashion Group International.

Accession Number

A2005.060

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/8/2005

Last Name

Smaltz

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Lavinia

Schools

City College of New York

New York University

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

First Name

Audrey

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

SMA02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Divine Love Always Has Met And Always Will Meet Every Human Need.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

6/2/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Fashion show stage manager Audrey Lavinia Smaltz (1937 - ) is the founder and organizer of Ground Crew, a backstage management group which has staffed many fashion shows including those by Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Kenneth Cole and Ralph Rucci. Smaltz has also worked with corporations like Nike, Vogue, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Employment

The Ground Crew

Johnson Publishing Co.

Lane Bryant

Bloomingdales

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
0,0:696,30:4002,79:5829,103:10005,283:30415,636:38530,741:39720,757:40060,762:42185,795:57302,1040:58112,1128:98205,1636:99255,1706:99555,1711:100980,1743:117470,1978$0,0:11040,217:11520,223:14016,251:18414,277:21634,363:25958,435:26326,440:37447,562:40216,678:63003,971:64267,988:64583,993:64899,998:88591,1346:89242,1354:93085,1376:93450,1382:97465,1454:129925,1915:131200,2076:160122,2361:189590,2688
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Audrey Lavinia Smaltz's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes the history of her family name

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Slating of Audrey Lavinia Smaltz's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes the beginnings of her business, The Ground Crew

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Slating of Audrey Lavinia Smaltz's interview, pt. 3

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes meeting relatives during a visit to Hilton Head, South Carolina as an adult

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her father's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her father's places of employment

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about her father and being born in Harlem, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about her parents' wedding and honeymoon

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls her earliest childhood memories of living in the Harlem River Houses

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls childhood gifts

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls the sounds, sights, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls her childhood in Harlem, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about growing up with SNCC leader Robert Parris Moses and others in Harlem, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about attending P.S. 46 Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about attending the High School of Music and Art in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls her school teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes the High School of Music & Arts, Devore's School of Charm and modeling

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about being a "Say Hey" kid for baseball player Willie Mays, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about becoming a fashion show commentator

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about staying in New York City after graduating from high school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about her family's move to Harlem's Washington Heights

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about attending City College of New York and working

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls working as an advertising art director

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about her brief career as a stock broker at Bache & Company

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls being hired at Bloomingdale's

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls being beauty pageant contestant

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about being the second African American on Bloomingdale's training team

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about becoming an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale's working with Doris Salinger

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls employers underwriting her costs to attend the March on Washington and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls being discriminated against and arrested in Florida

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about Ebony Fashion Fair

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about working at Lane Bryant as a model, then buyer

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes being introduced to Dr. Stanley Hughes by model Dorothea Towles and marrying him

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about being hired by Johnson Publishing Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about working for Ebony Fashion Fair

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls how she commented for Ebony Fashion Fair shows

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about leaving Ebony Fashion Fair and Johnson Publishing Company

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her role at Johnson Publishing Company

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about starting her own business after leaving Johnson Publishing Company

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about working as a Fashion Fair consultant and starting The Ground Crew

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about the services The Ground Crew provides

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about lack of diversity in the modeling industry

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz declines to name her favorite models

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her future plans for The Ground Crew

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about her mother's sense of style

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz recalls being hired by the grandson of Steve Kaplan, the man who hired her at Lane Bryant forty years before

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz reflects upon how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Audrey Lavinia Smaltz narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

3$7

DATitle
Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about becoming a fashion show commentator
Audrey Lavinia Smaltz talks about working for Ebony Fashion Fair
Transcript
So that was that, led to my-- that was my first modeling assignment, and after that I didn't really do that much [as a model], you know. It was, there was not much of an outlet. You do fashion shows, that's what you would do, fashion shows at churches. And one particular fashion show they needed a commentator and the commentator I believe was going to get twenty-five dollars and the models were getting ten, so I became the commentator. I just said, I'll be the commentator, just like that. I'll be the commentator. And then they heard me do the commentary. My mother [Rebecca Dora Capers-Smaltz] came with me to make certain that I did the right thing and she was my critic. Oh god was she the critic. And she told me, well you said pretty too many times and you said this too many times and you licked your lips, you know, don't you lick your lips, you know. You black folk always licking your lips. Stop licking your lips and make certain you smile and take--oh, did she give me cree--feedback and criticism all the time. That was funny. So she was my first critic and I became a well-known commentator after that. People would hire me. I just started getting hired all the time. Then I went up to thirty-five dollars an hour--I mean for the show, not an hour, for the show.$$That was pretty good.$$Oh, it was big money, big, big cause you could have a whole dress made to order for twenty-five. So that was great. You know whatever I made I had a new dress made. I didn't save any money. I was living at home and I spent my money, fun, all in Harlem [New York]. Everything was Harlem.$$So this is all during high school [High School of Music & Art, New York, New York], right?$$High school, um-hmm, all during high school. Wow, yeah. And then when I went on to CCNY [City College of New York, New York City] I just kept on modeling and--well it wasn't full time you know. Not like today you know, it was the weekends. You didn't have to take off.$Now the Ebony Fashion Fair was the idea of Eunice Johnson, right? I mean what started the--$$Actually it was the idea of Freda DeNight. It was Freda DeNight's--well you know it's a lot of stories mixed up now after forty eight years. But Mrs. Dent from New Orleans, Dillard University [New Orleans, Louisiana], she needed a fundraiser and she called--she, she said she called Freda [DeNight], Freda spoke to [HM] John [H.] Johnson, John Johnson said fine and Freda got a fashion show together cause Freda was the Fashion Editor or the Home Director Editor or something. And Daviera Edwards [ph.] knew about fashion shows who was Freda's assistant, and so they got a fashion show together. They picked up the girls out of New York. Those are all basically New York girls I think, cause two of my friends are--I'm sure there were some other girls in there and they hit the road with six shows in 1958. And they went by plane and then they realized it's--then it was thirty shows and then they needed a bus and then from then on it's now 160 shows. So when I went there we were doing about seventy-eight shows and then into the third year with me, we doubled those shows. So we went from January to December, we had a break and then we went, we were--excuse me, we went from September through December, then we had a break and we went from January through April. And I think basically they still do that same schedule, I'm not sure, but it was an incredible time. I met Yves St. Laurent, I met Givenchy, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Pauline Trigere. I met all the top designers of the world. I went to their ateliers. We purchased clothes. Eunice had an unlimited budget to buy anything she wanted. We purchased all the clothes for the Ebony Fashion Fair. We'd come back, I would organize the show. I was the fashion coordinator. We hired the models, we'd have model exhibits where the--auditions where the models would come from all over cause there are thousands of girls and guys who wanted to be an Ebony Fashion Fair model. And I--all those young ladies, not all, but so many of them are still my friends. And the most beautiful people you can imagine I met on the road with the Ebony Fashion Fair, doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs, bus drivers, sanitation workers, you name it. And people even till this day, "Audrey, I remember you from the Ebony Fashion Fair." I say, "oh, you must be very old. That was thirty years ago." But so many people always remember me from the Ebony Fashion Fair. I had fun. I was a fun commentator. I would just sit up there in a high chair and just talk.$$Can you give--$$Make people laugh.

Barbara Samuels

Founder and president of THE LION'S SHARE, INC. Barbara Samuels was born August 15, 1937, in Gary, Indiana. The daughter of Blanche and Dr. John Wilson, Samuels grew up in Chicago where she attended Burke Elementary School and graduated in 1955 from Lucy Flower Vocational High School. She then attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago State University.

Her career began at Sears Roebuck and Company in 1963 as a copywriter for the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. She was the first African American to hold that position. Samuels worked as part of a design team at Sears & Roebuck that made household accessories including lighting fixtures, dinnerware and tabletop items. Samuels was then promoted to buyer of handbags and later to national buyer of casual footwear. In 1998, she was named global "Buyer of the Year," winning out over 300 other contestants. She was also one of the first African Americans to visit many of the manufacturing facilities abroad.

After an early retirement, Samuels launched THE LION'S SHARE in 1994. The firm offers practical, profit oriented advice for fledgling designers, merchants and small companies in the fashion industry. Samuels organizes fashion shows for major organizations and charities such as the Jesse Owens Foundation, the Chicago Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. As a media personality, she has participated in fashion segments on Channel 32 Fox TV, WVON Radio, and the Bertrice Berry Show. Samuels was wardrobe and set design consultant for public television's America's Family Kitchen with VertaMae Grosvenor. She has also written a fashion column for N’DIGO. Samuels serves as board member or officer of several fashion-related entities, including Fashion Group International, the Apparel Industry Board, Inc. of Illinois, GenArt, The Color of Fashion, the Leaguers of the Chicago Urban League and the Costume Committee of the Chicago Historical Society.

Samuels has two sons, Michael and Gregory. She resides on Chicago's North Side.

Accession Number

A2003.301

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/17/2003

Last Name

Samuels

Maker Category
Schools

Lucy L. Flower Technical High School

Edmund Burke Elementary School

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago State University

First Name

Barbara

Birth City, State, Country

Gary

HM ID

SAM02

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Isn't That Amazing?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/15/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Japanese Food

Short Description

Business consultant and retail buyer Barbara Samuels (1937 - ) has served as a national buyer for Sears, and founded THE LION'S SHARE, to offer profit-oriented advice for the fashion industry.

Employment

Sears Roebuck & Company

Lion's Share

N'DIGO

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barbara Samuels's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's life raising three children in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels remembers a traumatic childhood injury in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barbara Samuels describes her grade school years at Burke Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Barbara Samuels describes her experience at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Barbara Samuels remembers visiting the Regal Theater and the Chicago Theater in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels remembers meeting famous actors during her teenage years

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels remembers experiences with the faculty and racial discrimination at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels shares memories from her time at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes her years at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels describes her job at the Chicago Urban League, including work with HistoryMaker Harry Belafonte

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her first years as a copywriter in the clothing business

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels recalls experiencing harassment as the first black female copywriter at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels recalls changes in culture and fashions during the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels describes her promotion from copywriter to retail buyer at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels remembers the aftermath of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes her attempts to change the corporate culture at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels recalls winning the Buyer of the Year award while at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels explains her reasons for leaving her job at Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1993

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her involvement in the fashion industry and founding her own company during the 1990s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels talks about her time as a fashion writer for N'DIGO

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels describes some of her favorite advancements in fashion during her lifetime

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels reflects upon on trends and technological advancements in fashion

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels comments on style trends among African American men

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes changes in corporate fashion in the late 20th century

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes the influence of hip hop on modern fashion trends

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels talks about the disconnect between high fashion and average consumers

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels talks about how an individual's clothing and style can reflect their personality

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels describes global influences in the fashion world

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

11$3

DATitle
Barbara Samuels remembers visiting the Regal Theater and the Chicago Theater in Chicago, Illinois
Barbara Samuels describes her attempts to change the corporate culture at Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Transcript
At what point in your life was your mother [Blanche Daniel] working for the Regal [Theater, Chicago, Illinois]?$$When we were in grammar school [Burke Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois].$$Okay and who were some of the personalities that you met, met there (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I met James Brown, Al Green, Leslie Uggams, anyone who appeared there actually. There were some, you know, kind of weird folks my mother didn't want us around--$$Okay.$$--you know, for obvious reasons, and so we had to stay back in the office. But one of the, one of the--my mother was a real good friend of Nat [King] Cole's, you know, so that was great. But we used to wait--in high school we used to wait outside the Chicago Theater when they had live, live shows, and that was a highlight, and get autographs. That's what we did. I must have gone through four or five autograph books and of course, some of the stars that we thought were absolutely incredible turned out to be the nastiest and the ones that we didn't really care that much about turned out to be really nice, nice people. One of the highlights from waiting around for autographs was when Zachary Scott and Joan, Joan Bennett's sister, I can't--Constance Bennett, they were in town with a play called 'Bell, Book and Candle' and all five of us-there were five girls who hung together and we went over to the theater to wait for autographs and this very tall, black guy came out with these dogs, walking these dogs and he saw us and he said, "Well hi, who are you girls," and we said, "We're waiting to see Mr. Scott or Ms. Bennett to get autographs," and he said, "Well I'm Mr. Scott's personal assistant." And he said, "Have you seen the play," and we said no. In fact, we had never seen a play. We had seen stage productions but we had never seen a play per se. And so he said, "Well how would you like to come and see the play?" And we said, "What," and we were only fifteen years old at the time and he said, "Why don't you come and see it." He said, "I'll make sure you can see it." And I said, "Well we have to discuss this with our parents first, okay," and he said, "Fine," so he gave us cards and we all went home, talked to our parents. They said, "Well, okay as long as everyone's going," and they were going to pick us up. And we were--oh, did we ever have a big conference about what we were going to wear, oh it was incredible. We decided at the time pique, cotton pique jackets, flyaway jackets those were the big things so we each went out and our parents bought each one of us a different color jacket and we all wore these pique jackets over our dresses and skirts, and when we got to the theater, they took us--we went inside and most of the people were seated already and these five little black girls, teenagers came walking down the aisle. We had our heads up, we were so proud and everyone was whispering, "Who are they? What's this?" And they sat us right down in front, and then William Windom the actor was right--he was there too and he took us to see Johnny Hartman.$By '68 [1968] were there many black employees in the--at the corporate level (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) But again--but everyone was at an assistant level. There were very few blacks at full title, very few blacks at full title. And those of us who were, were constantly being questioned about our abilities and double checked, checked and double checked and just all kinds of stuff. I worked for a buyer who was extremely difficult and really anal. He was somewhat embarrassed because I was his assistant, and one of the secretaries who had a high school education went over to personnel and she said, "I want to be a copywriter," and they said, "Well you can't write or anything, you haven't been to college," and she said, "Well if she can do it, I know I can." And this woman could barely type a letter properly, you know? Lots of, lots of jealousy and you build up defenses and so--a thick skin, that's probably better, a thick skin for all of that. So it was, it was quite rough. It was quite rough.$$Did you get a chance to write about fashion at some point?$$Oh yeah, because I was in a fashion department with footwear, okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) (Unclear).$$So what happened was the buyers, when I was a copywriter, they were coming to me because of the way I dressed and I don't know where--I just started picking up this fashion know how by reading. I started subscribing to all the magazines and reading and everything. So they would come to me about colors, silhouettes, everything, who is this going to appeal to, what do you think, and their sales were going up just by listening to me. So the national merchandise manager, a very powerful position, he said, "I want you to come to my department as an associate buyer and forget this copywriting thing." And I said okay, and he said, "Because you're a rebel and that's what I want" because I used to wait for buses for ever just to get over to the West Side [Chicago, Illinois] and then the "L" [elevated train] and then walk. When we had moved downtown and it was still cold, it was even worse because you had the wind from the lake blowing. So I decided I am not going to continue wearing skirts and freezing my tail off in the winter. So I wore pants to work one day and it went all over, all over the place and they called over to the We- the office manager called over to the West Side and said, "This woman is wearing trousers to work, she's wearing pants and that's not the law. I'm going to make her go home," but I didn't work for her so she couldn't do it. I worked for the advertising department so the merchandise manager came into my office and I was sitting there and one of the other girls who was a copywriter, very political, she was white and wasn't going to make any waves because she wanted to be promoted to something else. Well she wore pants too, we were going to do this and she chickened out and put a skirt on over them so that she could remove them in case there was too much heat. So Bill Grant walked into the office and he said, "Stand up," and I stood up. He says, "Turn around." Well see now today, he'd be in all kinds of trouble. But he said, "Stand up, turn around. Okay you look great. Sit down. You don't have to go home." And after that women started wearing pants to work in droves and so they changed the dress code because I had guts enough to do that.$$Now was Sears [Sears, Roebuck and Co.] ahead of or behind the rest of the corporate world in terms of women wearing pants to work? 'Cause it wasn't that long ago, I guess, well long ago now but there was a time when women couldn't wear pants publicly (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) I think Sears was ahead of the time, because in most of the big corporations even when that happened women were not wearing pants to work and that was in--it had to be around '68 [1968], '69 [1969], something like that. So I was getting phone calls from everybody, "Aw, thank you so much. God it's great that we can wear pants to work," you know, and then guys would call me up and say, "Hey, do you know what you've started? What would happen if we started wearing skirts to work?" You know silly stuff like that. So that was--that was, that was good. That was good.$$This is about nineteen sixty (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah about '68 [1968]--$$Sixty-eight [1968], okay.$$--sixty-nine [1969], yeah somewhere around there.$$All right.$$And you know I mean really it was Sears was not a law office. I could understand the legal department if that was what they wanted to do but with all the running around and everything we had to do, it was stupid for us to not be able to wear them. My mother [Blanche Daniel] was very proud of me; she thought that was just great that I had done that because that's the same kind of thing she would have done.