Creating a Woman's Place: The Bonwit Teller Presidency of Hortense Odlum

Sara Marcketti, Michael Mamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dorothy Shaver is documented as the first female President of a major American retail firm and yet Hortense Odlum at Bonwit Teller (1934–1940) preceded her by ten years. Odlum came to position as President of Bonwit Teller when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. With no work experience and little education, Odlum approached the business from the only perspective she knew, that of a customer who appreciated style, service and practicality. Through examination of Odlum’s autobiography, newspaper and fashion reports, and other primary source material, it becomes clear how Odlum not only improved business, but more than doubled the volume at Bonwit Teller. Some of her strategies included pricing diversification, and the creation of departments for specific target markets including men and women in college. She also established a Consumer’s Advisory Committee to better capture the female voices of shoppers. Odlum’s approach pioneered the creation of a store by a woman for women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-319
JournalFashion Style & Popular Culture/Intellect
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2015


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