Dispensing Beauty in New York and Beyond: The Triumphs and Tragedies of Harriet Hubbard Ayer

Dispensing Beauty in New York and Beyond: The Triumphs and Tragedies of Harriet Hubbard Ayer

by Annette Blaugrund


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This is the story of Harriet Hubbard Ayer, the Victorian entrepreneur who triumphed over divorce, kidnapping, madness, seduction and betrayal.

Harriet Hubbard Ayer moved to New York City by 1883 and established Récamier Preparations, Inc., the earliest cosmetic company owned and operated by a woman. First with her creams and balms and then with her words about women's health and beauty, she influenced several generations of women to look and feel good about themselves. The jealous and vindictive men in her life punished her for her ambition, accomplishments and independence by attempting to steal her lucrative business and seize her children. After she successfully sued them, they had her committed to an insane asylum. Indomitable, this former Chicago socialite reinvented herself as the highest paid newspaperwoman in the United States, editing the women's pages of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. Her incredible story is presented here as never before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609492793
Publisher: History Press, The
Publication date: 04/13/2011
Pages: 222
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Annette Blaugrund, an art historian, former curator and museum director, has written a number of award-winning books about American art and artists. She has worked as director of the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts (1997, 2007); as the Andrew W. Mellon senior curator of paintings, drawings and sculpture at the New York Historical Society (1989, 1995); and as a curator at the Brooklyn Museum (1980, 1985) and has held positions at several other institutions. Dr. Blaugrund has written six books about American art and contributed seven chapters and twenty-nine articles to other books and journals. For her accomplishments she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy in 2008 and was named a chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1992, among other honors. She currently sits on several philanthropic boards, juries art competitions and writes essays for magazines and catalogues. She holds a PhD in art history from Columbia University (1987), where for six years (1996, 2001) she taught American art and culture and currently sits on the advisory council of the Department of Art History and Archaeology. She has lectured on subjects from her books at museums around the world and has appeared on television and radio programs. A member of Women Writing Women's Lives, a group of sixty published biographers, she has spent the last three years researching and writing the biography of Harriet Hubbard Ayer.

Table of Contents

Preface 7

Acknowledgements 9

Introduction 11

Part I Chicago's Founding Families

l The Hubbards 15

2 Hubbard and Ayer Families Unite 20

3 The Great Chicago Fire 29

Paris 32

4 Grown Up in Chicago 35

The Portraits 41

5 A Wrecked Society Queen 48

Failure of John V Ayer Sons 52

6 From Queen to Clerk 55

7 The Villain: James M. Seymour 60

8 The Famous Authoress Blanche Howard 67

9 Divorce 73

Part II Founding the Cosmetic Company in New York City

10 Crafting Récamier Preparations 81

An Advertising Genius 87

Vita Nuova 89

International Fame 92

Celebrity Endorsements 93

Other Products 96

Supporters 99

Work Ethic 100

11 Trouble Behind the Scenes 102

Part III Trials and Tribulations

12 The Trials of Mrs. Ayer 109

Ayer v. Seymour 110

Lutie Mason Frenzel v. Harriet Hubbard Ayer 119

Ayer v. Sypher 121

Ayer v. Ayer: Custody Suit 121

Conclusion of Ayer v. Seymour 124

After-the-Trial Tribulations 125

Part IV Insanity and Incarceration

13 In the Matter of Harriet Hubbard Ayer, a Lunatic 131

14 Escape and Recuperation 143

The Demise of the Récamier Company 148

Part V Harriet Hubbard Ayer, Journalist

15 A Reporter for the World 153

16 The Women's Pages 161

Rainy Daisies 171

17 Recipes for Health and Beauty 174

18 Death and Aftermath 183

Epilogue 187

Notes 195

Selected Bibliography 219

About the Author 223

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