{History} 3 FOFs who changed your life


Kate Kelly, a historian who blogs for the Huffington Post and for her personal website, America Comes Alive!, was working on a project, “30 Remarkable Women Under 30 in American History,” when she began to realize that many women had made astounding contributions to society in their 40s and 50s. “We started the concept as 30 under 30,” says Kate. “But, what we found is that some women launched bigger and better careers after that.” Kelly has since expanded her research to include women of all ages and has renamed the series “Inspirational Women.” Here, she shares the tales of 3 FOFs whose innovations and hard work have changed your life.


Imagine not having any pain relievers for your pre-menstural cramps and menopause woes. Even worse, imagine not being able to tell anyone about those woes….

In 1873, the economy plummeted, taking down with it many hardworking business owners, including Isaac Pinkham. Isaac was no longer able to financially support his family, so his wife, Lydia, age 54, began to seek out ways to make a quick buck.

An herbal remedy for menstrual cramps, that she brewed in her cellar, was becoming a hot commodity with friends and neighbors. The “vegetable compound” contained “unicorn root, life root, black cohash, pleurisy root, and fenu-greek seed” and was 19-20% alcohol. Lydia’s son Daniel suggested she package and market the blend. Product sales were slim to none at first, but then, Daniel proposed Lydia become more visible, as the face of “Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.” She had her photograph taken and an ad made up which they ran in multiple newspapers and magazine. Sales shot up and health questions from women began pouring in. Soon, the business was grossing about $300,000 per year.

Lydia died in 1883 but her family members kept the business going and her supplement, Mrs. Pinkham’s Herbal Product, although reformulated, is still sold today.

Historian Kate Kelly says: “In a time when women could not discuss female problems with a doctor, Lydia Pinkham drew attention to these issues being neglected by mainstream medicine.”


She helped us put our best our best FOFaces forward.

Helena Rubenstein, a Polish-born beauty with extraordinary skin and style, moved to Australia at the age of 32. Aussie women would frequently approach her to ask how she maintained such supple skin despite the harsh Australian sun and whipping winds. Her secret, as it turned out, was a cream developed by a Hungarian chemist with lanolin from the wool of sheep.

Helena figured out how to replicate the cream, named it “Crème Valaze” and found an investor who fronted her $1,500 to open her first salon in Melbourne. There she “diagnosed” her customers’ skin needs and “prescribed” them a treatment–an enormously successful marketing tactic. Within two years she was able to pay back her loan and expand to other cities.

Instead of borrowing money (women couldn’t get bank loans), she raised $100,000 and opened shop in London. From there, she expanded to Paris, and then at age 45, she opened her first store in New York City. She employed her seven sisters to help her as she expanded her beauty empire to even more U.S. and European cities, and added makeup to her line. In 1928, at the age of 58, Helena sold the American business to Lehman Brothers for $7.3 million. Still, she continued to work on her European companies and major charity initiatives well into her FOF years. Despite being a multi-millionaire, Helena was known to be fabulously FOFrugal–she packed a brown bag lunch her entire life.

Kate Kelly says: “Before Helena began selling makeup, in the early 1900s, actors were the only people who wore it. To some extent, she acclimated the international public to the idea of using cosmetic enhancement.”


Life of the Tupperware Party

When Brownie Wise got divorced in 1939, at the age of 26, she began working odd jobs to support her toddler. One of these jobs was selling Stanley Home Products–cleaning supplies and kitchen necessities–through a new home-party marketing strategy. Brownie was a natural, and she particularly excelled at selling a product line by the name of Tupperware, showing women how to “burp” the lid to get an airtight seal.

The CEO of Tupperware, Earl Tupper, took notice of her astounding sales and recruited her as a V.P. of marketing. Brownie encouraged Earl to take Tupperware out of retail stores and sell exclusively through home parties. This decision proved wildly profitable for the company. In 1951, Brownie, age 38, had raised a sales force of 200 women selling Tupperware. Three years later, at the age of 41, Brownie had 9,000 women selling the line. As a result, she was the first woman featured on the cover of Business Week.

Throughout her 40s, Brownie remained the face of the brand. In 1957, there was a power struggle and the board of directors forced her out, but she wouldn’t stop there. In her 50s, Brownie started several cosmetic companies employing the same home party sales method that was pivotal to her success.

Kate Kelly says: “While the peak of her career was in her 40s. Brownie continued employing the home sales method throughout her 50s. This sales tactic is still used by Tupperware and so many brands today such as Mary Kay cosmetics.”

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{History} Bras throughout the ages

If you think your breasts have changed a lot in your own lifetime — you’ll be astounded how breasts and lingerie have changed over the past century. Evolving beauty standards, technology and even historical events have contributed to the bras we wear and breast shape and sizes that we desire. Fill your cups with knowledge when you click through this visual herstory of bras though the ages.

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{History} History of Handbags

Your handbag is a harbinger. According to FOF Deborah Chase, author of Terms of Adornment (Harper Collins) and creator of the No Nonsense Beauty blog, handbag styles arise as a response to women’s changing role in society. “We love our bags for what they look like,” says Deborah. “But styles emerge and endure because there is a reason for them.” So, no, you’re not imagining that designers are putting out larger purses every year. “Every decade bags are getting bigger because we have more stuff to carry,” says Deborah. Take a look at the evolution of handbags from 1800 to modern day. My, have our handbags grown….

(Meet Deb at Beauty Bash, Oct. 1 and 2nd!)


{Dating} Here come the brides! Meet the first same-sex couple to be married in NY (They’re FOFs!)

On June 24, gay marriage became legal in New York State. Or, to put it more realistically, marriage became legal for everyone in New York State. The first couple to be wed in New York City on that Sunday were FOFs Connie Kopelov, 85, and Phyllis Siegel, 77. We had the pleasure of chatting with Phyllis last week, and we learned that she and Connie were never looking to be pioneers or heroes. They simply took advantage of an opportunity to feel equal.

How did you and Connie meet?
We met at SAGE, sometime in the late 80s. (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders). We were both attending a women’s discussion group. At first we knew each other just enough to say hello–we never had conversation. A year or so after that, we were both at another SAGE event–a Christmas social. We found ourselves standing next to each other, and we started to talk. We talked for a very long time. I couldn’t tell you how long, or even what we talked about. As they say, the rest is history.

Had you ever been married prior to meeting Connie?
Never married. I had a 16-year relationship before. In between that, I was just dating.

Did the subject of marriage ever come up between you and Connie before recent events?

How come?
It wasn’t an issue for us. There were civil unions, but I thought that was like throwing a bone at us. It didn’t stand for anything, it didn’t have any entitlements.

And then came Governor Cuomo, who many people credit with making this happen. Do you agree?
I listened to Cuomo’s inaugural, and everything he said came through to me – about balancing the budget; how he was going to do that. And I said to myself, ‘This guy is a doer.’ I didn’t have a problem believing him, which is kind of unusual with politicians. I don’t remember what he said specifically about the gay community, but somehow I had knowledge that he was pro. He stands right up there and he rears up and he roars and he says what he means, so far.

Did you watch the state legislature vote?

So how did you find out?
TV, radio news maybe.

When did you start to think seriously about it?
When he signed the bill (two weeks before it became law), I thought, ‘Do I want to do this? I have a right to do this. What do I think about this?’ I let it roll around in my head. I felt I wanted to be married. And a couple of weeks before the 24th, I said to Connie, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ She shrugged her shoulders. I waited for some time to pass and I asked her again, and she grinned from ear to ear. I took that as a positive sign.

What made marriage so appealing to you suddenly?
I’m not sure I can answer that. I felt good about being an equal person. It was there for me to have, so I just took it. And I’m glad that I took it. I love Connie dearly. The county clerk who married us – I listened to his words, as I’d never listened to them before, and they got through to me. I took it seriously. This is not a whim.

Once you decided to do it, what did you have to do?
It was the last week before (the law came into effect). I went down to City Hall, to the licensing bureau, and I said ‘What do I have to do to get married?’ A man explained it to me and gave me a piece of paper, and I said ‘Well, Sunday would not be a good day to come down here. Maybe we should come later in the week when it isn’t so mobbed.’

And yet, you and Connie turned out to be the first ones married–and there was a lot of fanfare. You were in all the New York papers.  How did that happen?
After I went to the courthouse, I had occasion to speak to a friend. I told her ‘We’re thinking about getting married.’ An hour later, she called back. She said she had spoken to somebody, maybe the executive director at SAGE, and the next thing I know, we’re whisked away on this. We didn’t have to do anything. Christine Quinn’s office, and people at SAGE, did everything. (Quinn is the Speaker of the New York City Council.)

Why do you think SAGE chose you?
I think they were looking for an older, female couple. And there we were. I didn’t ask any questions. They sent a car service for us and whisked us down to City Hall. And they filled out all the papers and took wonderful care of us. It was so surreal and wonderful.

How far in advance did you know it would happen?
May have been 24 hours.

In a few weeks you went from not really thinking about it to being married.


Did you have any sort of reception?
No. It was so sudden. Nobody besides the people around me knew about this. And then there it was on television, newspapers, everybody.

How does it feel to be the first?
In a nutshell – I’ve been a private person and suddenly my privacy has exploded. I’ve been getting calls from radio stations across the country, all congratulating me and wanting me to say something over the air. Most of them want me to be encouraging, but I can only say what I feel.

How do you feel?
I’m very happy to have done it. But I don’t usually advertise, I don’t wear a sign. If it comes up in conversation, I do mention it, it’s there. And since this happened, people in my building have come up to me and congratulated me. People on the street have come over to me and congratulated me.

What’s it like to know you’re an inspiration to others?
I have to tell you, it feels good to come out. And it feels good to be noticed for a positive reason, in a positive way. And I want to say that if you’re in high school, if you have a problem, talk to your guidance counselor. Talk to an older person who is compassionate, who can understand you. Please do that before you do anything else.

What makes you say that?
We know that for many people, high school is when they realize they’re gay. It scares them, and they think they’re being unnatural. There is nothing unnatural about feeling love.

When did you first realize?
I may have been a day or two old.

So your whole life.

When did you come out originally?
I’m not sure if that happened.

It was more fluid.

Has there been any downside to marriage thus far?
This is good. There is nothing negative. This is all good stuff.

Was this a life-altering event or does it fit in seamlessly because you weren’t striving for it?
I’m not sure. It is life-altering to some extent. The relationship now is formal. It’s legal. It’s mutual. Everything is a “we.” “I” becomes “we.” I don’t have to parse my words anymore.

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{Beauty} What 50 used to look like

In 1900, the average life expectancy in the United States was 49, according to New York Times article. And a look back at the rare woman who did age into her FOF years can be a bit of a shock. Back then, 50 was the new 70. And, today? Age really ain’t nothing but a number…

Take a look at these famous FOFs over the past hundred years.  Do you think we are aging more gracefully? And if so, why?


Images via History Cooperative, Chronicle, Wikipedia, Art Posters & Prints, ACSU, Guardian UK, Dorothy Parker, Wikipedia, All Posters, Boston.com, UPI, and Zimbio

{Poll} Which artist’s works would you hang in your home?

If money were no object, which artist’s works would you hang in your home?

Legendary impressionist Mary Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania in 1844. She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts against her wealthy parents’ wishes. Mary was frustrated by the school’s rules, which forbade female students from painting live models. Eventually she moved to France where she studied the masters and made extra money by copying and selling famous paintings at the Louvre. Edgar Degas, one of the early founders of Impressionism, became Mary’s mentor, and brought her into the fold of the Impressionist movement. Mary is best known for her oil paintings, which explore the intimate moments of women–especially the bond between mother and child. They have sold for as much as $2.9 million.

Twentieth century Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, is best known for her colorful and sometimes disturbing self-portraits which have been described as “surrealist” and as “folk art.” “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” said Frida, according to biographer Andrea Kettenmann. Her paintings capture emotional moments of her life, from her tumultuous marriage to artist Diego Rivera to the (physical and emotional) pain she endured after a bus accident left her barren. They have sold for as much as $5.6 million.

Georgia O’Keeffe was born on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in 1887. She attended a top art school in Chicago and won several student prizes, but eventually stopped painting entirely, and became an elementary school teacher in Texas. There, she began painting again, and those works–abstract flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones, and landscapes–became the basis for her first gallery show in New York. The gallery owner, famed photographer Arthur Steiglitz, fell in love with Georgia and left his wife to marry her. By the 1920s, Georgia was considered one the America’s most important artists. She continued painting right up until her death at age 98. Today her paintings sell for upwards of $6 million dollars each.

Helen Levitt (1913-2009) was a famously reclusive photographer who live and worked in Brooklyn, NY. She was known for her New York City “street photography,” especially her photos of local “children living their zesty, improvised lives,” as noted in her New York Times obituary. Some of her most famous photos were taken in the 1930s, because, Helen said: “That was before television and air-conditioning. People would be outside, and if you just waited long enough they forgot about you.” She took photos for 70 years before her death in 2009 at age 95.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Images via Girls Explore, The Art Institute of Chicago, Frida Kahlo Foundation, Biography.com, The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Laurence Miller Gallery, and BlogArts

{Quiz} Which of these WASN’T invented by an FOF?

Eureka! FOFs got it…

We know FOFs are brilliant, but often overlooked are the FOF inventors who changed the way we live. Five of these six genius inventions were created by women over fifty. Can you guess which one WASN’T the brainchild of an FOF?

[QUIZZIN 11] {Learn the fascinating stories behind these FOF inventions}

In 1934, at the age of 63, Elizabeth Kingsley published the first double-crostic puzzle (a pre-cursor to the crossword puzzle) for the Saturday Review. She went on to write puzzles for the New York Times from 1943 to 1952.

In 1979, at the age of 64, Rose Totino was granted a patent for the first freezable pizza dough. Inspired by the enormous success of the pizza shop she owned with her husband, Rose formulated the recipe for frozen pizzas that customers could heat and eat at home. She worked with Pilsbury to perfect the crust and later became Pilsbury’s first female corporate vice president. Over 300 million Totino’s pizzas are sold each year.

In 1985, AZT was patented as a treatment for HIV. Gertrude B. Elion, 77 years old at the time, worked on the drug. Gertrude was a 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. “I had no specific bent toward science until my grandfather died of cancer,” said Gertrude. “I decided nobody should suffer that much.”

In 1985, a patent was granted to 68-year-old Marion Donovan for DentaLoop, a two-ply dental floss that didn’t have to be wrapped around one’s finger . She thought of the idea while watching her husband struggle with floss each morning. Marion, a prolific inventor, was granted nearly 25 patents over the course of her life, all for household products. She is best known for the waterproof diaper. In a 1975 interview with Barbara Walters, she said she often asked herself, “What do I think will help a lot of people and most certainly will help me?”

In 1975, a patent for the first life-like prosthetic breast was issued to a woman named Ruth Handler. Ruth was best-known for her invention of the Barbie Doll in the late 1950s and for becoming the CEO of Mattel. She was in her early 40s when the Barbie Doll debuted, but her diagnosis of breast cancer in her 50s prompted her to develop her second great innovation. After her mastectomy, Ruth was frustrated with the options for prosthetic breasts. “The people in this business are men who don’t have to wear these,” said Ruth. She developed, Nearly Me, the first realistic version of a woman’s breast made from foam and silicon. First Lady Betty Ford wore one, and Nearly Me was sold to Kimberly-Clark in 1991.

Source: FuturistSpeaker.com, smithosian.org, Encylopedia Britannica, Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, about.com, gsk.com, women-inventors.comAnswers.com

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