|Demorest's fashion plate|
Born this day in 1824: Ellen Curtis Demorest (1824–1898), businesswoman who introduced mass-produced paper patterns for clothing and who promoted business opportunities for women
Ellen Louise Curtis was born in Schuylerville, New York, in 1824. Inspired by a fashion show in nearby Saratoga, 18-year-old Nell (as she was called) set up a millinery shop. Business was brisk, and eventually Curtis set up her business in New York City. There she met William Jennings Demorest, a widower with two children. The two were married in 1858 and had two more children.
After watching her maid use brown paper to cut a crude dress pattern, Nell Demorest hit upon the idea of creating simplified but accurate mass-produced paper dress patterns for home use. Mr. Demorest marketed her dress patterns by publishing Demorest’s Monthly Magazine and Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. Each issue contained fashion plates and a tissue-paper pattern. Patterns were also distributed through a large network of agencies. The popular patterns became ubiquitous in American homes.
Nell Demorest was also the owner and operator of the Emporium of Fashions on Broadway, a private dressmaking and millinery shop with a wealthy clientele. From the Emporium, Demorest presided over American fashion. Her biannual openings were major social events, and her paper patterns put cutting edge fashions in the hands of ordinary American women.
Demorest kept abreast of the latest fashions with regular trips to London and Paris. She brought back designs to model the patterns on, and her sister Kate adapted the patterns to suit American tastes. At its height in 1876 the business boasted 1,500 agencies in the U.S. and abroad and sold 3 million patterns. The Demorests also operated several related businesses.
Demorest used her business to advance employment opportunities for women. She employed more than 200 women in her fashion business, which hired white and African American women on equal terms. Through fiction and articles the pages of Demorest’s Monthly Magazine and Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions she encouraged women to join the business world.
In fact, the Demorest family was very reform minded. Mr. Demorest had been an abolitionist and was active in the temperance movement. Nell Demorest founded an early woman’s club that engaged in social welfare work. She was a treasurer of the New York Medical college for Women and chair of a temperance shelter for women and children.
Demorest never patented her pattens, and eventually competition cut into her business. She sold the pattern business in 1887. Demorest and her husband devoted their later years to their reform work.
|Demorest's fashion plate|
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