Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Marshall Field & Co., Famous Elevator Girls. (1947)

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact-based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.

NOTE: I present articles without regard to race, color, political party, religion, national origin, citizenship status, gender, age, disability, or military status. What I present are facts — NOT ALTERNATIVE FACTS — about the subject.
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Marshall Field & Co., Chicago’s biggest department store, decided that their elevator girls required a bit of finishing, so they were enrolled in a local charm school.
ELEVATOR STAFF at Marshall Field store, neatly aligned at their stations with the starter (left), shows the chic results of their "glamourizing."
The Marshall Field uniformed elevator girls grew so famous that Life Magazine ran a feature article in the September 15, 1947 issue about their eight-week charm and beauty course. The twice-a-week program included hair and makeup lessons and training on elocution, walking, sitting, and operating the elevator cars decorously. They are also taught to enunciate clearly merchandise items like "lingerie, bric-a-brac, and millinery." The article noted that the “finished” ladies were happier and much more beautiful, even if there didn’t seem to be a correlating increase in sales.
NEW HAIRDO for operator Ann Vratarichis skillfully swept up by an expert. The charm school also reshaped her eyebrows and the curve of her lips.
REDUCING EXERCISES include rolling inflated beach balls, calisthenics, and homework with a rolling pin. One girl lost 35 pounds during the course.
Indeed they are hopeful of following in the footsteps of a distinguished Marshall Field alumna, Mary Leta Lambour.  After winning a New Orleans beauty contest in 1931, Lambour moved to Chicago and worked briefly as a $17-a-week Marshall Field's elevator girl. She was discovered by a movie scout in the store, starting her entertainment career as a cabaret singer and then movie star. She is known as Dorothy Lamour.
Mary Leta Lambour (Dorothy Lamour)
Other Field's employees who became celebrities include first lady Nancy Davis Reagan (sales clerk), catalog sales pioneer Aaron Montgomery Ward (sales clerk and traveling salesman), and film and stage director Vincent Minnelli (window decorator).
Nancy Davis [Reagan] 1950.

BEFORE AND AFTER charm school. June Wahl and Ann Vratarich.
CORRECT STANDING POSITION (right) of an elevator operator should be straight and modest, not too breezy, with body bent and leg in the air (left).
CORRECT BENDING POSITION (right) is shown by an instructor. Knees should be bent and body lowered. Stooping from the waist (left) is undignified.
DICTION DRILLS teaches the girls to announce floors and merchandise and answer questions from the store's customers in distinct, well-modulated tones.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Fascinating! I had no idea the elevator operators were sent to charm school. Another informative and fun piece of history.

  2. As a former part-timer in the downtown store in the late 60s I love reading more about this. Thanks!

  3. An eye opener. I didn't know they were groomed.

  4. My grandmother Delores was an elevator girl in this era, although sadly not pictured.

  5. Oh how I miss those days as a little kid in the early 60s going there. It was a huge deal, gloves and all. Such class and elegance. Give the lady what she wants is what Mr. Field said I think. Wish Macy’s would have left it alone. Great article Neil !


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