Himmelstein, Lena

views updated


HIMMELSTEIN, LENA (Lane Bryant Malsin ; 1881–1951), U.S. chain store founder. Born in Lithuania, Himmelstein was taken to the United States at the age of 16. After the death of her first husband, David Bryant, she opened a small dressmaking shop in uptown New York City. In 1907 a customer asked her to design and make a maternity dress, then unknown in the country, so that she would not be forced to remain in seclusion, as was then the case with women during pregnancy. Himmelstein's design was an immediate success and, with the help of her second husband, Albert Malsin (d. 1923), her business was enlarged. In 1916 the firm was incorporated under the name of Lane Bryant, Inc., and in 1969 it consisted of more than 100 stores and affiliations. By 1917 sales exceeded $1 million and by 1968 they reached almost $200 million. In addition to maternity dresses, Lane Bryant began to design dresses and accessories for special "plus" sizes, and these became a substantial part of the firm's turnover. She was a pioneer in employee benefits, offering employee support beyond wages. By 1950, the more than 3,500 Lane Bryant employees participated in profit-sharing, pension, disability, and group life insurance plans, and fully reimbursed physician's visits and hospitalizations. Both Lane Bryant Malsin and her husband advocated prenatal care and gave generous support to its advancement. Both were also active in the American Red Cross, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and *hias.

Her son, raphael bryant malsin (1900–1995), at one time worked as a reporter for the New York Journal. In 1929 he was persuaded to enter his mother's firm and in 1938 became its president and helped to expand it. He was also chairman of the boards of Town and Country Distributors and the Coward Shoe Company, Inc. In 1982 the chain was bought by The Limited. For many years Malsin was president of Music for Westchester. He was also chairman of the board of trustees of New York's Hospital for Joint Diseases and was a generous supporter of many Jewish philanthropic causes.


T. Mahoney, in: Independent Woman, 29 (Oct. 1950), 310–1; Americana Annual 1952 (1952), 431–2.

[Joachim O. Ronall /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]