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Magnin, Mary Ann Cohen


MAGNIN, MARY ANN COHEN (1849–1943), founder of I. Magnin and Company, a fashionable department store catering to an exclusive clientele in the western United States. An extraordinary businesswoman known for her fashion sense and insistence on quality, Magnin, the daughter of a rabbi, was born in Scheveningen, Holland, and emigrated to London with her family. In 1865 she married Isaac Magnin, a Dutch-born gilder and carver in the Great Synagogue of London. The couple had eight children, seven of whom were born in London. In the mid-1870s, in the wake of the California gold rush, the family journeyed around Cape Horn to San Francisco, where Isaac hoped to locate gilding work. Magnin, who had learned fine sewing and lace-trimming from her mother, began making baby clothes, lingerie, and bridal trousseaux to supplement the family's income. She opened a small store in Oakland, before moving her business to San Francisco, soon hiring seamstresses to keep up with orders. Renamed I. Magnin in 1877, the store relocated to the city's prime commercial district. Despite its name, Isaac Magnin, who died in 1907, was not involved in its management. As Magnin brought her sons into the business, merchandise selection expanded with fine women's wear from New York and Europe. Beyond the main San Francisco store, others were built across the western United States, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, Santa Barbara, and other fashionable locales. All stores were designed by respected architects and the buildings became instant landmarks. When her store was destroyed by fire following the 1906 earthquake, Magnin retrieved her merchandise from the spared Customs House and continued to sell garments from her undamaged home, hiring carriages to bring customers to her makeshift store. In this way, she clothed the new needy and made a substantial profit. Dubbed "Queen Victoria" by her family because of her regal demeanor, Magnin lived into her mid-nineties, daily inspecting the main San Francisco store until her death.


Magnin Family collection, Western Jewish History Center of the Judah Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California; C. Magnin and C. Robins. Call Me Cyril (1981); H. and F. Rochlin, "Jews on the Western Frontier: An Overview," pt. 2, in: Arizona Highways (Sept. 1985).

[Ava F. Kahn (2nd ed.)]

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