Fitz-Gibbon, Bernice (c. 1895–1982)

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Fitz-Gibbon, Bernice (c. 1895–1982)

American advertising pioneer. Name variations: Mrs. Herman Block. Born around 1895 in Waunakee, Wisconsin; died in a Wisconsin nursing home in 1982; one of four children of William Fitz-Gibbon (a dairy farmer) and Nora (Bowles) Fitz-Gibbon; attended Sacred Heart Convent, Madison, Wisconsin, 1903–13; graduated from the University of Wisconsin, B.A., 1918; married Herman Block (an attorney), on July 6, 1925; children: Elizabeth Bowles Block; Peter Block.

Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, who struck it rich revolutionizing department-store advertising, grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. Educated in a convent and paying her own way through the University of Wisconsin, she taught school for two years in Chippewa Falls. She then sold advertising for the Register-Gazette in Rockford, Illinois, and worked for a year at Chicago's Marshall Field and Company before arriving in New York in the early 1920s. After a summer at Wanamaker's in New York, Fitz-Gibbon joined the staff of Macy's. During her 12 years there, beginning in 1923, she came up with several of her most imaginative and successful ad campaigns and coined the slogan, "It's smart to be thrifty," which Macy's used for years.

In the mid-30s, when Macy's wanted to cut her salary, Fitz-Gibbon returned to Wanamaker's, helping to transform it from a sleepy downtown emporium to a lively up-to-the-minute competitor. In 1940, when Fitz-Gibbon left for Gimbels, her loyal stable of copy writers resigned from Wanamaker's and went with her.

Fitz-Gibbon established her own small agency, Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, Inc., in 1954, and subsequently became a member of the board of directors of Montgomery Ward and Company. She was named Business Woman of the Year by the women editors of the Associated Press and was cited as one of the seven top businesswomen in the United States by Fortune magazine. She also contributed many articles to McCall's, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Magazine, and Glamour and was in demand as a speaker. Fitz-Gibbon closed her office in 1964 to take life a little easier, though she continued to write ads and articles to "push people up." (Always the teacher, she took great joy in mentoring.) She never left New York, the city she loved, and after her husband's death she lived alone in a four-room apartment overlooking the East River.


Fitz-Gibbon, Bernice. Macy's, Gimbels, and Me. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1951.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Fitz-Gibbon, Bernice (c. 1895–1982)

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