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Shaver, Dorothy (1897–1959)

Shaver, Dorothy (1897–1959)

American business executive who was president of Lord & Taylor for many years. Born on July 29, 1897, in Center Point, Arkansas; died on June 28, 1959, in Hudson, New York; daughter of James D. Shaver (a lawyer) and Sallie (Borden) Shaver; attended the University of Arkansas for two years; attended the University of Chicago for one year; never married; no children.

Began working at Lord & Taylor (1924); served as general consultant to the Office of the Quartermaster General (1942–45); became president of Lord & Taylor stores (1945); voted outstanding woman in business by the Associated Press (1946, 1947); received the American Woman's Association award for feminist achievement (1950); recognized for "outstanding support of American design" by the Society of New York Dress Designers (1953).

Dorothy Shaver was born in the small town of Center Point, Arkansas, in 1897. Her family soon moved a short distance to the larger town of Mena, where she completed her primary and secondary education. In 1915, James Shaver enrolled his daughter in the University of Arkansas in a move designed to foil a romance of which he did not approve. After two years there, Shaver transferred to the University of Chicago, joining her sister Elsie Shaver , who was studying art in that city. When Elsie earned $600 for illustrating a catalog for Marshall Field & Company, the sisters decided to move to New York City to seek their fortune.

Upon reaching New York, Shaver was impressed by the commercial success of Kewpie dolls, the cherubic creations of entrepreneur Rose O'Neill which were then a national craze. Dorothy encouraged her sister, who made dolls for her own amusement, to design a family of dolls for retail sale. Elsie duly produced the dolls, called the "Little Shavers," and Dorothy undertook to market them. Her efforts soon succeeded when a distant cousin, Wallace Reyburn, who worked for the Lord & Taylor department store and its owner, Associated Dry Goods Corporation, agreed to sell the Little Shavers at Lord & Taylor. Reyburn also provided Shaver with marketing, production, and distribution advice. The Shaver sisters successfully produced and sold their dolls for four years. In 1924, Elsie tired of the operation, and Shaver joined the staff of Lord & Taylor.

Shaver's first post at Lord & Taylor was in the store's comparison shopping bureau, where she checked prices in competing stores to insure that Lord & Taylor's own pricing was in line with the wider market. Within two months, she became the director of the bureau. In 1925, she was named the head of interior decoration and fashion, and in this post established a bureau of fashion advisors to work directly with clothing designers and producers. This innovative arrangement insured that Lord & Taylor's product lines met customer needs and desires; it is now a standard feature among fashion retailers.

In recognition of her contributions to Lord & Taylor, Shaver was named to the store's board of directors in 1927, while barely 30. The following year, she increased Lord & Taylor's public visibility and profitability by importing modern decorative artworks from Europe for display and sale in the store. The exhibit, which included objects by Picasso, Braque, and Utrillo, was the first of its kind in the United States, and proved hugely influential in home decoration. Shaver became a vice-president of Lord & Taylor in 1931 and remained an innovative force in retail administration. She inspired and oversaw the store's window displays, which consistently met with public and critical approval, created the unique "Bird Cage" lunchroom and men's soup bar in the store, instituted the first clothing department solely for teenagers, and played a pivotal role in the creation of Lord & Taylor's branch store network. The success of her efforts is shown by the fact that Lord & Taylor was able to pay dividends to its shareholders every year from 1931 to 1943 (save for the Depression year of 1933), while parent company Associated Dry Goods paid no dividends at all in that same period.

Shaver's success helped concentrate attention on American fashion and played a role in making New York City an international fashion center. At a time when most people looked to Europe for fashion, she championed American designers, including Claire McCardell, Lilly Daché , swimsuit innovator Rose Marie Reid, Pauline Trigère, Clare Potter , and William Pahlmann. In 1938, Shaver was instrumental in the creation of the annual Lord & Taylor American Design Awards.

During World War II, Shaver served as a general consultant to the Office of the Quartermaster General, advising on the purchase of merchandise and women's uniforms. She was also active in the American Red Cross and sat on the board of the American Women's Volunteer Services throughout the war.

Shaver was elected president of Lord & Taylor in 1945. Her salary was $110,000, at the time the largest ever paid to an American woman, and both this and her presidency drew much public attention and even a few letters containing marriage proposals. It was also pointed out by Life magazine that male executives in similar positions received three times her salary. Under her direction, the store's sales rose from $30 million to $100 million by 1959. Shaver was voted the outstanding woman in business by the Associated Press in 1946 and 1947, received the American Woman's Association's award for feminist achievement in 1950, and was presented with the first award for outstanding support of American design by the New York Dress Designers Society in 1953. A fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she also played an important role in founding that institution's Costume Department. Shaver suffered a mild stroke in 1959, and was still recovering when she suffered a second, more severe stroke, after which she had to be hospitalized. She died later that year following a third stroke. In 1976, the first "outstanding individual whose creative mind has brought new beauty and deeper understanding to our lives" received the Dorothy Shaver Rose Award, an annual commemoration from Lord & Taylor of Shaver's contribution to American fashion and design.

sources:

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1946. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1946.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable merican Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

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