- Created an international FASHION EMPIRE without compromising her values
- Born Ellen Curtis into a financially secure family who supported her education
- At 18 years old she wanted to become a milliner (hat maker), and her parents helped her start a shop, hiring an experienced milliner to work with her
- Her store was successful enough for her to move to New York City, where she became acquainted with and eventually married William Demorest, becoming the fashion manager of his existing business, Madame Demorest's Fashion Emporium
- She became stepmother to his two children, and bore two of her own with him, one at age 35 and one at 41
- Catering to rich women, she acquired a loyal following in the city, and they grew their business nationally when William started a women's fashion magazine, Mme. Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions
- The magazine not only showcased images of the latest fashions (available at the Emporium, of course), but it also included tissue paper patterns of the designs. Armed with the recently popularized sewing machine, women who couldn't afford or didn't live near a skilled dressmaker could now make their own stylish dresses.
- Ellen employed fashion scouts in Paris and London, and designed the styles that the Emporium sold, even expanding their catalog to include children's and men's clothing, which was uncommon at the time
- She also invented her own pieces, including a corset that was revered as the most comfortable available; a small, inexpensive hoop skirt; and the Imperial Dress-elevator, a stringed undergarment that enabled women to easily lift their skirts and avoid puddles or filthy gutters
- The Emporium was considered the fashion standard for the entire country, with their magazine reaching a hundred thousand homes in 1865, and selling three million paper patterns globally in 1876 from offices in the US, Europe, Canada, and Cuba
- Staunch abolitionists, the Demorests hired Black women and insisted that they be treated as equals by both employees and customers
- Ellen served as both the treasurer of the New York Medical College and board chair of a women's shelter, the Welcome Lodging House for Women and Children
- She also worked with another successful female entrepreneur, Susan A. King, to start the Woman's Tea Company, a successful business that hired only women to import and sell tea across the United States
- The Demorests never patented their paper patterns, but a competitor did, and now Ebenezer Butterick's name is often associated with the innovation
- After selling their pattern business in 1887, the couple dedicated themselves to reform, advocating for women's rights and temperance
Bibliography: Drachman, Virginia G. Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Print.
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