Reviews for When Women Ran Fifth Avenue

by Julie Satow

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An investigation into three women who oversaw New York City department stores between the 1920s and 1970s. “In the early twentieth century, department stores were a land of glamour and possibility,” writes Satow, author of The Plaza. By the 1920s, the majority of sales staffs in such stores were women, while supervisors were mostly men, who “treated their female underlings with condescension and paternalism. At Filene’s, for instance, saleswomen were required to refer to male bosses as ‘dad.’” The author focuses on three women—Hortense Odlum, Dorothy Shaver, and Geraldine Stutz—each of whom, against overwhelming odds, came to lead a different Manhattan department store. Organized chronologically in three parts, the book refers to each woman by her first name and includes chapter titles like “Fashion Is Spinach,” “Hortense Goes Shopping,” and “Dorothy’s American Look.” In 1924, when she was 33, Dorothy started at Lord & Taylor in the comparison-shopping department. By her second year, she oversaw fashions and interior decorations; the following year, she was appointed to the board of directors, almost unheard of for a woman. In 1928, she curated the largest collection of Art Deco furnishings ever exhibited in the country. “Dorothy’s efforts blurred the lines between art and commerce….She proved that department stores could rival galleries, and even museums, as cultural arbiters.” In 1945, “steely-eyed” Dorothy was named Lord & Taylor’s president. A decade earlier, meanwhile, despite never having held a job, Hortense, a suburban wife and mother, was hired at now-defunct Bonwit Teller. Within a year, she ran the store, serving as its president between 1934 to 1940. Subsequently, in 1957, “theatrical and brilliant” Geraldine, a former fashion editor at Glamour, took the helm of Henri Bendel, which she ran, with great aplomb, through the 1970s. The illuminating stories of these unexpected tastemakers are both complementary and well contextualized. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.