This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Dorothy Shaver, one of the best-known female executives in the 1950s; Shaver became the first female president of Lord & Taylor in 1945.
Scope and Contents:
This collection documents the personal and professional life of Dorothy Shaver. Types of materials include correspondence, clippings, biographical narratives, interviews, statements to the press, event programs, speeches, certificates, obituaries, awards and honorary degrees, souvenir publications, advertisements, scrapbooks, planning documents, travel itineraries, notes, invitations, seating lists, photographs, and audio recordings. These materials range in date from 1920 to 1959, but the bulk date is from 1945 to 1959. Those interested in the history of women in business, fashion merchandising, the department store Lord & Taylor, the "American Look" as a fashion trend, and the creation of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will find this collection useful. An oral history interview was conducted with Elsie Shaver, sister of Dorothy Shaver, in 1973.
Series 1: Personal Papers, 1920s-1959; undated
Series 2: Professional Papers, 1927-1959; undated
Series 3: Social and Professional Activities, 1928-1959; undated
Series 4: Photographs, about 1920-1959; undated
Series 5: Audio Recordings, 1946-1948; 1956, 1973
Dorothy Shaver was born on July 29, 1893, in Center Point, Arkansas to, Sallie Borden and James D. Shaver, a lawyer and judge. After graduating from Mena High School in 1910, Dorothy went on to study at the University of Arkansas and the University of Chicago. She moved to New York City with her sister Elsie, an artist, in the 1920s. Acting as an agent for her sister, Dorothy sold some of Elsie's fashion drawings to the department store Lord & Taylor. Dorothy also promoted Elsie's "Five Little Shaver" dolls, which became a major fad after Lord &Taylor introduced them.
Impressed, Lord & Taylor hired Dorothy Shaver to head its Comparative Shopping Bureau, the main purpose of which was to spy on other department stores. Shaver eventually reorganized this department to create a Bureau of Stylists in an effort to improve Lord & Taylor's merchandising strategy and set the pace for style in New York. Her career with Lord & Taylor skyrocketed from there. In 1927, Shaver became a member of Lord & Taylor's board of directors and in 1931, she was named a vice president. In 1937, she was elevated to first vice president and on December 19, 1945, she was named president of Lord & Taylor, becoming one of the first female executives of a large department store. One year later, she was elected to the board of directors of the Associated Dry Goods Corporation, of which Lord & Taylor was a division.
Under Shaver's direction, Lord & Taylor became one of the first department stores to sell clothing specifically designed for different subsets of their customer base; teenaged girls, young adult women, petite women, and career women. She also introduced a bridal shop and a maternity department. She was known for her unique merchandising techniques, such as spraying perfume from the store's marquee in an effort to sell perfume and attract customers. Six suburban branches were opened under her leadership in Manhasset, New York, 1941; Scarsdale, New York, 1948; Millburn, New Jersey, 1949; West Hartford, Connecticut, 1953; Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, 1954; and Garden City, New York, 1956.
Shaver was also known for her early recognition of American fashion designers. She promoted the "American Look" as a fashion trend, putting American designers on par with French designers. Her efforts fueled the careers of many American designers including Clare Potter, Claire McCardle, and Nettie Rosenstein. In 1937, Shaver established the American Design Awards, an annual event hosted by Lord & Taylor highlighting the achievements of innovators in the fields of design, the arts, housing, education, the sciences, and international relations.
Shaver also helped establish the Museum of Costume Art, which became the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944. She was chairman of the institute's executive committee and was a member of the Museum's board of trustees. In 1942, as a merchandising consultant to the office of Quartermaster General, Shaver supervised the design of new uniforms and accessories for nurses in the military.
Shaver received numerous citations and awards over the course of her life, including honorary degrees from Syracuse University (1947), Bates College (1949), New York University (1950), Russell Sage College (1951), Lafayette College (1957), and Wheaton College (1957).
Shaver suffered a stroke and died soon after on June 28, 1959; she is buried in Texarkana, Arkansas. Her gravestone has the year of her birth as 1897, four years later than her actual birth date. This error apparently was done on the instruction of her sister, Elsie, because the two women enjoyed misrepresenting their ages.
Lord and Taylor advertisement in: Museum of the City of New York, Paris, and New York. Design Fashion Culture 1925-1940 Monacelli Press, 1928, p. 166;
Materials in the Archives Center
Freda Diamond Collection, circa 1945-1984 (AC0616)
Estelle Ellis Collection, 1944-1994, #423, Brownie Wise Papers, circa 1928-1968 (AC0509)
California Shop Records, 1938-1942 (AC0572)
Setting the Precedent: Four Women Who Excelled in Business, featuring Freda Diamond, Estelle Ellis, Dorothy Shaver, and Brownie Wise.
The Division of Home and Community Life holds artifacts related to this collection. Items include: an inkstand, two pencils, a cigarette case, and a charm bracelet owned by Dorothy Shaver.
This collection was donated to the Museum's Division of Home and Community Life by Dorothy Shaver's sister, Elsie Shaver, in 1973.
The collection is open for research use.
Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.