Frances Bemis papers
Scope and Contents
The Papers detail Bemis's busy career over decades during which professional women were often a marginal part of the work-world. The documentary evidence of Bemis's innovative transformation of the staid department store exhibition into a headline-grabbing cavalcade indicates the often-overlooked influence of professional women in the mid-twentieth century. The Papers also illustrate the world of fashion in 1930s-50s New York City and give a window into the celebrity and consumer culture of this time.
Dates of Materials
- Bemis, Frances (Person)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Biographical / Historical
In 1938, Bemis left Hearn's department store to do free-lance public relations work with the Claire Wolff Agency. Among other projects, she directed a "College Girl's Day" for the Ford Motor Company at the 1939 New York World's Fair and staged a "Fashions Out of Test Tubes" event for the chemical industry. Her husband, (first name unknown) McLain, had joined the Army air force, and Bemis enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943. She was stationed in Daytona Beach, where she gave radio addresses and staged entertainment for GIs and WAACs. She achieved the rank of corporal and was given an honorable discharge upon the urging of New York Times editor Ivan Veit. The Times sought a director for a war-time fashion show intended to vaunt New York City as a fashion capital while Parisian fashion houses languished under German occupation. The result, Bemis's "Fashions of the Times," was an unqualified success. Spectators filled the show to capacity, and the publicity did much to promote American fashion.
After the war, Bemis returned to Atlanta to become Director of Special Events at Rich's Department Store. She drew great press for her "Fashionata" show (1946-47), which used local socialites as models in a typically lavish production. In 1947, Bemis took a position as Director of Feature Events at New York City's Abraham and Strauss Department Store. She stayed at A and S until 1954 and continued her successful formula of spectacular events, luminous personalities, and innovative consumer services. Her personal interests in the fine arts, radio, and literature were reflected in several shows in which she showcased notable artists and performers, including Betty Smith (author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), the Met Opera's Rise Stevens, and radio and TV star Morey Amsterdam.
In 1956, Bemis moved to St. Augustine, Florida for a retirement of sorts. Though she no longer staged fashion extravaganzas, she used her considerable creative energy for civic and charitable activities. She worked as a publicist for the city of St. Augustine, wrote for the local papers, volunteered at an art gallery, and took an interest in advocacy for civil rights and the mentally ill. She was murdered in November, 1974.
14 boxes (7 linear feet)
- I. Biographical Materials
- II. Correspondence
- III. Writings
- IV. Professional Activities
- V. Subject Files
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Advertising -- United States
- Alexander, Madame
- Bemis, Frances
- Boyer, Mary-Louise Wagman
- Celebrities -- New York (State) -- New York -- 20th century
- Department stores -- United States
- Fashion -- United States -- 20th century
- Fashion shows -- United States -- 20th century
- Huxtable, Ada Louise
- McBride, Mary Margaret
- New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
- Popular culture -- United States -- 20th century
- Public relations -- United States -- 20th century
- Radio scripts
- Women executives -- United States
- Women in advertising -- United States -- 20th century
- Frances Bemis papers
- Finding Aid
- Amanda Izzo
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (https://github.com/harvard-library/archivesspace-preprocessor)
- 2005-09-23: mnsss146 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
- 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
- 2019-07-02: Added list of names under 'Photographs'
Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository
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Northampton MA 01063