a1 University of Vermont
This article examines the rise and fall of the Recamier Manufacturing Company, a cosmetics and patent medicine firm established in New York City by Harriet Hubbard Ayer in 1886. Ayer invested in an extensive advertising campaign where she fashioned herself as a tragic figure forced into the business world. When faced with challenges to her “person and property,” she relied on a network of business and professional allies to protect her interests. An examination of Ayer's business career reveals how consumers responded to an emerging cultural attitude that experts of all types should play a role in the development of beautiful faces and strong bodies. The narrative of her life reveals, among other things, the pervasiveness of the idea of a woman's respectability during the Gilded Age.
Melanie Gustafson is an associate professor of history at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Women and the Republican Party, 1854–1924 (2001) and of the American Historical Association's Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual (2003). Editor as well of three books, she served in 2010–11 as president of the New England Historical Association. A board member of Clio: Visualizing History, she is working on an upcoming exhibit, Women Making History. Her article on Harriet Hubbard Ayer in this issue grew from teaching interests that led her to investigate and evaluate how historians recreate past lives and past worlds and the relationship of historical analysis to storytelling.
1 My thanks to all the participants at the February 2010 Hagley Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society Research Seminar for their insightful comments and to Katherine C. Grier for her commentary, Roger Horowitz for inviting me, and Philip Scranton for giving me much to think about. My sincere thanks to David Scrase, Susan Yohn, Nancy Woloch, MaryLou Kete, Lisa Schnell, Scott McDowell, and the members of my department for helping me work through the narrative. I am grateful to the journal's three anonymous readers who made this essay much stronger, with apologies for not addressing all of their concerns. Finally, thanks to my sisters and brother, Marjorie, Leah, and Eric. This article is dedicated to Thomas D. Hapoff (1968–2011).