PERSIS ALBEE. The 1 st Avon Lady. Research Guide. Biography Photographs Secondary Sources

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1 PERSIS ALBEE The 1 st Avon Lady Research Guide Biography Photographs Secondary Sources

2 Biography Prepared by HSCC Volunteer Vicky Flanders, 2007 Page 1/4 The very first Avon Lady started her business in Cheshire County. Her name was Persis Foster Eames Albee, and she lived in Winchester, New Hampshire. Persis Foster Eames was born on 30 May 1836 in Newry, Maine. Her parents were Miranda (Howe) and Alexander Eames, who were born in 1805 and 1802, respectively. Persis forefathers had moved to Newry from Dublin, New Hampshire. Persis had four sisters. Lydia Swain Eames, who was ten years older; Salome Greenwood Eames, who was six years older; Anna Foster Eames, two years older; and Ellen Lucilla Eames, who was born five years after Persis. At age 30, Persis was living in Williamsburg, New York. There, she married Ellery Albee, and moved to his native home in Winchester, New Hampshire. Ellery worked as an attorney and a counselor. From 1869 to 1871, he served as a New Hampshire senator from the Ninth Persis Foster Eames Albee District. In 1870, the Albee s had a son, Ellery Eames Albee, and three years later had a daughter Ellen. The Albee home on Depot Street (now 9 Elm Street) was a white two-story colonial dwelling on the banks of the Ashuelot River. Persis and Ellery turned part of the house into a variety store. Their store offered many reasons for people to visit, as it was located in the center of town, near the train depot, and had the town s only public telephone. Visitors were greeted by a storekeeper who was personable, courteous, and willing to meet the demands of her customers, according to New Hampshire Premiere Magazine. The characteristics made Persis highly successful as a merchant. She stocked the shelves of her store with items of a quality that matched those of larger, more expensive establishments. She hired competent employees, treated them well, and gained their loyalty. Winchester merchants grew to respect her retail know-how and applauded her good business sense. Visiting Persis store in 1879 was David McConnell, who was a door-to-door salesman for a New York book selling agency. Within two years, McConnell had been promoted to a general traveling agent, requiring him to recruit, train, and motivate other book agents, while perfecting his own selling skills. Persis became one of his door-to-door salespersons, or Depot Agent, on a part-time basis, and he later called her one of the most successful general agents I had in the book work. Salespersons like Persis were often referred to as Depot Agents because they usually lived in a community with a railroad depot.

3 Page 2/4 Biography McConnell continuously sought new and different ways to engage his customers, and one method was to give out free samples of rose scented perfume with his book orders. When he realized that the fragrances were more popular than the books, he decided that selling perfume could be a profitable business opportunity. In June 1886, he founded The California Perfume Company and began selling perfumes along with books. The company was named after a friend s glowing descriptions of California and its wild-flower-scented fields. The business quickly flourished. McConnell determined from the beginning that his products should be marketed directly to the users, instead of through wholesalers. This eliminated the middleman profits. His products would also be sold by women. While on the road as a bookseller, he had been moved by the way women struggled to makes ends meet. Because of their ability to add a personal and understanding touch to conversations with each other, he saw this as a business advantage in selling his product to other women. In addition, salesmen of the era were viewed by many as disreputable. David decided to recruit authorized representatives who would work and sell in their own communities, offering customers an easy and safe way to purchase his products. Persis was widowed by 1885, and was listed in Winchester s 1885 town census records as a dealer in holiday goods, household goods, and ladies furnishings. In addition to operating her store, Persis served as a Sunday school teacher and as President of the Winchester Literary Guild. David McConnell could think of no one more qualified to be his company s first Depot Agent than the New Hampshire woman whose success in bookselling had impressed him so highly. With her good business sense, the fifty year old Persis welcomed the chance to sell perfume as a second career, earning income with which to raise her two children during a time when there were few employment options. The face-to-face direct selling approach relied on Persis social skills and her reputation in the community, in addition to the quality and desirability of the products she promoted. Her stature in Winchester added respectability to her door-to-door sales approach. She could gain entry to her neighbors households more easily and for longer periods of time than out-of-town peddlers. Attired as she was in her elegant clothing and with her friendly manner, Persis was a welcome sight. She was not considered a nuisance, but as a friendly neighbor come to call. It was in this way that Persis pioneered the company s now famous direct selling.

4 Page 3/4 Biography Persis is said by Mattel, Inc. to have been a woman of considerable spirit and style. When she called on her neighbors and friends in Winchester, she likely was wearing a long dress that had buttons running down the bodice, long puffy sleeves, tiered layered skirts, and a bustled train at the back. Some of her gowns may have had a three-tiered lace jabot and high lace collar or have been trimmed with brocade or ribbon. To be properly dressed in that era, her accessories would have included a lined hat, gloves, and granny boots. At first, she offered just one product line, the Little Dot Perfume Set. Her sample case from the California Perfume Company contained five bottles of different fragrances, including lily of the valley, violet, heliotrope, white rose, and hyacinth. She also received a Traveling Agent s manual, indicating that the samples she carried were not goods put up as samples, but goods taken directly from stock and were exactly like the products that would be delivered to her customers. Once invited into the home of a potential customer, Persis displayed The Little Dot Perfume Set, which was not expensively packaged. However, she was able to tell her customers that the set came with a money back guarantee, were made from the finest natural essences, and were as good as any French perfume. When she made sales, she sent the orders to McConnell in New York and he, in turn, shipped the items to her by railroad express. Under McConnell s guidance, she became what he would later say was one of the most successful agents he ever trained. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to gain attention for the California Perfume Company s goods, Persis also prepared an attractive display of the samples in Violet French perfume c her store. As the California Perfume Company grew, so did the variety of merchandise Persis offered from her sample case. Before long, she became a beauty consultant, showing customers such items as Witch Hazel Cream, Almond Cream Balm, and toothpaste. Persis business grew. Her success in selling these products matched that of her days as a book agent, and she was rewarded by McConnell with a promotion. As the company s first General Agent, Persis began recruiting others as part of the part-time sales force. Within her territory, she traveled by horse and buggy, and by train throughout the rest of the Northeast.

5 Page 4/4 Biography Her recruitment of women like herself to sell through low-pressure informal house calls also met with success. Job opportunities for females during this time were limited almost solely to factory work. The California Perfume Company offered pleasant circumstances, no set hours, the opportunity for promotion, and a respectable reputation. Persis earned a reputable name for Witch Hazel c herself as having unfailing integrity. According to The Banner newspaper, Persis was as good an employer as she was her own businesswoman. She helped those who helped the business prosper. As she brought more sales agents into the fold, company sales climbed. Persis Albee was associated with the California Perfume Company for 25 years, continuing to reside in Winchester. While the company held its original name during Mrs. Albee s lifetime, it eventually became Avon Products, Inc. As Avon s very first Representative, Mrs. P. F. E. Albee inspired the traditions of excellence, customer devotion, and entrepreneurial spirit over 100 years ago that have become the hallmarks of successful Avon Representatives of today, according to Laura Klepacki, who wrote an updated history of the company in 2005.

6 Persis Foster Eames Albee

7 California Perfume Company, NY

8 Dolls & Statues of Albee

9 Entrance to Wheelock Park

10 Secondary Sources Avon Products, Inc.; New York, New York. Bagley, Ian. Plans are in the works to honor Avon pioneer: Persis Albee called Winchester home. Keene Sentinel, 8 December Beiles, Nancy. Avon Gets a Makeover: Avon has high hopes for its online program. The Industry Standard. New York, New York: Standard Media International, December Klepacki, Laura. Avon: Building the World s Premier Company for Women. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Mattel, Inc. El Segundo, California. McConnell, David H. A History of the California Perfume Company. New York, New York, California Perfume Company, Manko, Katina L.; Department of History, University of Delaware. "Now You Are in Business for Yourself: The Independent Contractors of the California Perfume Company, Business and Economic History, Volume 26, No. 1, pages East Lansing, Michigan: Business History Conference, Michigan State University, Fall Persis Albee - The First Avon Lady. New Hampshire Premiere Magazine, February Rutland Magazine, 24 January 2005; Rutland, Vermont. Scheele, William. The Story of Perfumery and the CPC. New York: California Perfume Company, United States Federal Census, 1870 and 1880: Winchester, Cheshire County, New Hampshire. Wilkins, Martha Fifield. The History of Riley Plantation and Sunday River. Sunday River Sketches: A New England Chronicle. Rumford, Maine: Androscoggin Publications, Winchester Historical Society; Winchester, New Hampshire.

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