An Olympic medal, a G. Fox Bracelet, and a Katharine Hepburn Costume

So, yesterday, on behalf of the Connecticut Historical Society, I attended the Connecticut Conference on Tourism in Hartford. Firstly, it is inspiring to see the number of wonderful institutions across Connecticut that are so passionate about what they are doing. There was lots of learning opportunities with workshops about social media, using video content, reaching core audiences in ways that are relevant to them, presentations, networking opportunities and all that. What I left with, however, was insight. Continue reading

Before Black Friday…there was G. Fox


For decades now, the day after Thanksgiving has been referred to by many as “Black Friday”, the first day of the holiday shopping season. It’s a day of transition from a season of autumn and Thanksgiving to a season of holiday shopping and festivities; a day of drastic sales, crowds and madness at retail stores. As with many aspects of history common folklore often dictates people’s beliefs, falsely.  So, what is the history of “Black Friday”? What does it mean? Where did it come from? How long has it been around and what on earth was it like before “Black Friday”? Continue reading

An Auerbach Family Christmas

During the holiday season, Beatrice Fox Auerbach sent out Christmas cards as was the custom at the time, a practice that is widely continued to this day. In our collection of Fox materials, we have a scrapbook that contains the Christmas cards she sent to friends and associates between 1929 and 1966. All of the cards were specially designed and featured subjects like her home on 1040 Prospect Avenue, her dogs, Auerfarm, and, in the later years, her grandchildren. The formats of the cards started off quite simple, but increased in complexity and creativity over the years. Pictured below is a sampling of a few of my favorites.

Christmas Card, 1931 This one, from 1931, shows Mrs. Auerbach’s home on Prospect Avenue as well as her two dogs. The inside reads “Wishes you A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year”

Christmas Card, 1945 Auerfarm is the subject of this card from 1945. The inside message reads, “To you and your dear ones – a very happy Christmas and all the goodness of life. Let us hope that peace now begun will spread its blessings more and more confidently into the New Year. With warmest greeting and much good cheer, Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Hartford Connecticut, December 1945”.

This 1950 Christmas card was one of the first to depict Mrs. Auerbach’s grandchildren. After 1950, however, the majority of her Christmas cards featured her grandchildren in some way.

Christmas Card, 1950

Christmas at Fox’s

Beatrice Fox Auerbach may have been Jewish, but she was also an exceptionally adept businesswoman and, as such, catered to her mostly-Christian clientèle by turning her store into a virtual wonderland every Christmas season. The children’s department was transformed into Toyland, much to the delight of children all over Connecticut. And, of course, Santa Claus was there, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, so that every little girl and boy could be sure to tell him exactly what they wanted to be waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.

However, the most memorable aspect of Christmas at G. Fox & Co. has to be the store’s marquee, which was decorated complete with lights during almost every holiday season. For several years, the marquee consisted of the Christmas village with accurate replicas of many of Connecticut’s most important historic buildings. Pictured below is the scene of the Connecticut village from the brochure that G. Fox & Co. produced as a guide to the historic buildings on the store’s marquee.

Christmas Marquee

The buildings reproduced on the marquee that year (1959) were:

  1. The Green Homestead in South Windsor
  2. The Osbert Burr Loomis House in Windsor
  3. The Joseph Webb home in Wethersfield
  4. The Litchfield Congregational Church in Litchfield
  5. The Noah Webster Home in West Hartford
  6. The Nathan Hale Homestead in South Coventry

While the Christmas Village was by far the most popular display, there were others as well. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the marquee was decorated, but did not have its traditional light display. At other times, festive scenes took the place of the Christmas Village, whose buildings had to be restored or replaced several times due to the destructive forces of the winter weather.

The Tobé Award

In 1947, the same year that G. Fox & Co. celebrated its centennial, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was honored with one of retail’s most prestigious awards. At the 13th Annual Tobé Bosses Dinner, the fifth annual Tobé Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Retailing was bestowed upon Mrs. Auerbach “for demonstrating that a department store can and must exert a positive social force in its community.”

Beatrice Fox Auerbach, in her acceptance speech, said in part, “To be singled out by one whom I have so long esteemed as a woman in business, and so deeply regarded as a friend, as worthy to receive an award that bears her name is one of those rare experience in a lifetime that one cherishes and remembers. I accept it proudly, aware of the high standards by which its recipients are chosen. Yet my pride is tempered with humility. Whatever I may have done to be named for this distinction is not mine alone. It is but part of a heritage from the past, a partnership with the present, and a trusteeship for the future.” (More of the speech appears at the end of the post.)

The Tobé Award was considered to be the highest honor one could achieve in the field of retail and had previously been bestowed upon such prestigious individuals as Walter Hoving and Dorothy Shaver of Lord and Taylor, Adam L. Gimbel of Saks Fifth Avenue, H. Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus, and Walter H. Rich of Rich’s in Atlanta. For Beatrice Fox Auerbach to be awarded such a distinction reflects greatly upon her importance in the world of retailing during the better part of the 20th century.

Letter to Mrs. Auerbach from CHSThe image to the left depicts the letter from then-President of the Connecticut Historical Society, Edgar Waterman, who offers his own message of congratulations on behalf of the Society. This letter was one among dozens from institutions, businesses, and personal friends of Mrs. Auerbach that were included in the book, “A Tribute to Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Tobé Award Winner for 1947.” Telegram messages also fill the pages as do clippings of newspaper articles concerning the awards ceremony.

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“Once Upon a Time…”

As I mentioned several months ago in my special “Happy Birthday, Beatrice” post, Beatrice Fox Auerbach often received birthday gifts from her employees. For her birthday in 1945, the employees from one of her departments presented Mrs. Auerbach with a book titled “Once Upon a Time…” that presents a minimalist’s version of her life story in the form of a children’s book, complete with illustrations (even if they are stick figures). The entire book has too many pages for me to post all of them, but I have included a couple of images below. You might also like to read the story so here it is:

Front Cover

Once Upon a Time…there was a little girl…whose papa owned a store…a very little store…every night her papa told her how BIG the store would be some day…and how thrift and good will and hard work would make it so…and sure enough the store grew and grew and grew…until…it was a very BIG store indeed

! all Connecticut shopped there…and suddenly one day the little girl who had grown up and married and had little girls of her own…found herself President of the great big bewildering store! And she didn’t know a thing about being President…except…what her papa had taught her…

  • thrift
  • hard work
  • buy right
  • sell right

            and the customer is always right…which was enough!…and so for 17 years… the store grew evenPage 10 bigger and bigger and better and better…and other store owners from all over the country came to see and try and find out what made it tick…and they looked and asked questions and huffed and puffed because they never found the answer…because the answer was so simple and simple things are so hard to see and understand…YOU know, of course, because you work here…the little girl who grew up but never forgot papa’s teachings…still isn’t very big…and couldn’t have changed much…her desk still looks like this…and probably always will!

            Page 17

            Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations

            Today, October 24th, is United Nations Day and when I think about the United Nations, I always think about Eleanor Roosevelt because she was chairperson of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights. However, instead of writing yet another entry about Eleanor Roosevelt’s connection to this collection of G. Fox materials, I thought I would discuss an important organization that she supported: the Service Bureau for Women’s Organizations.

            In January of 1945, the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation sponsored a Woman’s Service Bureau in order to increase the effectiveness of women’s work through organized efforts. From the beginning, Beatrice Fox Auerbach was deeply involved in the organization. She was the first chairman of the advisory board for the Service Bureau and donated space on the eleventh floor of G. Fox & Co. for the Bureau’s director to use as her office. In fact, the Service Bureau was never far from Mrs. Auerbach’s mind. When traveling abroad, Mrs. Auerbach would speak with women in other countries about the Service Bureau and would often invite them to come speak at the organization’s meetings.

            Perhaps one of the reasons that Mrs. Auerbach never took a vacation from promoting the Service Bureau while abroad was that her close friend and frequent traveling companion, Chase Going Woodhouse, was also a co-founder of the Service Bureau. Mrs. Woodhouse also served as the Bureau’s second director, a position she held from 1954 until 1981.

            Under the adept leadership of Mrs. Woodhouse, the Service Bureau thrived as a clearing house for women’s organizations in Connecticut.  The agency also researched and developed program materials for use by those organizations.  The Service Bureau’s name was changed in 1970 to the Service Bureau for Connecticut Organizations to be more gender-inclusive.  In the library’s collection, we have two publications created by the Service Bureau as well as a number of their annual reports.

            Moses Fox Club

            Because last week I wrote about the employee newsletter, Go-Getter, I thought it appropriate to quote from one of the early Go-Getters regarding the founding of the Moses Fox Club. The following excerpt is from the February 9, 1940 edition of the Go-Getter.

            Moses Fox Club Formed at Annual Dinner for Twenty-Five Year Employees

            At the very festive annual dinner for veteran Foxonians on Saturday night, Mrs. Beatrice Fox Auerbach announced the formation of the MOSES FOX CLUB – to be composed of employees who had been Foxonians for twenty-five years or more. Mrs. Auerbach, introduced by Judge S. Elsner, Toastmaster, spoke as follows:

            “A year has passed since those who have been associated with G. Fox & Co. for 25 years or more were gathered together. . .

            “The store, in the past year, has undergone marked changes. All have been of a progressive nature. The growing pains have almost completely subsided and we may feel that in its growth the store has now become an institution.

            “Last year, we met in the cafeteria. This year, we are meeting in our Connecticut Room, which typifies the reconstructed G. Fox & Co. It is particularly fitting that the first formal, private dinner to be held here should be tonight’s occasion, celebrated by those having intimate association with the store. . .

            “The significance of occasions such as this is very deep, and it seemed to me that some form of permanency should be given to them. I believe that it is safe to say that there isn’t a person here tonight who doesn’t revere the memory of my father, Moses Fox. We are all conscious of that extraordinary bond of sympathy which existed between him and every person, regardless of station, connected with G. Fox & Co. Those who knew him – and none knew him better than you who are here tonight – constantly saw in him the signs of greatness and with it all an unparalleled and unusual modesty. His life was devoted to his business and to those associated with him. He held no public office and shunned the spotlight of publicity; however, he was ever ready to throw his strong support behind every movement to further the interests of the community and of humanity. His life is the story of fulfillment of American ideal – the story of one who, through his own efforts, his understanding, his tolerance and his great appreciation for the value of service, raised from humble beginnings a great institution. It is appropriate, therefore, to inaugurate at this time, in his memory, and as a tribute to him THE MOSES FOX CLUB membership to which shall be enjoyed by all whose employment with G. Fox & Co. now extends over a period of 25 years or more. I have designed, and had caused to be made, emblems of membership. This will now be distributed to you all.”

            The whole 77 25-year Foxonians received the gold Moses Fox Club pins, engraved with their initials and dates of employment.

            The Moses Fox Club annual dinners were one of the highlights of the entire year forMoses Fox Club pin employees and being inducted into the club was considered to be quite an honor. The annual event was such a big to-do that it was almost always covered by the local papers.

            The library’s collection of G. Fox materials contains a fair amount of materials relating to the Moses Fox Club, including the Moses Fox Club pin pictured here that belonged to Carmelo Brutto, who was inducted into the Moses Fox Club in 1966.

            Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s Guest Books

            Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s guest books represent another unique and interesting part of the collection. (They also happen to be another personal favorite.) The four guest books collectively span the great majority of Mrs. Auerbach’s adult life. Beginning in 1914, three years after Beatrice Fox and George Auerbach were married, the books continue until just two months before Mrs. Auerbach died. Each guest book contains a complete array of signatures, messages, poems, and sometimes even illustrations that pay tribute to the gracious hospitality for which Beatrice Fox Auerbach was known.

            Mrs. Auerbach’s guest books begin a few years after her marriage when she was living in Salt Lake City, Utah. The importance of family in Mrs. Auerbach’s life is quite evident in her guest books. There are frequent entries in the guest books from her many family members, including her sister, brothers-in-law, children, grandchildren, aunts, and uncles. Guest Book, Theresa Stern FoxIn fact, Mrs. Auerbach’s mother, Theresa Stern Fox, is the first to sign her daughter’s guest book, which emphasizes the importance of family in Mrs. Auerbach’s life. An image of this first page of Mrs. Auerbach’s guest book is represented at left. (As with all the images in this entry, click on it if you would like to see it in more detail.)

            If there was an award for the most creative entry by a member of the family, the award would have to go to a December, 1944 entry by Mrs. Auerbach’s grandson, George Auerbach Koopman.George Auerbach Koopman’s Handprint Not even five months old at the time, George really left his mark on the guest book, quite literally in fact! Judging by the handwriting, the entry itself was written by George’s mother, Georgette, but there is no denying that the handprint was made by George himself. This one was definitely one of the more interesting entries in all the guest books!

            Many people signed the guest book with only their signatures or with a few lines of gratitude, but others left more creative messages, often in the form of poems. Herb Auerbach’s poem to BeatriceBeatrice Fox Auerbach’s brother-in-law, Herbert Auerbach, left this poem in her guest book after a visit.

            Poems weren’t the only way people expressed themselves creatively in the guest books. Many times, folks would draw little illustrations to go along with their messages or signatures. None of the other illustrations, however, can compare to those left by Marj and Huck.

            Marj and Huck’s Tree Illustration

            An example of one of their illustrations is represented here.

            The last entry in any of the guest books is dated September 9, 1968, just two months before Mrs. Auerbach’s death. Once again, it reinforces the singular importance of family in Mrs. Auerbach’s life as the entry was written by her cousin, Hortense Plaut Bozsan.

            Final Entry in Guest Books

            “My Holiday, 1949”

            During each of her trips abroad, at least those taken in the latter part of her life, Mrs. Auerbach wrote detailed letters to her family to keep them informed about her activities. After each trip, these letters were typed and the pages bound to create books commemorating her experiences. The collection contains volumes from three vacations she spent traveling different parts of the world with her close friend and frequent traveling companion, Chase Going Woodhouse. The earliest travel journal has the format of a diary and details her visits to Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Trans-Jordan, Israel, Old Jerusalem, Switzerland, and Germany during her vacation from August to October, 1949.

            In an excerpt of one of her entries, Mrs. Auerbach writes about the differences that have occurred in the years since she had visited Istanbul as a child:

            “We drove into town through the old Ottoman Empire walls down to the Pera Palace Hotel, as we were unable to be ‘put up’ at the Park, which is far more modern but very small and our dates of arrival having been changed, the rooms could not be held. The Pera Palace is the same old hotel that Mother, Dad, Fan and I stopped at years ago, long before I was married. It is very run-down. The owner, a wealthy man, fills about twenty-five of the two-hundred-fifty rooms and then does not take any more guests, but just says politely but firmly, ‘I am full.'”

            The travel journal is full of descriptions of the places that she and Mrs. Woodhouse visit. Mrs. Auerbach has quite strong opinions about many of the people she meets, but especially about the political and economic climates in the countries she explores. To me, the significance of this travel log is in its representation of one woman’s view of post-World War II life. Mrs. Auerbach talks a lot about the destruction that occurred during the war as well as what has been rebuilt and what life is like for people after the war. She definitely has her own point of view and it certainly makes for an interesting read!