Thanksgiving at Fox’s

Thanksgiving is generally a time for reflecting, with a sense of gratefulness, upon the good in life. For Beatrice Fox Auerbach, Thanksgiving was often a time to express her appreciation to her staff for their loyalty and hard work throughout the year. One example of this expression is seen in an issue of the employee newsletterGo-Getter, November 22, 1960, the Go-Getter, and exemplifies generosity of spirit that came to characterize Beatrice Fox Auerbach.

Although the year was “marked by increased expenses of operation and customer services with narrowed rewards,” the decrease in profits did not prevent Beatrice Fox Auerbach from bestowing upon her employees a generous end-of-year bonus. She indicated that the company, through her, still “wishes to express tangible recognition of [her employees’] devoted work.”

In keeping with her father’s long-standing tradition of providing exceedingly generous yearly bonuses, the 1960 was no exception. This year, Beatrice Fox Auerbach awarded all employees who worked at least 20 hours a week for the past five years or more, “a sum equivalent to such person’s salary for two full weeks.” Those individuals who had been with the company for between five years and three years were given “a sum equivalent to such person’s salary for one and one-half weeks.” One week’s salary was given to those employees who had been with the store between three years and one year and those employees who had worked there for at least six months were given a half and week’s salary. But Mrs. Auerbach didn’t forget those employees who had been at Fox’s for less than six months; they were given the sum of $7.50.

Bonuses were one expression of Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s generosity to her employees, but there were certainly many others, including her establishment of the Theresa Stern Fox Fund, which provided interest-free loans to her employees during times of crisis. More examples can be found among the many materials in the collection and I urge anyone who’s interested to come and check it out for themselves. To conclude this week’s entry, I’d just like to say, in the words of Beatrice Fox Auerbach, “my warmest Thanksgiving wishes to you and your family, as you celebrate the holiday together.”

The “Scary” Side of the Store

Happy Halloween, everybody! G. Fox Building “at Halloween”It looks like the G. Fox building once had a few bats in its belfry! (Not really, of course! Mrs. Auerbach wouldn’t stand for it!)

Since there really isn’t anything Halloween-related in the G. Fox & Co. materials in our collection, I thought I would take this opportunity to write about the aspect of this collection that really “scares” me off. There’s really nothing scary about these materials; it’s just that in the diverse range of items that form this collection, these documents are not among my favorites. That’s not to say that some of you might not find them irresistible, however! Just what are these items I have heretofore been somewhat afraid to talk about? Legal documents.

The majority of legal documents in the collection were created by Moses Fox. Some of the more interesting ones concern the agreement between him and his sister, Emma Fox Plaut, and sister-in-law, Sadie Fox, regarding the transfer of ownership of the store over to him. After his death, Gerson Fox had left shares of the store to each of his children, but by 1917, Moses Fox was the sole owner of the company. There are also materials relating to Moses Fox’s purchase of the Brown Thomson & Co., a store he (and later his daughter, Beatrice) continued to operate independently of his own department store.

While many of the legal materials help to document aspects of the company, a few of them are just downright bizarre. The ones I am specifically referring to are the patent assignments that Moses Fox had in his possession. What makes them so odd is that none of them are made out to Moses Fox himself, or anyone else in the Fox family. In fact, some of these patent assignments concern individuals from New Jersey and New York while others concern the Smyth Manufacturing Company of Hartford. Perhaps Moses Fox was involved in some way with the Smyth Manufacturing Company, but I have yet to find a connection.

I am sure a researcher will come in one day and be able to uncover all their hidden secrets, but I’m afraid these documents will just have to wait until such a person arrives because all their legalese leaves me with a slight case of the shivers.

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.

The Go-Getter, Fox’s Employee Newsletter

G. Fox & Co. published and distributed a weekly newsletter to G. Fox employees called the Go-Getter. While our collection does not contain a complete set of the newsletters, we do have quite a few of them. The first issue we have is Volume II, Number 16, dated July 14, 1933 and the last issue we have is Volume XXXIX, Number 48, dated November 27, 1973. The newsletter may have later been renamed Fox Tales because we have a copy of a “Love Letters Special Edition” of that publication dated June 1976.

The newsletters contain articles on a wide variety of subjects, from announcements concerning engagements, weddings, births, deaths, illnesses and promotions to profiles on individual departments and employees. Sometimes letters from Beatrice Fox Auerbach were included in the newsletters. Occasionally, word games such as crossword puzzles were also a part of the newsletter.

These newsletters provide a sense of the camaraderie among employees as well as a more intimate look at how Fox’s operated. I highly recommend taking a look through them and I just can’t resist saying, Go get a look at the Go-Getters!

Connecticut Room Menus

Archives are full of surprises and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of finding a hidden gem! While searching through the library’s ephemera collection to answer a reference question on an unrelated topic, a box of advertisements caught my eye because the label had G. Fox & Co. on it. Unbeknownst to me, the library has a whole box of G. Fox catalogs and a folder of other interesting materials such as a Charga-Plate (the old version of today’s credit card) and a pocket photo album. What really caught my eye, however, was the Connecticut Room menu from Friday, October 17, 1947!

This menu is a wonderful reflection of its time! Inserted in the menu is a small slip of paper that states:

“In compliance with the President’s request for conservation during the food crisis, G. Fox and Company will

  1. Serve no meat on Tuesday.
  2. Serve no poultry or eggs on Thursday.
  3. Serve bread or rolls only on request.”

This was in response to President Truman’s address about the world food crisis, the first presidential address to be telecast. It’s pretty amazing to see what kinds of information can be gleaned from a menu.

In the Koopman Family Collection, we also have a Connecticut Room menu; this one from Tuesday, October 5, 1965 and it’s really quite interesting to compare and contrast the two menus, from the food that was served to the difference in prices.

Click here to read more about the two menus!

Moses Fox’s Household Expenses

Beatrice Fox Auerbach’s father, Moses Fox, became president of G. Fox & Co. upon the death of his father, Gerson Fox. Like his father before him, Moses Fox was a pillar in the Hartford community. Very few materials concerning his private life have made it into our collection, probably because he was an extremely private man who shunned all personal publicity. We do, however, have some of his financial papers detailing his household expenses between 1928 and 1937 for his home on 1040 Prospect Ave in Hartford. These expense lists offer an interesting look into the private life of a man who was at once both well-known and not known.

The household expense lists do not cover the entire period between 1928 and 1937, but do offer fragments of his financial life. Moses was somewhat meticulous with his finances. He always itemizes his expenses by month, totals each month, and then provides totals for a set number of months. At the end of the list, under the total house expense for the given months, is a listing for what half the total expenses would be. I believe he does this because he and his wife, Theresa, shared their home with Beatrice and her daughters during this time period and Beatrice would have contributed the other half of the household expenses.

A typical month in 1935 finds the household expenses totaling about $1500. Of that, about $415 a month (sometimes slightly more) is spent on domestic help and there is almost always a line item of miscellaneous totaling exactly $400. Other expenses include repairs, which are often further broken down by the type of repair like plumbing, chimney cleaning, or awnings, garden & lawn, laundry, and other usual expenses like electricity, gas, telephone, and groceries. While it may be typical of the time, I thought it was interesting that “milk” was listed separately from “groceries” and often exceeded $50 a month.

I wonder how future researchers will use these lists and if the kind and amount of expenses will tell us anything about how the Fox family was affected by the Great Depression. I find them very interesting, as well as a wonderful source of information, and sincerely hope that other people will also be interested in them. Feel free to stop by the CHS and check them out!

The Ephemeral Side of Fox’s

Ephemeral is not generally a word that comes to mind when thinking about G. Fox & Co.; afterall the store was in operation until a few months after its 145 anniversary! Fox’s was a Hartford institution. And yet, despite the fact that the store was a fixture in downtown Hartford for such a long time (or perhaps for that very reason), there aspects of G. Fox & Co. that were very short-lived.

Advertisements, gift certificates, charge cards, shopping bags, shoe and hat boxes, stationery, envelopes, bills and receipts, even matchbooks. All of these items, and many others with the G. Fox logo, are represented to some extent within the collection. Generally speaking, materials like those listed here are classified as ephemera, or items designed to be useful for only short periods of time. Because of the very nature of the material, ephemera is often discarded once the objects are no longer of use. For that reason, our collection doesn’t contain large amounts of G. Fox ephemera and most of the items we do have are from the later periods of the store’s operation.

Pictured below are some examples of the ephemera in our collection. Click on the image to see an enlarged version.

G. Fox Ephemera

Fox Ephemera

Gerson puts the ‘G’ in G. Fox & Company

I would be remiss if I didn’t spend at least one entry talking about the man who started it all, Gerson Fox. I hope I don’t bore you by sharing a little of his history here before I talk about one of my favorite items in the entire collection, Gerson’s account book.

Gerson Fox was born on December 14, 1811 in Germany. (While we know very little about his life prior to his arrival in Hartford, we do know that he had at least three siblings, but that’s best left for another story, I suppose.) I still haven’t been able to pinpoint what year he immigrated to the United States or determine when he arrived in Hartford, but it is likely considering the sources available that he was in Hartford by the mid-1830s. I also haven’t found a record of his marriage, but articles in the Hartford newspapers of 1873 seem to indicate that he married Hannah Bamberger in February of 1848. Their first child, a son named Leopold, was born in December of that year. Gerson and Hannah would have three other children: Moses, Emma, and Isaac. (There is some disagreement over whether that they had a second daughter and therefore five children in total, but I’ll spare you from that discussion as well.) Gerson Fox was also one of the founding members of Congregation Beth Israel in Hartford (now located in West Hartford) and served as their treasurer for a number of years. He died on August 22, 1880. His obituary in the Hartford Daily Times describes him as having “a pleasant and affable character, kind, even-tempered, gentle in his judgment, and just in his dealings to all, but to his friends most faithful, and to his family deeply affectionate.”

His account book may not reveal any of his “pleasant and affable character,” but it does shed some light on his business side. Unfortunately, he wrote a lot in German so much of it is hard for me to decipher, but the account book does show numerous rent payments as well as fees payed to various different people who were perhaps servants or employees in his store. One of the most interesting things about this account book, to me at least, is that it is first dated 1829/30 and continues until 1858, which means that this account book actually precedes the opening of G. Fox & Co! If only I had a greater understanding of 19th century German or knew someone who did! (Any volunteers out there willing and able to translate for me?) In any event, this account book promises to be a real treasure — its full potential has yet to be unearthed.

On a related topic, the CHS is also fortunate to have portraits of Gerson Fox and his wife, Hannah, in our museum collections. The family resemblance carries down even through Gerson’s and Hannah’s great-great grandchildren!

Happy Birthday, Beatrice!

Beatrice Fox Auerbach was born on July 7, 1887, which means today is her 120th birthday!

I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of an appropriate (and fun!) way to commemorate the occasion. I started wondering how she had celebrated her birthdays and realized that the collection doesn’t really offer any glimpses into that aspect of her life. I can tell you how her father, Moses, spent his birthdays (at least those towards the end of his life) because, as a leader in the Hartford business world, his birthdays were considered important enough to be written up in the newspapers. But times had changed by the time Mrs. Auerbach was president of G. Fox & Co. and events like birthdays were no longer considered newsworthy.

On the other hand, I know that her employees marked the occasion of her birthday by bestowing gifts (often handmade) upon her. In fact, we have a few of the items they created in our collection. Some of the gifts the G. Fox employees made are really quite neat. My favorite is a hand-drawn “storybook” that tells the tale of how Mrs. Auerbach became president of G. Fox & Co.

In the absence of any brilliant ideas on my part, I have decided to commemorate the occasion with a small pictorial tribute. I hope that, despite her aversion to personal publicity, Mrs. Auerbach would approve.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Auerbach!

Beatrice Fox Auerbach

This photograph shows Mrs. Auerbach as she is perhaps best remembered.

Fox Family

In this photograph, probably taken on one of the family’s many cruises, Beatrice Fox is on the far right. Her parents, Theresa and Moses, are on her right and her sister, Fannie, is sitting in the foreground.

1966 Christmas Card

This last photograph is actually the front cover of Mrs. Auerbach’s 1966 Christmas card, which shows her surrounded by her entire family, including all 12 grandchildren!

Hartford’s “First Lady” and the First Lady of the World

In many articles I’ve read about Beatrice Fox Auerbach, she has been nicknamed Hartford’s “First Lady,” probably because of her positive impact on its community. For similar reasons, Eleanor Roosevelt has been dubbed the “First Lady of the World.” And between 1946 and 1962 these two “First Ladies” corresponded with one another.

Their early correspondence is quite formal, as one would expect from people who are not well-acquainted with one another. Initially, they write to each other almost exclusively about establishing meeting times. These meetings all seem to center around the recently formed Service Bureau for Woman’s Organizations. (It was renamed in 1970 to the Service Bureau for Connecticut Organizations). In April 1946, Mrs. Roosevelt was a speaker at one of the Service Bureau’s first sponsored events and the correspondence between her and Mrs. Auerbach begins shortly after this event.

It is clear, after reading their correspondence, that the two women developed a genuine affection for one another as their involvement with the Service Bureau and other humanitarian causes continued to bring them into contact. While never completely losing an element of formality, the letters do become increasingly warm, friendly and somewhat more intimate.

These letters are extremely delightful in tone and content. The correspondence is especially noteworthy because it reveals a different side of Mrs. Auerbach that does not appear elsewhere in the collection.