Ida Rosenthal and her husband, William, exemplify the "rags to riches" success of many Americans. Two Russian immigrants coming to America penniless and becoming multi-millionaires.
Ida Rosenthal, nee Cohen, was born on January 9, 1886, near Minsk, Russia. Her father was a Hebrew scholar and her mother worked hard in running a small general store. When she was nineteen, she immigrated to America to follow her boyfriend, William Rosenthal, who had left a few months earlier. After arriving, they were married in 1907.
She was a dressmaker and they decided to form their own business. She handled sales and financial matters and he oversaw the design and tailoring. They were never satisfied the way a dress fitted around the bosom. In the twenties, women wore a towel like brassiere with hooks in the back which didn't flatter their appearance. The Rosenthals felt that a woman paying a minimum of a $125 for a custom dress should have it fit well around the bosom.
They designed a little bra with two pockets which produced a better fit. They developed the cups by rounding them and making them come to a point. Women were better fitted and their clothing became more stylish. Maidenform Brassieres became a success with Ida playing a very active role in its production and development. In 1928, they gave up the dressmaking business and concentrated only on brassieres. Later, they introduced women's lingerie and swimsuits.
They aggressively advertised their products in the newspapers, magazines, radio and television. It was in 1949 that a New York advertising agency came up with the slogan, "I dreamed that I went shop- ping in my Maidenform bra." This slogan was an instant success and lasted for over twenty years.
During World War II they had no problem receiving all the material they needed for their products. Studies showed that working women wearing bras were less fatigued than those who didn't.
The Maidenform Company started with 10 employees and now has over 5,000. Ida Rosenthal was part of an industrial team that visited the Soviet Union in 1963. She saw a potential market in the Soviet women. "The Soviet woman," she said, "is badly in need help when it comes to foundations. I believe we'll eventually have them for customers."
When her husband died in 1958, Ida Rosenthal became the chief executive officer of the company. She moved from her large estate on Long Island to a small apartment in the lower part of Fifth Avenue. She went to her office every day until she died on March 29, 1973, at the age of 87.
She served on the board of directors of the Bronx Lebanon Medical Center for many years. She and her husband established the Ida and William Rosenthal Fellowship in Judaica and Hebraic at New York University. They also gave them many of the materials on display.
They donated Camp Lewis in Sussex County, New Jersey, to the Boy Scouts of America in memory of their son. Lewis, who died while a student at Columbia University. Ida Rosenthal left material and monetary donations to many Jewish institutions.
Ida Rosenthal will always be an inspiration and model for Jewish women wanting to be owners or executives in business. Ida Rosenthal showed them that it can be done if you work hard at it.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.