Hortense McQuarrie Odlum

Newsweek Magazine, October 20, 1934

Mrs. Odlum: Bonwit Teller's Chief Began Work 2 Years Ago

"I started out by coming in a 10. But there was so much to do, I began coming in earlier. I'm afraid that now, with all my new responsibilities, I will soon be getting here before the watchman opens up."

The speaker was a slender, attractive woman with copper-colored hair. By "here" she meant the twelve story Fifth Avenue home of Bonwit Teller, Inc, smart New York women's apparel shop. "New responsibilities" referred to her election as its president.

Hortense McQuarrie Odlum succeeded Paul J. Bonwit, 71-year-old founder of the store, who retired last week. Thus she became the first woman to head a large retail establishment in New York. In 1932, her husband, Floyd B. Odlum, asked her to make a survey of Bonwit Teller from the customer's point of view. Mr. Odlum's Atlas Corporation, a giant investment trust, had indirectly acquired a large interest in the concern.

Mrs. Odlum, who had "never earned a penny in my life," was enchanted with the idea of going to work. Having spent 17 of her 40 years as a housewife, she saw a job as high adventure. With one son almost ready for college and a younger boy no longer needing her constant care, she was eager to ride a hobby horse.

Her hobby horse rapidly grew up and became a full-sized steed. Mrs. Odlum proved to have a flair for profitable innovations - a photographic studio directed by the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, a department of college girls' clothes, a section featuring theatrical costumes. As time passed and profits mounted, she found herself called upon time and again to determine general policy. After two years her ability, coupled with Mr. Odlum's hold on Bonwit Teller's purse strings, made her the inevitable choice for president.

Hortense Odlum and her husband live quietly in Forest Hills, Long Island. They are unaffected by their individual and joint success. Both speak sentimentally of the day they arrived in New York from Utah eighteen years ago. While Floyd Odlum set out to find the address of the law firm which had hired him, his wife and baby settled themselves for "an hours or so" in Grand Central Terminal. There Mrs. Odlum passed her first day in the metropolis.


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