Friday, 27 December 2013

The Powers Girls As Working Women

Connie Joannes, model mum, photographed by Nina Leen for Life, via

I hope you are filled with turkey and have been enjoying time with your family and loved ones. It's an appropriate enough setting for the final part in my posts on The Powers Girls, John Robert Power's guide to modelling published in 1941. In this post, I'm going to try and look behind the glamour and gather some clues as to what everyday life was like for these women.

For a start, Powers is keen to emphasise how well-educated and clever his models are. He reels off their college and university educational achievements. Perhaps it's an attempt to use the book to reinforce a more wholesome image for his models, compared to their reputations in the past but it's something he enforced within his business too. Apparently Powers wouldn't sign Connie Joannes until she had completed college. He boasts of his model, Josephine Caldwell, a graduate of the University of Philadelphia where she made Phi Beta Kappa.

"Alice models as a stewardess", Cut-Out Dolls Powers Models, 1941, via

But here's the rub for women reading about the Powers models today. Despite Caldwell's education and her presumably pretty successful career, the book describes how she "spends her hours of leisure cooking and keeping house for her husband."

Yes, whatever ambitions these girls had professionally, they were - in the eyes of Powers at least - secondary to getting married and being a good wife and mother. He writes that "All the unmarried models look forward to a husband and married life as the best part of their career."

Betty Israel's Bachelor Girl is brilliant on how single women have been viewed throughout the twentieth-century. It's especially good on the women of the forties who have enjoyed the freedoms offered by the Second World War and whose new position is effectively then demonised by the press. Of course, when The Powers Girls was published the war was still underway, but these women were still supposed to follow a traditional course in life - again, perhaps because Powers wanted to uphold the moral image of his models, and also probably because many of these women really did want to get married and raise kids and look after their husbands, as they'd been brought up to do.

Those single girls are - don't worry reader - safely stowed away from evil young men:

"Many of the unmarried girls live at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in the East Sixties in NYC. While it would be possible to find rooms at a lower rent, they feel that it would be worth while to spend a little more money for an atmosphere which offers both prestige and protection."

The residents of the legendary single sex Barbizon Hotel have included everyone from Lauren Bacall to Grace Kelly to Ali MacGraw (you can read more about its stories here). It also gets a mention in Bachelor Girl, where Israel quotes Kitty Foyle, a tragi-comic fictionalised version of the atmosphere of so many single women all under the same roof:

"A neurosis to every room. I can see them yet in the dining room, poor souls with the twice a week chicken croquettes and those rocking little peas, sort of crimped so they wouldn’t skid … They called them bachelor girls but a bachelor is that way on purpose. One evening one of them must have gone haywire [because] she yelled out into the courtyard, 'there’s a Man in my room!' … Now, everybody, they had seen the sinister fellow … but he was nowhere ... only …. a pale phantom of desire."

You don't hear much about the Powers girls who don't get married. Thankfully, for Powers at least, most of them seemed to. And well. Powers writes, "many of the Powers girls have married millionaires and men of prominence in practically all the professions. While practically all of them look forward to marriage as the high point of their careers, they are more eager, as a rule, for a happy marriage than for a glamorous one."

Clark and Kay Gable, via

There were some pretty glamorous marriages undertaken by just the selection of models listed in The Powers Girls. Florence Pritchett's husband became the US Ambassador to Cuba; Kay Williams became the fifth Mrs Clark Gable.

Margaret Horan, via

After marriage, the assumed next step would be motherhood. Life ran a feature in 1944 on 'Model Mothers' that included Powers girls Margaret Horan and Connie Joannes. There's very little in the article on how they practically managed juggling both, aside from passing references to a nurse and help from mothers and aunts (Vintage Vixen did a post on the article here).

Connie Joannes for Ipana toothpaste, 1946. via

Connie Joannes married Emerson Dickman, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and continued modelling after their marriage. She seemed to specialise in being a wholesome model mother and used it to her advantage in these adverts for Ipana toothpaste and Ivory soap ("Tell 'em Mommy, how you became a famous Pin-Up Girl").


"Do not regard modelling as your life's work", warns Powers in his book. Aside from modelling and acting, what else did former Powers Models go on to do?

Elaine Bassett on the cover of Pagent magazine, January 1945, via. I'm also intrigued by Clare Boothe Luce's feature in this edition, "Are Women People?"

Well, I've already mentioned Mary Sue Miller's charm books and Florence Pritchett's guide to entertaining. Florence Pritchett seems to have been especially enterprising - in this image, she's apparently modelling her own fashion line. Some women moved behind the scenes: Francesca Sims became a writer in Hollywood while Muriel Maxwell, at the time of publication of The Powers Girls, was studio editor at Vogue. Elaine Bassett had her own syndicated newspaper column and radio show. Some, like Weslee Wootten, were involved in education, and many did charity work. There's so many interesting individual stories, it's impossible to do them justice in a few blog posts. However, from the outside at least, it does seem that they live up to Power's expectations of his models:

"Hard-working, ambitious, energetic, they move forward toward their respective goals. Modeling the stepping stone that leads them to it. Back of that, of course, are the principles of self-confidence and self-reliance, and the intelligent effort to make the most of their potentialities. These qualities make them good models. They will help them in their future careers. They will help any woman in any career."

Because it's my final post on The Powers Girls (at least for now) and there are so many women I haven't been able to mention, I wanted to finish with a few more images of some of the beautiful Powers models:

Maureen Zollman, Vogue August 1942, via

Elnora Hayes, via

Hazel Forbes, in Ziegfeld Follies mode, photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston, via

Margaret Horan (when not pictured as a 'Model Mother'), via

Carmel Fitzgerald photographed by Victor Keppler for the Valentine’s Day cover of Woman’s Home Companion, 1941, via

June Cox, 1938, via

Luella Hurd, via

Claire McQuillen, via

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