Hortense Odlum

Hortense Odlum


Hortense McQuarrie Odlum (July 1881 - January 12, 1970) was the first woman president of Bonwit Teller Department Store in New York City and the wife of financier Floyd Odlum.

Born in St. George, Utah, Hortense McQuarrie married Floyd Odlum when he was a law clerk. They moved to New York City when he accepted a position with a New York law firm in 1916. Mr. Odlum became president of Atlas Corporation, which took over Bonwit Teller in 1934. Mr. Odlum appointed his wife as president. She always maintained:

"I was forced to take the job."

The store was confronted with enormous financial problems bordering on bankruptcy. However, within her first two years, the volume of business doubled, and during the third it trebled. She made major rearrangements of boutiques and salons, introduced a bright, cheerful decor and focused on customer relations. She once said:

"I worked like a Trojan. But I never intended to stay. I'm out now and the whole thing leaves me cold."

Divorced from Odlum in 1935, she next married Dr. Porfirio Dominici, but that marriage was annulled in 1938.

After six years as Bonwit's president she retired in 1940, but served as chairman from 1940-1944. She said "dollars and cents will never mean much to me except as evidence of customer approval." She also stressed in her words: "high class, but not high hat." When asked about her business experience: "I got mine in the hardest of schools. For nearly 12 years, I ...was just a customer." After retirement she proclaimed, "I want to go back and be what I really am - just the typical customer who has found a store she loves to shop in."

Her sister's son was the actor Robert Hudson Walker. She offered to finance his studies at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. He stayed in her home during his first year there.

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Famous quotes by hortense odlum:

    ... a business career for a woman and her need for a woman’s life as wife and mother, are not enemies at all, unless we make them so, but may be the closest and most co-operative friends and supporter of each other.
    Hortense Odlum (1892–?)

    A completely indifferent attitude toward clothes in women seems to me to be an admission of inferiority, of perverseness, or of a lack of realization of her place in the world as a woman. Or—what is even more hopeless and pathetic—it’s an admission that she has given up, that she is beaten, and refuses longer to stand up to the world.
    Hortense Odlum (1892–?)

    This is the great truth life has to teach us ... that gratification of our individual desires and expression of our personal preferences without consideration for their effect upon others brings in the end nothing but ruin and devastation.
    Hortense Odlum (1892–?)

    One of the greatest satisfactions one can ever have, comes from the knowledge that he can do some one thing superlatively well.
    Hortense Odlum (1892–?)

    Our chaotic economic situation has convinced so many of our young people that there is no room for them. They become uncertain and restless and morbid; they grab at false promises, embrace false gods and judge things by treacherous values. Their insecurity makes them believe that tomorrow doesn’t matter and the ineffectualness of their lives makes them deny the ideals which we of an older generation acknowledged.
    Hortense Odlum (1892–?)