Dorothy Shaver (1893–1959)
Dorothy Shaver was the first woman in the United States to head a multi-million dollar firm. She became president of the prestigious New York City Fifth Avenue firm of Lord & Taylor in 1945 and is credited with much of the company’s success. A trailblazer and a trend setter in her time, her legacy continues today.
Dorothy Shaver was born on July 29, 1893, in Center Point (Howard County) to Sallie Borden and James Shaver. Her maternal grandfather was Benjamin Borden, editor of the Arkansas Gazette, and her paternal grandfather was Robert Glenn Shaver, a prominent Confederate officer who served with distinction during the Civil War.
When Shaver was five years old, her family moved to Mena (Polk County), a bustling new railroad town. Her father opened a law practice, became president of the local school board, and was eventually appointed, and later elected, chancery judge of the Sixth Judicial District.
Shaver sang in the Episcopal church choir, played baseball, and graduated from Mena High School on May 16, 1910, as salutatorian of her class. She left Mena to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), which pleased her father because she had become romantically involved with a young man whom her father felt “had more personality than brains.”
After two years at the university, Shaver returned to Mena and began teaching the seventh grade in the Mena Public Schools. Her teaching career abruptly ended in May 1914, when the local board refused to rehire Shaver and three other single female teachers. The four young women had defied local custom by attending a dance, which single women were not supposed to do.
Shaver and her sister, Elsie, eventually left Arkansas for Chicago, Illinois, in 1916. After a few months, they moved to New York City. In 1921, Lord & Taylor hired Shaver to head its Comparison Bureau, the main function of which was to spy on other stores. Her rise at Lord & Taylor was rapid. Shaver organized a Bureau of Stylists in 1924, and soon, Lord and Taylor set the pace for style in New York.
In 1927, she was made a director on the board. In 1931, she became a vice president, and in 1937, she was elevated to first vice president. Her encouragement of American design talent and innovative focus on teenage consumers made Lord & Taylor Manhattan’s top purveyor of fashion. She became known as a woman “sizzling with ideas” who “delighted in the new and in the untried.”
When she was elected president of Lord & Taylor in 1945, her annual salary of $110,000 surpassed those of many Hollywood legends. Lord & Taylor prospered as Shaver expanded the business with suburban stores. The Associated Press named her the outstanding woman in business in 1946 and 1947. She lived with her sister; neither ever married.
Months after suffering a stroke, Shaver died at her country home in Tannersville, New York, on June 28, 1959, thirty-one days before her sixth-sixth birthday. She is buried in Texarkana (Miller County), where her parents are also buried. Her gravestone has the year of her birth as 1897, the work of Elsie, given that the two women enjoyed misrepresenting their ages. Her million-dollar estate was left to Elsie.
For additional information:
Clymer, Eleanor. Modern American Career Women. New York: Dodd Mead, 1959.
Cottingham, Jan. “Arkansas’ Retail Genius.” Arkansas Business, June 28–July 4, 2021, pp. 1, 12–13.
Robinson, Anne. “Dorothy Shaver Brought Spring To Fifth Avenue.” Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine. May 6, 1956, pp.1A–3A.
Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography: Who’s News and Why—1949. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1950.
Lord & Taylor
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated: 01/05/2021