Carrie Marcus Neiman (1883-1953)

Carrie Marcus Neiman was a German-American and Jewish co-founder of the Neiman-Marcus department store and an innovator in the department store industry during the early-to-mid twentieth century. As the daughter of German immigrants, Carrie drew inspiration from European fashion and brought high-quality and cutting-edge merchandise to the Neiman-Marcus stores and customers.

Updated: October 10, 2013

Introduction

Carrie Marcus Neiman (born May 3, 1883 in Louisville, KY; died March 6, 1953 in Dallas, TX) was a German-American and Jewish co-founder of the Neiman-Marcus department store and an innovator in the department store industry during the early-to-mid twentieth century. As the daughter of German immigrants, Carrie drew inspiration from European fashion and brought high-quality and cutting-edge merchandise to the Neiman-Marcus stores and customers. While the growth of department stores was a widespread phenomenon during the early twentieth century (particularly in the Northeast where Jewish entrepreneurs played an important role), Carrie developed a national reputation as an innovator in fashion and merchandising based on her ability to recognize the potential demand for ready-made, luxury goods outside of anchor sales cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.[1] Under Carrie’s guidance, Neiman-Marcus brought European-inspired fashion to the residents of Dallas and transformed shopping from a chore into a unique experience, complete with fashion shows and “Fortnight” festivals that showcased not only fashions from across the Atlantic and around the world, but also presented shoppers with a cultural taste of nations through food and entertainment. The growth of Neiman Marcus during the early twentieth century and through the Great Depression and both World Wars serves as a testament to Carrie’s talents in identifying and responding to customer demands. As a Jewish-American woman, Carrie also represents the rise and growth of a Jewish entrepreneurial class in Texas and the Southwest during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Family Background

Born in 1883 to German-Jewish immigrants Jacob Marcus (a cotton broker originally from Wronke (then in Posen, Prussia, now present-day Wronki in western Poland) and Delia Bloomfield Marcus (from Hanau, fifteen miles east of Frankfurt), Carrie spent her early childhood years in Louisville, Kentucky until 1895 when her family relocated to the rural town of Hillsboro, Texas.[2] Carrie’s father, Jacob, was interested in setting up a brokerage business in the midst of Hillsboro’s growing cotton industry (which was assisted by the arrival of railroad transportation in the early 1880s). Jacob, like other recent migrants to Hillsboro, saw the small Texas town as an area rich with business opportunities, especially in agriculture and cotton.[3] Many Jewish migrants from both Europe and the East Coast came to Texas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to not only take advantage of opportunities in growing and selling cotton, but also to establish wholesale merchandise companies, providing goods such as agricultural tools and consumer products to farmers and their families.[4] In particular, Jewish merchants who saw opportunities in selling consumer goods to cotton growers were an important part of the development of Dallas from a “frontier trading town” into an economic center during the early twentieth century.[5] The growth of the cotton and agricultural industries in Dallas as well as the establishment of Jewish-run businesses to meet the demands of the farming population created the foundation for the later success of Neiman-Marcus in supplying clothes and other quality items to Dallas residents.

 Although Hillsboro was a young town at the time of the Marcus’ arrival in the late nineteenth century and cultural and educational activities were largely unavailable, Carrie managed to receive an “informal” education and cultural experience in her parents’ European-inspired home. Growing up in Hillsboro, Carrie’s home was filled with cultural influences through her parents’ native Germany and Europe more broadly, including German publications and British newspapers such as The London Spectator. At an early age, Carrie developed an interest in European-inspired art and fashion from her parents’ influences and her constant reading of books and materials from Germany, France, and England. While it is unclear whether or not German was spoken at home by members of the Marcus family, Carrie was certainly able to read the German-language materials provided to her by her parents. Although Carrie was not an avid traveler to Europe during her life as a result of her dedication to her business ventures, her exposure to reading materials from France, Germany, and other European countries served as a distinctively Jewish-American connection to the “homeland,” one that allowed her to draw inspiration from European fashion yet adapt these styles to the needs and demands of her Dallas-based clientele. Carrie’s connections to Germany and Europe through her parents and the reading material they supplied for her would later form the style and fashion sense which would inspire collections at Neiman-Marcus.[6]

Four years after her initial arrival in Hillsboro, Carrie moved from the town to begin her career in sales and fashion. In 1899, Carrie’s older sister relocated to Dallas and Carrie convinced her parents to allow her to move out of the family home and take up residence with her sister. Dallas, although still a relatively small city at the turn of the century, held numerous business opportunities for those interested in the cotton industry. Cotton brokers as well as those involved in other business ventures flocked to Dallas to establish themselves, including many Jewish merchants and their families.[7] Carrie’s sister and her husband were among those interested in pursuing a business in Dallas and Carrie also recognized the greater chance for career and cultural opportunities in the growing city. The only condition Carrie’s parents set forth was that she find a job rather than relying solely on her sister for financial support. At the young age of sixteen, Carrie was eager to establish her financial independence and, within a few years, Dallas would prove an excellent place for her to begin.[8]

Business Development

When she was twenty-one, Carrie began her career in fashion and merchandising by working as a saleswoman for $10 a week ($253 in 2010 dollars) at A. Harris & Company, a small department store in Dallas.[9] While working on the sales floor, Carrie quickly acquired the skills of personal attention and style coordination when addressing the needs of her customers, helping her to build a strong clientele in Dallas and a reputation for fashion knowledge and expertise. Carrie’s supervisors noted her developing skills in fashion and promoted her from sales to a position as a blouse buyer, allowing Carrie to further hone her fashion and customer service skills. Drawing on her past knowledge of fashion from Paris and Germany garnered from her consumption of European newspapers and magazines, Carrie was not afraid to purchase articles that were different from what other stores in the Dallas region were offering to customers. During her work at the purchasing department at A. Harris, Carrie developed an interest in pleasing customers while providing them with the most modern and sophisticated style, specializing in “good fabrics, clean lines, and superb workmanship.”[10] When Carrie received her promotion at A. Harris, she became one of the highest-paid women in Dallas, earning $100.00 a month (or $2,530 in 2010 dollars), and rapidly built a reputation in the fashion retailing business in Dallas.[11]

While working at A. Harris, Carrie met Abraham “Al” Neiman, another sales employee at the department store and her future business partner and husband. In 1905, Carrie married Neiman and began a business with her new husband. With the help of Al and her brother Herbert Marcus, Carrie developed a sales consulting firm and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. The Neiman-Marcus sales firm assisted business owners in the more rural parts of Georgia with promoting products and sales. Within two years, Carrie, Al, and Herbert’s vast experience in sales and customer service had brought the firm success as well as two buyout offers: one from a local merchant for $25,000 in cash ($598,000 in 2010 dollars) and the other from a firm trying to sell the Missouri and Kansas franchises of a relatively new product called Coca-Cola.[12] The Neiman-Marcus firm was not interested in taking on such a risky new product as Coca-Cola and instead the trio opted for the $25,000 in cash and returned to Texas with a new goal: establishing a specialty apparel store in Dallas.[13] It is difficult to say precisely why the three partners found opening a specialty clothing store selling ready-made, premium goods a less-risky venture than investing in Coca-Cola; perhaps Carrie’s and Al’s experiences in sales and merchandising at A. Harris inspired them to consider a career in the department store industry. Regardless of the motives, however, Carrie, Al, and Herbert made the decision to create a new type of store for shoppers of the Dallas area and began to make plans regarding their new business venture.

With pooled savings totaling approximately $50,000 ($1.2 million in 2010 dollars), Carrie, her brother, and her husband began planning the store in 1907, with an opening day estimated for August or September. While Al and Herbert handled the finances and logistics of securing a space in Dallas, Carrie was in charge of buying merchandise that would cater to the needs of Texans. Apart from basic supplies of food, farm tools, and cloth, what constituted the “needs” of Texans from a department store was up for interpretation and presented Carrie with an opportunity to think broadly about the types of goods she could offer to the growing Dallas population. In early 1907, Carrie traveled to New York on an initial buying trip armed with her own fashion sense and an idea of what types of materials and styles her future Texas clientele might appreciate. She stayed close to her original ideas of fashion (“sophisticated, clean lines and good quality materials”) and returned with some of the latest women’s styles from New York and Paris to present to her husband and brother. Carrie was particularly interested in bringing the ease and convenience of ready-made styles found in the larger department stores to potential customers in Dallas, but also wanted to introduce the women of Texas to garments with elements that Carrie identified as markers of both style and substance: a unique button or a distinctive stitch pattern, for example. These were details which demonstrated a concern for quality as well as style and were typically associated with the hand-crafted clothing and fashions of Europe; however, in order to set Neiman-Marcus apart from other department stores or mail-order catalogue companies, Carrie brought these fashions to the women of Dallas and created a transnational bridge between Dallas and European luxury fashion. Although the types of fashions Neiman-Marcus would showcase would become more dramatic and luxurious over the years, Carrie first presented quality-made, premium goods that were fashionable yet not overly ornate to Dallas women, demonstrating her ability to reconcile  what customers needed (quality clothes that would last) with what they might possibly desire (versions of the latest New York and European fashions that would not raise eyebrows in Texas). In a later interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Carrie recalled that “I marvel at my courage” on that first buying trip, given that the store’s hopes depended on her choosing goods that customers would want.[14] In total, the store’s goods cost $17,000 (approximately $407,000 in 2010 dollars), while furnishing it had cost $12,000 ($287,000) and rent was another $9,000 ($215,000).[15] Despite her anxiety, Carrie’s fashion sense proved right: only a month after opening day on September 9, 1907 the entire stock of Neiman-Marcus’ merchandise had completely sold out.[16]

The Dallas-based store’s early success both shocked and impressed those who had initially doubted the necessity of a high-end department store specializing in ready-made apparel in Texas. Carrie later recounted how during the early planning of the store, many had asked her why she believed that high style and ready-made clothes were needed in Dallas “at a time when there were horses and no paved streets, when the fine dresses worn by ladies were regularly made by seamstresses, when no such ideas as ready-made, top-quality clothes had ever been heard of in Texas.”[17] In other words, why should a store so far from Paris and New York have such fine merchandise and—more importantly—why sell it? Who would buy European-inspired clothes in Dallas (a city still growing and without a clear demand for couture fashion)? In response, Carrie insisted that the Neiman-Marcus department store would contribute greatly to the “growth, welfare, and culture of Dallas” while meeting the demands of the growing middle and upper class population of females from the city.[18] Teas, formal balls, coming-out parties, and weddings were all events which Carrie kept in mind when choosing and purchasing merchandise for potential Dallas customers. Carrie saw business opportunities among the women of Dallas when few others did and combined her inspirations from the Louvre and galleries in Dresden and fashion from Paris and Munich with the potential needs and demands of Neiman-Marcus customers.[19] Carrie’s vision for the store as a fashion and cultural center was best exemplified in an early Dallas advertisement from 1907 which stated that “exclusive lines of high-class garments have been secured, lines which have never before been offered to the buyers in Texas.”[20] Although the Neiman-Marcus store was a group venture, Carrie’s fashion sense and merchandising decisions created a niche for Neiman-Marcus in Dallas that allowed the business to rapidly grow and continue to thrive.

While working as the main buyer for Neiman-Marcus during the store’s early years, Carrie continued to develop her fashion sense and build a reputation for simplistic, yet elegant fashions. In interviews and articles, Carrie always insisted that there were “no rules” in the fashion business apart from following one’s own tastes and styles with modest guidance from larger trends.[21] Carrie created an art form by studying colors and fabrics from European catalogues and magazines and then applying them to her own visions of clean, simple and feminine designs in the apparel and outfits offered at her store. She directed her nephew, Stanley Marcus (an assistant sales associate) in purchasing good, quality materials and giving them a “Neiman-Marcus style” by replacing “garish buttons, pins, and belt buckles with simpler ornamentation.”[22] As the store grew, Carrie hired two assistant buyers, Moira Cullen and Laura Goldman, to travel to New York for purchases and help keep Neiman-Marcus on top of the latest trends and styles. Although Carrie was a major figure in the behind-the-scenes buying at the Dallas Neiman-Marcus store, she continued to assist in sales on the floor, insisting on learning what her customers’ demands and expectations from the department store were. In his memoirs, her nephew and later business partner, Stanley Marcus, recalled that Carrie was known among other Neiman-Marcus employees for dropping whatever work was being done at the moment to wait on a loyal customer. Stanley explained that although this was inconvenient, it was “the way the business had been built.”[23]

As Neiman-Marcus’ reputation grew in the Dallas region and throughout Texas, Carrie’s reputation as a saleswoman with an eye for fashion and a desire to respond to her customer’s individual needs resulted in former Dallas residents sending requests for Neiman-Marcus goods despite relocating to other parts of the country. In order to keep up with cross-country requests, Carrie created sales positions devoted entirely to responding to the needs of customers who were not able to travel to Dallas. Long-distance sales associate and seamstress, Dorothy Parker, responded to orders from out-of-town customers, such as a request from a woman in Idaho for a suit made of a heavier material for the winter and an order from a student at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia who wanted a particular type of raincoat which she could not find anywhere else but at Neiman-Marcus.[24] As a result, Carrie was able to combine cutting-edge European fashion with the more practical tastes of her Dallas clientele, ensuring the store’s continued early success. At one point, Stanley asked Carrie why she devoted so much time to such “unusual requests” from customers so far away, with Carrie replying that “if we don’t take care of these unusual requests from women who are depending on us, they might drop in to a competitive store in New York [or elsewhere] and then we would lose them for good.”[25] Carrie’s devotion to her customers, regardless of whether they were a few blocks or a few hundred miles away from Neiman-Marcus, was proof that her customer service skills reflected her business acumen as well as her characteristic traits of loyalty and favoring quality over quantity.

Carrie’s direct involvement in the growth of the Neiman-Marcus store is an example of Jewish-American and Jewish immigrant entrepreneurial pioneerism in Dallas during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like other Jewish and European immigrant business owners in the Dallas area, Carrie was able to draw inspiration from across the Atlantic in creating new markets in the Southwest, an area ripe for economic growth. While Carrie and her family followed a similar economic pattern as other Jewish migrants to the area, the Neiman-Marcus operation was unique in that it identified a potential demand in the economic landscape of Dallas and found a niche in the growing Texas city. Whereas other Jewish-run businesses in Dallas and other parts of Texas (such as the Swartz department store founded by Sam Swartz in 1919 in nearby Greenville) responded to the established needs of customers in the area for agricultural goods and products, Carrie and Neiman-Marcus created a niche for the company by introducing higher-end, ready-made fashions to the Dallas area. The store also benefited from a growing customer base as Texas became a more prosperous state, including families made wealthy from developing its cotton, cattle, and oil resources.[26] As a Jewish-American woman with ties to Europe through her parents, Carrie serves as an example of both a larger pattern of Jewish entrepreneurial activity in Dallas during the early twentieth century as well as the increasing role of women in the rise of consumer culture in the U.S.

Although Carrie’s business continued to grow during the early 1900s, she experienced upheaval in her personal life when she and Al divorced in 1928. Rumors of Al’s affair with a Neiman-Marcus buyer travelled rapidly through Dallas until Carrie eventually confronted him with the gossip. Al admitted his infidelity and Carrie immediately demanded a divorce.[27] Stanley Marcus described the Dallas community’s reaction to the divorce as “shock,” with “friends and customers alike” taking sides.[28] Fortunately for Carrie, Stanley explained, “public opinion as a whole swung towards Carrie and my father [Herbert].”[29] Along with the personal changes that Carrie had to adapt to after the divorce, there were also questions of what would happen to the department store and the family business. Carrie’s brother Herbert agreed to purchase Al’s shares of the store, securing both the future of the Neiman-Marcus business venture and Carrie’s continued involvement in buying and design.[30] As part of the purchase agreement among Herbert, Carrie, and her soon-to-be former husband, Al agreed “not to enter, or be associated, with any retail business in Dallas for a period of ten years.[31] As a result of Herbert’s involvement with the direction of Neiman-Marcus after the divorce, Stanley became Al’s “replacement,” taking over the maintenance of vendor connections and assisting Carrie with purchasing merchandise.[32]

With the business aspects of Neiman-Marcus secured after her divorce, Carrie set out to make shopping at Neiman-Marcus an experience that would immerse customers in fashion and culture. Despite the Great Depression, Neiman-Marcus continued to serve as a cultural and fashion center in Dallas and Texas, largely as a result of Carrie and Stanley’s innovative approaches to fashion merchandising. Rather than seeing the department store as simply a space for customers to purchase high-end products, Carrie and Stanley viewed Neiman-Marcus as a fashion gallery, a place for customers in Texas to not only shop, but experience high-end styles from New York and Europe. During the early 1930s, Carrie began to host Fall Fashion Expositions at Neiman-Marcus, inviting customers and potential customers to participate in a cultural event (free of charge) that rarely occurred in Texas or anywhere outside of New York City.[33] Carrie hired models and dressed them in the latest styles and cuts, allowing visitors to Neiman-Marcus to become part of the fashion industry and experiment with coordinating outfits using merchandise from the store’s latest collections. The Fashion Expositions were popular among Dallas residents, with the store building often proving too small to accommodate the hundreds of guests who waited in line to get a glimpse of the latest fashions.[34] Carrie was always available to assist customers with creating outfits featured in the fashion shows, proving her continued devotion to both fashion and customer service. With the Fall Fashion Exposition, Carrie, Stanley, and the Neiman-Marcus operation played an important role in establishing high-end fashion as a popular and lucrative business venture in America. At the same time, Neiman-Marcus began offering lower-priced items and provided credit to a growing number of customers on lenient terms.[35]

By the late 1930s, Neiman-Marcus’ haute couture reputation also helped the store to gain economic accolades: in November of 1937, Fortune magazine featured Neiman-Marcus in an article titled “Dallas in Wonderland.”[36] This was the first time that Fortune had focused on a Texas organization, bringing pride to Carrie, Stanley, Neiman-Marcus, and its customers. Other articles in Life magazine during the late 1930s continued to place Carrie and Neiman-Marcus in the spotlight. For example, a 1939 Life story titled “Texas: A Giant State Stirs Itself” featured a photograph of Carrie working in the store in a picture essay on the economic, social, and political development of Dallas, linking Neiman-Marcus to the growth of Texas on the national stage.[37]

In 1938, Carrie and Stanley once more elevated the status of Neiman-Marcus from department store to couture center by establishing the Neiman-Marcus Awards for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. With this series of awards which honored designers, journalists, celebrities, and others who had influenced the fashion scene, Neiman-Marcus became an official name in the fashion world, identifying trend-setters, incorporating their styles into store merchandise, and attempting to establish itself as a definer of prestige. The Neiman-Marcus Awards were not restricted to American designers and Carrie and Stanley chose to honor European stylists and icons as well as those who shaped fashion from within the United States. Carrie’s decision to include non-American fashion icons among the awardees represented her commitment to using her inspiration from Europe to shape and inspire fashion in the U.S. The first recipients of the Neiman Marcus Awards were Germaine Monteil (a French-born seamstress who moved to New York and established herself in the design of dresses by using bright patterns), Nettie Rosenstein (an Austrian-born women’s underwear designer), Dorothy Liebes (an American-born textile weaver), Dan Palter (an American women’s shoe designer), John Frederics (an American milliner), and Richard Koret (an American handbag designer), all recognized by Neiman-Marcus for their innovations in their respective fields. Later Distinguished Service Awards were also presented to individuals who addressed other issues in fashion and merchandising, such as labor rights and safety. For example, New York banker Max Meyer was honored with the distinction in 1941 for “his part in creating a better world for the clothing industry and his work in solving the sweat-shop problem.”[38] Carrie and Stanley organized and publicized the award ceremony and described the shows as an opportunity to foster international trade by honoring foreign designers. Combined with Carrie's New York and European-infused fashion shows, the Neiman Marcus Awards, often referred to as the “Oscars of fashion,” made the store a fashion center and transatlantic force during the 1930s.[39]

When the United States entered World War II, bringing a boom to Dallas as it became a center for military production, Neiman-Marcus responded by shifting its product offerings to match the salaries of the incoming workforce. In 1942 the store had $6 million in sales; in 1944 almost double that amount, $11 million.[40] After the war, Carrie’s role in the Neiman-Marcus company increased dramatically. Following the death of Herbert Marcus in 1950, Carrie became chairman of the Board of Directors, a significant role for any woman in America during this time period. With her new title, Carrie continued to play an important role in overseeing the growth of Neiman-Marcus sales. With appointment to chair came important decisions for the future of Neiman-Marcus, most markedly the decision to expand the store beyond Dallas. Other members of the board used the success of Neiman-Marcus in Dallas to argue for expansion in surrounding suburban areas in Texas, envisioning Neiman-Marcus as a high-quality competitor with other stores that had expanded such as Macy’s. While the board believed that expansion was a desirable goal, Carrie was more reluctant to take the Neiman-Marcus store to areas outside of Dallas. Considering Carrie’s close connection to Dallas and her civic and charitable involvement in the community, Carrie viewed Neiman-Marcus as a Dallas organization and an institution which would attract visitors to her home. Carrie did not see the necessity for expansion when the Dallas store was doing exceptionally well in sales and building a strong reputation, but her nephew Stanley argued that expansion outside of Dallas and to other parts of the nation would be a natural course of progression for the growing company. Neiman-Marcus had become more than a local department store; Dallasites and others in Texas associated the name with a particular brand of quality, high-end fashion which could be marketed in other regions as well as the Southwest.

For other non-Dallas natives, however, Neiman-Marcus appeared to be an oddity, a high-end store clearly out-of-place among the “less-cultured” clientele of Dallas. Authors Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer covered Neiman-Marcus in their exposé of crime and corruption in America, U.S.A. Confidential, not only depicting the store as catering to “dried-up farmwomen” and “old biddies” but also poking fun at Neiman-Marcus for “splurging with fantastically-priced merchandise that a smart New York woman would not wear for fear of being mistaken for a Christmas tree, or a Texan.”[41] Lait and Mortimer also described the fashion models employed at Neiman-Marcus as little more than escorts, hired for their looks and used by the male employees at the store for sexual pleasures. While Lait and Mortimer’s accusations of Neiman-Marcus’ dabbling in prostitution as much as in fashion were far-fetched (Neiman-Marcus eventually sued the authors for libel in 1953), their descriptions of Neiman-Marcus as a backwards, bumpkin store that provided garish goods to population that had no knowledge of “real” fashion was a stark contrast to the glowing depictions of the store in magazines such as Life.

Carrie’s devotion to “highly personalized buying and selling supervision,” however, made operating remote locations seem like an undesirable strategy.[42] Eventually, despite her qualms with suburban expansion, Carrie reluctantly agreed to the construction of a second Neiman-Marcus store at Preston Road (located outside of Dallas) in 1951. With Carrie’s approval of the first suburban store, Neiman-Marcus continued to expand throughout the Dallas region and beyond during the 1950s through the late twentieth century, with the 1957 opening of the Houston store the first operation outside of the Dallas metro area.[43] By the mid-1950s, the store was enjoying roughly $33 million in sales per year (or $269 million in 2010 dollars) and making an annual profit of some $750,000 (or $6.1 million).[44]

While the expansion of Neiman-Marcus beyond the anchor store was perhaps one of the most important decisions that Carrie made while serving on the board, she also oversaw a number of other changes that further supported the growth of Neiman-Marcus from a women’s fashion store into a multifaceted business operation. During the early 1950s, Carrie expanded the store’s home collection (which Herbert had originally helped to establish before his death in 1950) by bringing her sense of fashion into interior decorating, showcasing goods that “revolutionized” the home following World War II such as bright, vivid colors, new materials such as plastic, and innovative lighting fixtures.[45] The installation of the “Younger Set” collection (a precursor to the “juniors” department) as well as the establishment of a specialty fur department further expanded Neiman-Marcus’ clientele base. The fur line inspired Carrie, Stanley, and the rest of the Neiman-Marcus board to purchase a warehouse building near the Dallas store that would operate as a servicing center where high-quality goods could be treated or repaired. From home goods to a service department, Neiman-Marcus expanded rapidly in terms of what the store offered to its customers under the guidance of Carrie and Stanley.

Although the duties of chair of the board kept her occupied, Carrie never ceased to be fully involved in the purchasing and customer service aspects of the store. “It is a matter of common knowledge,” the Christian Science Monitor profile explained, “that no one in the Neiman-Marcus family is too important to wait on a customer; yet few realize that Mrs. Carrie Neiman herself still serves actively in the store.”[46] Always interested in the day-to-day operations of the store, Carrie continued to serve “in an advisory way right on the floor—most often in the Woman’s Shop” by helping her “old customers select garments that [were] right for them.” Whether it was “going through stock bins hunting for a particular frock,” helping sales employees ring up a customer, or offering fashion advice to buyers, Carrie maintained her presence in Neiman-Marcus beyond the boardroom.[47] While Carrie’s continued involvement in the management and creative aspects of the store suited her interests in fashion and customer service, it also helped to establish Neiman-Marcus as a sophisticated store that was never too sophisticated to ignore the personal needs of its customers.

Social Status, Networks, Family and Personal Life

Carrie also made sure that Neiman-Marcus would be known as a community as well as fashion leader. During the outbreak of World War II, Carrie encouraged customers to purchase war bonds, oftentimes making bonds the price of admission to the popular Fall Fashion Expositions at Neiman-Marcus. For the first time in 1942, Neiman-Marcus charged a fee of $5.00 ($67 in 2010 dollars) for admission to that year’s Fall Fashion Exposition, encouraging customers to “help the war effort and see America’s greatest premier of fashion.”[48] When war efforts made certain materials such as nylon scarce, Carrie sought top fashion experts to create new styles and fabrics for her store that would conserve on much-needed materials. Stanley served on the Apparel Branch of the War Productions Board and worked with Carrie to focus on offering more simplistic styles (as opposed to the pleated skirts and three-piece suits that were popular among customers, but a potential strain on needed war materials) at Neiman-Marcus to help conserve fabric during the war.[49] Not only did Neiman-Marcus assist with the war effort through monetary donations, but Carrie and Stanley also shaped style choices in their store with the needs of the War Productions Board in mind.[50]

Carrie was also a civic leader in the Jewish community of Dallas. She was an active member of the Temple Emanu-El synagogue and, together with her brother Herbert, helped to found the Columbian Club, a Jewish country club.[51] While country clubs were closed to Jews in Dallas, Carrie sought to reach out to the growing population of middle- and upper-class Jews in the region who often faced discrimination in Dallas society. As part of the rising Jewish middle and upper classes, Carrie understood the social challenges that Jews faced while trying to build businesses and opportunities for themselves and their families. Together with her entrepreneurial activities, Carrie’s community involvement created social spaces for Jews and German immigrants living in Dallas and opportunities for them to establish themselves as a growing economic and social force in Texas.[52]

In 1936 and 1937, Herbert and Carrie assisted other Dallas Jews with raising money to donate to organizations that helped those attempting to flee from oppression under Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s and other repressive government regimes in Europe such as Hitler’s Germany. The Dallas Morning News noted the fundraising efforts of Herbert, who was a co-chair of the Federation for Social Service of Dallas, “a campaign for funds…directed entirely among the Jewish citizens of Dallas” and devoted to raising at least $60,000 ($911,000 in 2010 dollars) for humanitarian efforts in Europe. As co-chair of the Federation, Herbert was passionately dedicated to this cause, explaining that “the call for aid of religious minorities both Jewish and non-Jewish in Germany, Poland, Rumania, and other countries cannot go unheeded, and it is my hope that every Jewish citizen able to contribute will do so willingly.”[53] Although Herbert was directly involved with the Federation as an administrator, Carrie also worked with her brother to raise funds among the Jewish community organizations of Dallas, demonstrating her family’s dedication to transnational and international causes.

Carrie was also very close with her family and gave them active roles in the Neiman-Marcus enterprise. In his memoirs, Stanley described Carrie’s devotion to her family as though it were a character flaw, enumerating the many times in which Carrie insisted on housing multiple members of her family and proclaiming that, as a result of her familial commitments, it was “no wonder that Al eventually got fed up with the Marcuses!”[54] Carrie, however, viewed commitments to family as a top priority along with running her store. Although Carrie never had children of her own after a miscarriage in 1907 while married to Al, she was involved in the social and business lives of her immediate family members, including nieces, nephews, and her own siblings. While her brother Herbert was an important part of her personal and professional life, her nephews Stanley, Edward, Herbert Jr., and Lawrence, as well as their wives, were all members of the Neiman-Marcus board of directors. Carrie’s family continued to play an important part in the management and marketing of the store after her death.[55]

Conclusion

Carrie’s involvement in and oversight of operations at Neiman-Marcus continued until her death in 1953. After months of illness, Carrie eventually succumbed to complications from pleurisy, leaving Stanley Marcus in charge of management of Neiman-Marcus. Many newspaper articles remembered Carrie as a leader in the fashion and merchandising industry as well as a symbol of elegant and refined fashion in a “plain, black dress,” and only a few pieces of tasteful jewelry such as “two handsome gold bracelets” or one strand of “exquisite pearls.”[56] After Carrie’s death, Stanley created the Carrie Neiman Marcus Fashion Foundation, a “compilation of important fashions, past and present, records of fabric development, photographs and drawings of fine apparel and accessory design and a library tracing the history of design art,” originally housed in the Dallas Apparel Mart and later taken in by the University of North Texas in 1972. Among samples of fine clothing, hats, and handbags, the collection also emphasized textile patterns, particularly those made of cotton which served as a reminder of the importance of the material for the growth of both Dallas and area department stores such as Neiman-Marcus. Stanley and his brother Edward wished for the collection to serve as many people of the Dallas area as possible and envisioned their aunt’s memorial as a project that could attract historians, artists, and fashion students.[57]

Even after her death, Carrie’s legacy as a key developer in the Neiman-Marcus enterprise shaped the later years of the business. In 1957, Stanley oversaw the creation of the popular annual Fortnight program, a series of exhibitions of fashion and culture focused on a specific country or region of the world. Works of art, examples of home décor, and samples of textiles from countries such as France, Spain, and Japan were placed on display in exhibit halls constructed for the sole purpose of the Fortnight events, while chefs prepared delectable buffets of various ethnic-inspired foods native to the country featured at the Fortnight. Shoes, hats, bags, jewelry, and other pieces of fashion were also featured during the Fortnight, with a fashion show serving as the main event at the close of the program. Neiman-Marcus would literally transform the store to whisk customers and guests away to another land, hiring architects and designers to create a faux French village façade, for example, or build a dining room that was fit for Spanish royalty. Not only did the Fortnight celebrations prove that shopping at Neiman-Marcus was an experience as well as a shopping excursion, they also served as a reminder of the international inspiration for the store.[58]

Carrie’s strong desire to keep Neiman-Marcus a local business continued to raise questions among board members and administrators relating to the future expansion of the store during the late 1970s. In 1969, Stanley agreed to merge the Neiman-Marcus corporation with the Carter Hawley Hale group, a conglomeration of department and specialty stores such as Walden Books and the New York-based Bergdorf Goodman store. In 1976, the Dallas Times Herald featured an article titled “Arena: A New Captain of Neiman-Marcus Evolution,” referencing Angel R. Arena, the recently appointed chief executive of the enterprise. With Neiman-Marcus no longer a “stand-alone” company, the Times Herald reported that the “same question had been raised from the unadorned farmhouses of East Texas to the elegant boudoirs of North Dallas: Will the rapid evolution of Neiman-Marcus into a nation-wide chain guided by an impersonal corporate manager spell an end to the store’s tradition of high quality, fine taste, and personalized service?”[59] Just as Carrie had worried about the fate of her store when Stanley convinced her to expand outside of Dallas, so too there were some concerned that a rapid growth of the store across the nation would mean a sacrifice of the personal touches that had made the store special and unique since its foundation. In the article, Arena assured readers that further expansion would not diminish the characteristics that had established Neiman-Marcus’ reputation in its earliest days, noting that the store would continue to offer quality goods and treat shopping as an experience rather than a chore.[60] Despite Carrie’s physical absence from the boardroom, her ideas which had originally launched the venture continued to shape store policies through the days of expansion in the 1970s and beyond.

Carrie’s style and fashion expertise also made her a “fashion authority” for the Neiman-Marcus store as well as a visionary in the department store industry. Combined with her careful study of the fashion industry and desire to bring European fashion to the Dallas region, Carrie’s devotion to personal, customer service established Neiman-Marcus as a high-end department store, yet one which responded to as well as shaped customer demands for style. More importantly, Carrie’s achievements as a Jewish woman and entrepreneur in the Southwest during the early-to-mid twentieth century sets her apart from more common stories of success among German immigrants and German-Americans. Carrie used her connections with female customers in Dallas to build her business and help it succeed.

Notes

[1] See Richard Longstreth, The American Department Store Transformed, 1920–1960 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010) and Jan Whitaker,Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006) for more information on the development of department stores such as Macy’s, Montgomery Ward, Wanamaker's, and Filene’s Basement.

[2] Stanley Marcus, Minding the Store: A Memoir (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1974), 7.

[3] Dorothy D. DeMoss, “Neiman, Carrie Marcus,”Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 12, 2011.

[4] Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans: Their Impact on Texas and American History for Four Hundred Years, 1590–1990 (Dallas, Tex.: Texas Heritage Press, 1989), 272–75.

[5] See Rose G. Biderman, They Came to Stay: The Story of the Jews of Dallas, 1870–1997 (New York: Eakin Press, 2001) as well as "Dallas, Texas,” Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, accessed August 28, 2012.

[6] Denny Parker Crallé, “Woman Who Helped Found Dallas Specialty Store Now Heads Board,” Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1951, 18.

[7] Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans, 273–275.

[8] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 1.

[9] All conversions are made using the Purchasing Price Calculator “Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount – 1774 to Present,” MeasuringWorth.

[10] Crallé, “Woman Who Helped Found,” 18.

[11] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 1.

[12] Marcus, Minding the Store, 4.

[13] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 1.

[14] Crallé, “Woman Who Helped Found,” 18. On the development of the ready-made fashion industry in the United States, see also Phyllis Dillon and Andrew Godley, “The Evolution of the Jewish Garment Industry, 1840–1940,” in Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism, ed. Rebecca Kobrin (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 44–56.

[15] Don M. Coerver and Linda B. Hall, “Neiman-Marcus: Innovators in Fashion and Merchandising,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 66.1 (Sep. 1976): 123–36, here 125.

[16] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[17] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[18] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[19] “Carrie Neiman Judge of Style,” Dallas Morning News, Sep. 11, 1932.

[20] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[21] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[22] Marcus, Minding the Store, 62.

[23] Marcus, Minding the Store, 63.

[24] Letters to Dorothy Parker, folder 3, box 438, Neiman-Marcus Collection (Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Tex.).

[25] Marcus, Minding the Store, 63.

[26] Coerver and Hall, “Neiman-Marcus,” 125–28.

[27] Marcus, Minding the Store, 58.

[28] Ibid., 61.

[29] Ibid., 61.

[30] DeMoss, “Neiman.”

[31] Marcus, Minding the Store, 58–61.

[32] Ibid., 61.

[33] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2–3.

[34] “Regret,” Dallas Morning News, Sep. 14, 1934, 4.

[35] Coerver and Hall, “Neiman-Marcus,” 128–29.

[36] Marcus, Minding the Store, 77.

[37] “Texas: A Giant State Stirs Itself,” Life, April 10, 1939, pp. 64+.

[38] “Six Selected for Honors in Fashion Field,”Dallas Morning News, August 17, 1941, 2.

[39] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2–3.

[40] Coerver and Hall, “Neiman-Marcus,” 129.

[41] Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, U.S.A. Confidential (New York: Crown Publishers, 1952), 195–96.

[42] Marcus, Minding the Store, 132.

[43] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2–3. On the growth of suburban department stores, see also Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Knopf, 2003), 258–270.

[44] William Schack, “Neiman-Marcus of Texas: Couture and Culture,” Commentary 24.3 (1957), 212–222, here 213.

[45] News clipping from New Horizons, Sep. 1945, folder “Public Relations–Marcus Family,” box 354, Neiman-Marcus Collection.

[46] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[47] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[48] “On and Off the Elevators,” Dallas Morning News, Sep. 7, 1942, news clipping in folder 5, box 286, Neiman-Marcus Collection.

[49] “All Around Pleated Skirts, Three-Piece Suits Outlawed,” Dallas Morning News, April 9, 1942, news clipping in folder 10, box 348, Neiman-Marcus Collection.

[50] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 3.

[51] DeMoss, “Neiman.”

[52] Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans, 273.

[53] “Dallas Jews Begin Relief Fund Appeal,” Dallas Morning News, Oct. 13, 1936, news clipping in folder 2, box 286, Neiman-Marcus Collection.

[54] Marcus, Minding the Store, 30–31.

[55] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 3.

[56] “Mrs. Carrie Neiman,” 2.

[57] The Texas Fashion Collection, accessed September 1, 2012.

[58] Whitaker, Service and Style, 153–155.

[59] “Arena: New Captain of Neiman-Marcus Evolution,” Dallas Times Herald, June 27, 1976, news clipping in folder 6, box 348, Neiman-Marcus Collection.

[60] Ibid.

 

Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Carrie Marcus Neiman." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved August 16, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship: http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=159

Chicago Style

Hinnershitz, Stephanie. "Carrie Marcus Neiman." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 4, edited by Jeffrey Fear. German Historical Institute. Last modified October 10, 2013. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=159

MLA Style

"Carrie Marcus Neiman," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 16 Aug 2018 <http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=159>

Minnie Lichtenstein Marcus

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