AUERBACH, BEATRICE FOX


AUERBACH, BEATRICE FOX (1887–1968), U.S. retail pioneer, philanthropist. Beatrice Fox was born in Hartford, Connecticut, part of an affluent family steeped in the retail business. As president of G. Fox & Co. for almost three decades, she was one of the leading merchants in the United States, one of the few women to achieve such a lofty position, and she established a pattern of labor reforms for her employees that became a model for the industry. What is even more remarkable, she did not begin her retail career until she was in her middle years. Her parents were Teresa and Moses Fox and both sets of her grandparents – German-Jewish immigrants – had already established their own stores in the United States by the time she was born. Gerson Fox, her grandfather, built his establishment in Hartford in 1845, a one-room shop selling fancy goods. It would eventually become a 14-story New England landmark known as G. Fox & Co., one of the nation's premier department stores. When Fox died (1880), his son, Moses, took over and embarked on a series of buying trips to Europe, often accompanied by his family, including his daughter Beatrice. On one such trip she met a retailer named George S. Auerbach. They were married in 1911 and settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Auerbach's family operated a department store. Six years later, G. Fox was gutted by fire and the Auerbachs returned to Hartford to help rebuild it. Moses Fox appointed his son-in-law secretary-treasurer of the new G. Fox, while Beatrice continued raising their two daughters. In 1927, George died and Beatrice – at the age of 40 – became involved in the business, slowly at first and then more intensely as her father's health began to fail. In 1938, upon the death of Moses Fox, she became president and launched a significant expansion program. Under her stewardship, annual volume grew tenfold to about $60 million. G. Fox became the largest privately owned department store in the United States. Beatrice Fox Auerbach had more than a sharp eye for what merchandise would sell. She was also a visionary, instituting a series of fair employment practices for her more than 3,500 employees that were unusual for the times. G. Fox staffers enjoyed retirement plans, a five-day, 40-hour week, interest-free loans, and non-profit medical and lunchroom facilities. She was one of the first white retailers to hire African-Americans for meaningful jobs. G. Fox also provided free delivery service, a toll-free telephone order department, and fully automated billing. In 1965, Mrs. Auerbach stepped down as president, selling the company to May Department Stores Co. for $40 million. For the remaining few years of her life, she was actively involved in philanthropy and civic affairs, serving on numerous hospital, educational, and cultural committees and boards. She launched the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation to help college students. She also founded the Service Bureau for Women's Organizations in Hartford, a clearing-house for charitable and civic organizations that became the host organization for the U.S. State Department's foreign visitor program.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

S. Brody, Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism (1996); New York Times (Dec. 1, 1968).

[Mort Sheinman (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.