Legacy of a Modeling Agency

The recent passing of Melissa Stevens, heir to the Patricia Stevens Modeling School and Career College, has given us cause to take a look through one of the most extraordinary collections in LaBudde’s holdings: the Patricia Stevens Collection. This collection, which Melissa donated in November 2011, contains the company records, advertisements, photographs, and other ephemera. There are hundreds of items in over fifty boxes and together they offer a complete account of the history of the company.

1973 photo of Flo Stevens (bottom right) and her three daughters (clockwise from bottom left) Patricia Jr, Sheila, and Melissa.

Melissa’s mother, Florence Czarnecki Stevens became “Patricia Stevens” only after her 1946 marriage to a young Chicago entrepreneur named James Stevens. Before he met Flo, he had already named his training school, a business designed to help women navigate the postwar work world. Flo – or Mrs. Stevens as she was often addressed – grew the school into a franchised operation with 55 branches. Its headquarters were in Kansas City, on Country Club Plaza. (Longtime KC residents may recall the Stevens-sponsored annual Easter parade that ran up until 1995). A full account of the Stevens’ family and their company could occupy an entire book. Melissa Stevens took over the company after her mother’s death, and up until her own recent passing was working to revive the company. In a 2012 interview with The Pitch, she said “All I really need…is a runway, a makeup table, a mirror — and me.”

Secene from 1973 Easter Parade

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One of the items Melissa Stevens donated was a large scrapbook filled with letters of appreciation written to her mother Flo. Among the letters are many from former students and employees. Flo Stevens appears to have had a special relationship with many of her graduates and employees. One student said that Flo was “the woman who changed my life.” Another wished “I could explain how much I think of you. You have been like a big sister to me and you have my deepest respect.” Still another told Flo that “my heart had adopted you as a second mother.” Other students wrote about how the Stevens school could help them with self-esteem issues or help them conquer their fears. Some of her graduates went on to pursue careers in acting or fashion, or interior design. Reading their letters, they all give some credit to Florence Stevens for their success.

The most poignant letter in the collection is from one of Stevens’ employees. She [find her name] writes to Flo about a 14 year old girl – Marilyn – who wanted to be a model and was attending classes against her parents’ wishes. Her parents believed that any kind of modeling would “lower [Marilyn’s] morals” and corrupt her. The letter explains that Marilyn might not be destined for a modeling career, but that she at least deserved the chance to follow her dreams, even if she was still young.  

Notes from students and local womens groups

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Notes of appreciation from students and local organizations

There is, I think, a contradiction buried at the heart of the Stevens collection. On one hand, the modeling school may seem anachronistic by today’s standards. Expectations for women were undoubtedly different in the 1960s and 70s than they are now. On the other hand, based on these letters Stevens’ modeling, etiquette and career-related courses do seem to have changed young women’s lives for the better. Women in the 1960s and 70s were starting to make social gains that still haven’t been fully realized. The Stevens school embodies both of those: recognizing that even though women were still expected to behave in certain ways, there were also new opportunities opening up for them, and they would need appropriate education and training in order to succeed. In short, Stevens tried to provide both of those. Perhaps then there is more to the modeling school than meets the eye. Projecting our modern ideas backwards even a couple generations isn’t always wise. As antiquated, unhealthy, and even incorrect as instruction about posture, diet, personal care and etiquette may have been, it’s clear at least some of Stevens’ students found what they learned empowering and that they credited her with helping them improve their lives.   

 

Selections from the Equal Rights Songbook

In 1971-1972, the National Organization for Women, along with other women’s rights advocacy groups fought for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. First written by Alice Paul in 1923, it was brought before Congress repeatedly over the ensuing decades. In 1971, the House of Representatives finally passed an updated version of the Amendment, which read as follows:

 Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The ERA eventually passed the Senate in the spring of 1972. As with any potential amendment, it then went to the states for ratification. It needed 38 states to ratify for passage, but only received 35 before the expiration of the ratification deadline. 5 other states eventually rescinded their ratification. The ERA still has support, and has been re-proposed numerous times. However the campaign of the 1970s remains its high water mark. LaBudde Special Collections houses some memorabilia related to the ERA crusade of the early 1970s. This post brings you a pamphlet with several “Songs to Pass the ERA By” (pictured below).

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The small collection of songs appears to have been compiled from contributors, whose names and locations are noted with each song. The songs in the brochure are drawn from several sources. First, “Shoulder to Shoulder” is derived from the song “March of the Women.” “March of the Women” was written in 1910 by two Englishwomen; composer Ethel Smyth and actress/writer Cecily Hamilton.

Both were active in the English Women’s Rights movement, and they wrote the song for the Women’s Social and Political Union, active in England 1903-1917. At the time it was written, the song was described as “at once a hymn and a call to battle.”

The “call to battle” theme continues with a song set to the US Army marching tune “Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Like “March of the Women,” it focuses on unity, or “sisterhood.” The other contribution to the NOW songbook that draws on American patriotism was a pro-ERA song set to the tune of “America the Beautiful.” This song is not a call to battle, instead it is a celebration of a brighter future in which men and women are “living in full equality.” The battle to pass the ERA coincided closely with the bicentennial of the United States, a point the NOW songwriters did not overlook. Both patriotic songs emphasized that 200 years had passed since the Declaration of Independence.

The little songbook is peppered with creative adaptations of popular songs as well. Two short sing-a-longs are set to “Brother John” (“Frère Jacques”) and “Row Your Boat.” A member of the Chicago branch of NOW submitted a pro-ERA song set to “Dinah Shore’s Chevy Song.”

Even though the jingle itself was a couple decades old, Dinah Shore would have been familiar to TV audiences from her numerous variety shows in the 1950s to her daily talk show during the 70s.. “Bella Ciao” takes a different approach, leveraging a less lighthearted subject. “Bella Ciao” (Italian for “Goodbye Beautiful”) is a song of resistance that was sung by anti-fascist Italian groups the 1943-1945 Italian Civil War. Again, a version of it is below. (LaBudde Special Collections is not responsible for any of these songs getting stuck in your head.)

These songs are evidence that ERA supporters saw themselves as part of a much wider movement. By borrowing from patriotic American traditions, they linked themselves with America’s past. They also looked worldwide, borrowing from longs of resistance and political movements written in other countries. Finally, the songwriters cleverly recycled one of the most famous commercial jingles ever written into a song for political action. This is a small document, but it encapsulates the vibrancy of the ERA movement and the NOW membership. Whether “Bella Ciao” or “Row Your Boat,” songs can become more than the sum of their parts, and music’s flexibility as a medium allows its use by groups across space and time.  

Sources

YouTube

http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/336era.html

NOW Collection, MS-302, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a Reference Guide, 1866–1928. (London: Routledge, 2001).

Beyond Respect: Aretha Franklin records in the Marr Sound Archives

Aretha Franklin at the Kauffman center in May, 2012. (courtesy of Media Mikes)

We all know Aretha Franklin. She is (for now) the most successful American female solo artist in history. She’s the Queen of Soul who recorded the song that became an anthem for women everywhere. In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked her as the #1 singer of all time, saying “when it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” On February 9, 2017, Rolling Stone also announced that Franklin is retiring from public performing following the release of her next album. With that in mind, we at the Marr Sound Archive want to give you a taste of some of her work that is in our collection. Some of this you may know, some not. We’ll start with the song everyone knows (or should know), and work backwards to her earliest record.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the recording and release of “Respect,” recorded at Atlantic Records Studio in New York City on February 14, 1967. The song was the lead track on the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (released March 10, 1967, Atlantic 8139) and was later released as a single (April 29, 1967, Atlantic 45-2403). We have both the albums and the historic single. “Respect” was produced by Jerry Wexler. Wexler worked with Franklin from 1966-1975. He also has connections to the Kansas-Missouri area. In the 1930s, Wexler attended Kansas State University. Outside of school he received his introduction to Jazz and Blues music by visiting bars and music clubs along Twelfth Street in Kansas City.

Prior to working with Wexler at Atlantic Records, Aretha was with Columbia Records. Her first secular album was Aretha: with the Ray Bryant Combo, (Columbia CL1612) released by Columbia in 1961. In addition to vocals, she played piano on four tracks: “Won’t be Long” “Who Needs You?,” “Are You Sure” and “Maybe I’m a Fool”. At 18 she was still a somewhat raw talent. Below are short clips transcribed from our copy of the album. Listen closely to “Maybe I’m a Fool” and you can hear her voice break just a little.

Ray Bryant and Aretha were both signed to Columbia Records by producer John Hammond in 1959. Like Wexler, Hammond had some connections to Kansas City, having signed Count Basie to Columbia in 1936. 1959 was a big year for Hammond. That year he signed Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

Aretha at about 14 years old when she was first recorded by Joe Von Battle. (courtesy www.bless-this-soul.com)

Aretha Franklin got her start singing at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was minister there from 1946 until 1979. C.L Franklin became a central figure in the black community. According to Mark Bego, the Franklin home “played host to a virtual who’s who of popular black music.” Young Aretha was part of the church choir. Her father recognized her talent, and at 14 he began taking her to other churches to perform with gospel groups. As Reverend Franklin’s own legend grew, he organized a “traveling revival show.” As a teenager, Aretha spent several summers traveling with the road show’s choir. At the same time, Joe Von Battles was recording LPs of Reverend Franklin’s sermons. Battles was a Detroit record shop owner, and founder of JVB Records (later changed to Battle Records). In 1956, Battles recorded 14-year old Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church. The Marr Sound Archives does not have any copies of Battle’s original album. In fact, original JVB/Battle pressings are quite probably the rarest of all Aretha records. Fortunately, the songs Battle recorded have been re-issued a number of times by Chess, Checker, Geffen, and other record labels. In our collection is a 1982 issue by Checker Records (Checker LP CH8500), for which music critic Peter Guralnick wrote the album notes. Of Franklin’s performance, Guralnick wrote “everything that Aretha would one day become, the same soulful struts that she would put into “I Never Loved a Man, “Respect,” even funky old “Dr. Feelgood,” are all here in the plain, unvarnished, but far-from-simple truth of hymns.” We are not professional music critics, but having listened to this album we think it is pretty extraordinary. The lead track on that album can be heard below.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary life and career. She was a true prodigy, a gifted singer surrounded my other successful black musicians. She was seemingly destined for stardom from an early age. However her personal life was marked by a series of devastating emotional experiences. In his biography, Bego concludes that both of these factors shaped her music. Hopefully hearing her sing at various stages in her life gives readers a greater appreciation for the treasure she truly is.

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Sources:

Aretha Gospel. Recorded September 10, 1991. Geffen, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed February 20, 2017.

Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin : The Queen of Soul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

Marr Sound Archives contains well over 100 entries for Aretha Franklin in our Library Catalog. Among these are many of her classic LPs and singles, including the ones mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll come listen to some of them soon!

Correction: Previously this post had a full version of the 1956 album. Since only UMKC network users could stream it, we’ve replaced it with a youtube link. The whole album can be heard at the Marr Sound Archives.

Black History Month: Zora Neale Hurston on American School of the Air

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The American School of the Air was an educational radio program aired on CBS during the 1930s and 40s. The long-running show tackled American history, science, music and literature under the heading of daily subjects such as “Frontiers of Democracy,” “Science Frontiers,” “This Living World,” and “Gateways to Music” and broadcasts were often used as a supplement to classroom education across the nation.

On December 8, 1938 the umbrella title was “American Literature of the Twentieth Century” and the guest was author, anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. In this very rare episode of American School of the Air, Hurston tells African-American folk tales from her collection entitled Mules and Men. These may be the only audio recordings in existence of her reading these particular works.

Among the folktales heard here are “Why There Are Negroes and Other Races,” “How God Made Butterflies,” a series of animal tales as well as tales of exaggeration as heard below:

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Zora-Neale-Hurston-tells-an-exaggera.mp3|titles=Zora Neale Hurston tells a tale of exaggeration.]

Perhaps best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was active during the Harlem Renaissance alongside such contemporaries as Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. She received widespread criticism for her heavy use of dialect in her writing. Critics felt she was perpetuating a longstanding tradition of racially charged stereotypes of African-American men, women, and children in literature and popular culture.  She was also praised, however, for her use of idiomatic speech and her dedication to preserving and handing down the grand tradition of African-American folklore and oral history.

Hurston’s work as an anthropologist led her to back to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, where she recorded oral histories and gathered ethnographic research on music and folklore dating back to the days of American slavery. She gives a brief history and explanation of “negro folktales” and their contribution to American culture at the begnning of the episode.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Zora-Neale-Hurston-explains-folk-tal.mp3|titles=Zora Neale Hurston provides a brief explanation of negro folk tales and their origins.]

The Marr Sound Archives holds approximately 162 episodes of The American School of the Air within the J. David Goldin collection, all of which are all searchable in the library catalog and RadioGoldindex and are available upon request.

Patricia Stevens Collection – Evolution of the Adolescent Female

Patricia Stevens started her career as a professional model in Chicago in 1945. The late Florence Czarnecki Stevens became “Patricia Stevens” only after her 1946 marriage to a young Chicago entrepreneur named James Stevens. Before he met Flo, he had already named his training school, a business designed to help women navigate the post-war work world.

An early subscriber to Stevens’ vision was Howard Hughes. The millionaire industrialist and Trans World Airlines chairman was Jim Stevens’ first big client. Hughes hired the new company to train TWA stewardesses when the airline was still bKIC Document_Page_3ased in Kansas City. In 1948 every airline attendant hired by TWA was trained by Patricia Stevens with guaranteed placement by TWA; that division was called Stevens Air College. They even had half an airplane in their building to help in their training. The Patricia Stevens Career College & Model Agency came later. Jim’s sister, Bernadine, legally changed her name to Patricia; but Flo, the woman who everyone assumed was the real Patricia Stevens, never did. In the late 1950s the Patricia Stevens School System chose Kansas City as a home base owing to the fact that the Kansas City Market was the most difficult in the franchised chain of 55 schools to operate. The chain of modeling schools and talent agencies bearing her adopted name extended across the country

Flo’s three daughters – Patricia Jr., the eldest; Melissa, the second born; and Sheila the youngest – were groomed to be stylish, poised and popular. They weren’t just the daughters of a familiar local brand; they were walking advertisements for the family business. The oldest daughter, Patricia, was voted Miss Teenage Kansas City in 1968. The youngest, Sheila, dressed up as the Easter Bunny every spring for the Easter parade, which Flo Stevens started on the Country Club Plaza in 1960. This popular tradition continued for over three decades, until its swan song in 1995. KIC Document_Page_1

The Stevens collection shines a reflective light into the past and the antiquated mind set of what a woman’s role was to be in contemporary society. It was Patricia Stevens charge to indoctrinate young women to the importance of personal appearance and proper deportment. Informational handouts and class curriculum dictate the need to begin a regiment, beginning as a young child, establishing wardrobe colors which will best suit personality and social acceptance. Levels of training included modeling courses, fashion merchandising, charm classes and business classes. Modeling students were groomed to participate in fashion shows and other such events as well as compete in local and national beauty competitions. Debbie Bryant, Miss America 1966, was a graduate of the Patricia Stevens School. KIC Document

The Patricia Stevens Collection is a wake-up call to those who came of age in an era when women held a social status unique to those of today’s standards. It is enlightening to say the least, with elements of humor, shock and, at times, disbelief. Confidential correspondence speaks to a level of hero worship and even psychological dependence  on the Matriarch of this organization, Flo Stevens who, according to her students was either embraced or rebuked. There would be no middle ground. It is rich in content for a researcher interested in the study of women’s historical cultural issues. It is also the story of a family – the Stevens family, a single mother and her three young daughters – who lived and breathed for what they felt was a noble cause; and, for the most part, who felt their students to be part of their extended family.

Teresa Wilson Gipson, Library Information Specialist II, LaBudde Special Collections

Some Excerpts from:
Ferruzza, Charles. “Melissa Stevens – heir to the Patricia Stevens Modeling School – refuses to be forgotten.” Pitch Weekly. August 9-15, 2012.

National Women’s History Month

2012-03-08_WomensHistoryMonth_Goldin_we-can-do-itNational Women’s History Month was initially only celebrated for a week during the month of March. In 1987, United States Congress passed a resolution expanding the observance from a week to a month due to the appeals made by the National Women’s History Project (NWHP). In celebration of National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I would like to highlight a few of the various radio programs available in the J. David Goldin Collection that feature women.

The collection contains interviews with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Adele Astaire, Marian Anderson, Hildegarde, Ilka Chase, Gertrude Lawrence, (Savings Bond campaign. Prominent women series. Program nos. 7-12), and Jessie Street (A look at Australia. Program no. 42, Women in the United States) just to name a few.

In addition to interviews, the collection also contains dramas, such as the story of well-known suffragist, Susan B. Anthony who was arrested for trying to vote on Nov. 18, 1872 (Lest we forget. Second series, program no. 17), stories about women’s rights (The U.N. story. No. 55, A little bit of justice; U.N. story. #16, Adam’s rib), and stories about how women have contributed and been an integral part of society (Lest we forget. 5th series, program no. 8, A better world for youth; A story for you. Program no. 6, Princess Kartini schools for girls). Besides interviews and dramas you can also find debates with female political figures, music programs featuring a variety of female singers, and much more waiting to be discovered.

Patricia Altamirano, Library Specialist, Special Formats