The year was 1919, and a company was about to try something new in the world of advertising. Known as the Woman’s Home Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, it was trying to reach women who were interested in learning how to sew, cook, or make their own hats at home.
Some of them were teachers who needed to look presentable but received little money to make that happen. Others worked in the offices of the cities, and found that after the month’s room and board were paid, they had little left for the luxuries of life. Most were housewives old and new. Some longed for an artistic outlet outside the home, while others needed a little help to make ends meet.
They had only been in business for three years, as an offshoot of a larger correspondance school. Here Mary Brooks Picken served as Director of Instruction. She wrote most of the manuals used in the courses. She had a passion for helping women to succeed in the places they could. And students were enrolling, but it was slow. Then one night the president of the Institute, G. Lynn Sumner, decided to take a chance. Try something entirely different. He, along with the advertising firm that worked with the school, decided to tell a story designed to gather students. Their first story was called Cinderella’s Confession and it was so successful that they used it over, and over, and over. In time this story appeared in most of the popular women’s magazines of 1919-1925. Here it is.
I’m giving you the first half this time, and you’ll find the second half in the next post. These stories each completely filled a page with tiny magazine text, with only a black and white illustration and a small coupon to break the sea of type.
The story of how a shabby little stranger
became the best dressed girl in our town
Her real name was Enid, and I’ll never forget how she looked that first morning! When she came in the door the whole office stopped and stared and – I am ashamed to say it – we grinned. That dress – I suppose it had been stylish once, about five years before! Its tired-out bronze color made her face look even paler than it was and it fit her as if it had been made for a big sister. A faded old-rose toque set dejectedly upon her mass of unruly yellow hair. She was a picture – so shabby and forlorn that I pitied her!
We all thought she’d gotten into the office by mistake. But she hung up her hat and made herself at home at Sarah Long’s old desk. And there she quietly did her work for months – always the office mystery and always an object of pity among the rest of the girls at Warner’s. Hartley, the office manager, told us all he knew about her – an orphan from a little town in Iowa – that was her story in a nutshell. She roomed alone, and in the office and out she kept to herself. The truth was you just couldn’t invite her out – in those clothes. And so we simply came to regard her as an office fixture that nobody quite understood.
Then one morning, early in the fall, Enid gave the office its second shock – a more surprising one, if possible, then the first. Everybody was on time that morning – except Enid. We spent the first few minutes after the bell rang wondering where she could be. But by 9 o’clock we had all nicely settled down to work and the typewriters were clicking like mad when the door opened and in walked a wonderfully radiant creature in the neatest, prettiest, most becoming dress you ever saw and a charming hat you just knew had been made for that little blonde head!
Every typewriter stopped as if by magic, and two dozen audible murmurs of admiration registered the effect on that office full of girls. Hartley looked up from a sheet of figures with a frown, then smoothed down what hair he had with one hand, yanked off his spectacles with the other, and rose to learn the caller’s business. He was halfway between his desk and the door before the young lady who had caused all the commotion smilingly removed her hat, and we realized for the first time that it was Enid!
No one in the office could keep her mind on her work the rest of that morning. After months of the shabby bronze dress, the old-rose toque, this was too much! And no one ever realized before how pretty Enid really was. But in her new attire she was simply a new creature. The transformation was so complete that even the old name didn’t fit, and it just seemed natural that from that day we should call her “Cinderella.”
Next morning, Cinderella was dressed just as tastefully in another charming dress. She had evidently worn the old outfit until she was ready to give us a steady surprise, because after that her dresses, waists, skirts and hats were always becoming and stylish to the last degree.
I never saw such a complete and sudden change in the attitude of a lot of girls. Cinderella, instead of being ignored, became the pet of the whole office. The girls consulted her about their clothes, beaux, and other things. She was deluged with invitations. Her costumes were admired in and out of the office and she was the envy of every girl in the place.
Gradually she became popular in the social life of the town. She was in constant demand at parties and dances. Cinderella, the little stranger, had taken the town by storm and all because of her magic transformation from shabby attire to radiant, becoming clothes.
One Saturday in December, as we were all leaving the office, Cinderella called us together.
“Girls!” she said. “I’ve a secret to tell you. This is my last day at the office. I’m going to marry Tom Warner next Monday!”
Tom! Cinderella was certainly living up to her reputation for surprises. Tom was the oldest son of the boss and one of the most promising young men in town. We could hardly believe our ears, but a moment later she stepped into Tom Warner’s big gray limousine and was whisked out of sight.
None of us dreamed how much Cinderella would be missed in that office. We would gather into little clusters after lunch and recall her coming to the place and what a wonderful change had come over her and all the rest of us when she blossomed out in distinctive clothes that made her attractive, beautiful and lovable.
Then one morning Dan Hartley found in his mail a dainty scented envelope bearing a gold monogram. He opened it, called us all around him and read:
Dear Girls and Boys: I’m coming home tomorrow and I miss you all so much that you’re to be the very first guests at our new home. I want you all to come out to 301 Arlington Avenue next Wednesday evening. Come right up from the office and don’t bother about Sunday togs. I’m going to make my confession and I don’t want any of you to miss it. With love, Cinderella.