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Avon History

Written by Gail Reynolds on November 24, 2010

BREAKING NEWS - The Board of Selectman in Historic Winchester New Hampshire recently procalimed June 1st as Persis Albee Day, the same day that the Winchester Historical Society had the  Grand Opening  of the Albee Room at the Sheridan House in Historic Winchester NH. Lisa M Wilber presided over the ceremony and read a letter dated June 1st 2008 written by none other than Andrea Jung, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Avon. Lisa Wilber spearheaded the fundraising drive after becoming aware that Mrs. Albee first started in her home state. Harry Bickford was also present and spoke of the positive impact this will have on the town itself. "Our town may just have a new identity now" said Bickford.  State Representative Stanley (Butch) Plifka and the Winchester Town Selectman were also present and everybody agreed that this is a most worthy endeavor.

The National Special Events Registry www.celebratetoday.com has officially designated December 7th as "The First Avon Lady Day". This day honors Mrs. P.F.E. Albee, the woman David McConnell, the founder of the California Perfume Company (now known as Avon) called The Mother of the California Perfume Company. Avon Representatives call her The First Avon Lady. December 7 was chosen in her honor because that is the day she was born in 1836. The company’s very successful, and often imitated sales plan was the idea of Mrs. Persis Foster Eames (P.F.E.) Albee. Mrs. Albee, a woman from Winchester, New Hampshire, is often referenced as the company’s first ‘Avon Lady’ but she was much more than that. Known as a ‘General Traveling Agent’ Mrs. Albee was hired to take over the daily operations of the perfume sales. She developed a business plan that was not only incredibly successful, but also became one of the identifiers of the company. She recruited women to serve as ‘depot agents’ selling the perfumes and other products door to door in their own neighborhoods. By 1903 the California Perfume Company had a network of over 10,000 agents. She was so important in the early years of of the company that in McConnell’s 1903 publication, The History of the California Perfume Company, he referred to Albee as “Mother of the California Perfume Company.”

Plans are in the works to honor Avon pioneer Albee called Winchester home COLLECTIBLES — A portrait of Persis Albee and the famous Avon slogan are among the items that will be included in a museum room dedicated to the former Winchester resident. STEVE HOOPER / Sentinel Staff WINCHESTER - Persis F. E. Albee may be a symbol of empowerment and success for millions of women around the world, but in Albee's hometown of Winchester, there isn't a monument, plaque or display to memorialize her life. That's about to change, thanks to Weare resident Lisa M. Wilber, whose reverence for Albee was overflowing when she spoke Thursday night at Winchester's historical museum, the Sheridan House. Albee, who was born in 1836 and died in 1914, lived most of her adult life at 9 Elm St. in Winchester. She was the first saleswoman for the California Perfume Co., which eventually became the Avon cosmetics company. Wilber, the nation's fourth-highest grossing Avon saleswoman, credits Albee with establishing the business model of door-to-door sales that enabled generations of women to earn a living independently. "She's like Susan B. Anthony, for heaven's sake, for me," Wilber told more than a dozen residents who gathered in the Sheridan House's living room, referring to the 19th-century civil rights leader who pushed for a woman's right to vote. Avon's sales force is 4 million worldwide, including 600,000 in the United States, she said. "Avon has allowed me to have a life that I never thought possible, and I trace that back to Ms. Albee's involvement," she said. Wilber arrived at the museum Thursday night with a check in hand for $7,310. She has spent the last year raising money - she had originally hoped to raise $50,000 - to dedicate one of the museum's nine rooms to Albee. "I hope you'll be patient with me because I really want to continue" raising money for an Albee display, Wilber said. Wilber said she launched her fundraising campaign after visiting Winchester in September 2005 to hear a talk by Laura Klepacki, a journalist who researched Albee's life while writing a book about the history of Avon. "It almost broke my heart" that there wasn't a statue or some other public display honoring Albee, Wilber said. The $7,310 came from 39 donors, two of whom were Avon saleswomen. They gave $1,000 each, Wilber said. Winchester resident Thelma Dickinson Dubriske, 90, remembers playing with Persis Albee's granddaughter, Nancy Albee, when they were children. At the time, Nancy's grandmother was "very renowned for the town," said Dubriske, who called Nancy's father - Persis' son - a "first-class" man. Renee Brewer, president of the Winchester Historical Society, said the money will be spent hiring a contractor to build display shelves for dozens of Persis Albee figurines, saucers and other items Wilber has collected from donors for the display. Since 1969, Avon has awarded 10-inch tall porcelain figurines of Albee to the company's top sales representatives. Women in 143 countries have received an Albee figurine in recent years, Wilber said. The new room may also feature a life-sized mannequin in period dress, she said. Before Wilber handed over the check, Brewer read an excerpt from Klepacki's book, called "Avon: Building the World's Premier Company for Women." "Albee and her husband, Ellery Albee, an attorney who served as New Hampshire state senator from the Ninth District from 1869 to 1871, operated a variety store together from their home in Winchester," Brewer read aloud. The passage told of how Albee erected a display case featuring California products in her store. Winchester resident Harry Bickford is especially excited about the attention now being paid to Persis Albee's legacy - largely because he now owns the home where Albee once lived. Bickford has been trying to bring Albee back into the spotlight for more than two decades in hopes of turning his home into an Albee-themed inn and cafe. In resuscitating Albee's history, Wilber is doing something Bickford couldn't do, he said. When it comes to Mrs. Albee, "nobody is going to listen to me," Bickford said. "I'm a 50-year-old man, not your typical AVON Lady!"

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