Lena Bryant's Legacy: Inspiring True Story

The Jewish fashion pioneer changed the way women dressed and did business.

Lena Himmelstein, a 16-year-old Jewish orphan from Lithuania, arrived alone in New York City in 1895. Lena sewed dresses. She married David Bryant, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and had a baby boy, Raphael.

David died suddenly a month after Raphael was born. Lena would hold him on her lap while she sewed late into the night.

She was very successful and opened her own shop in 1904. The bank loan misspelled her name as Lane. She didn’t correct the error and kept Lane Bryant as her business name.

In 1907, Lena designed one of the first ever maternity dresses. At the time, pregnant women were rarely seen in public. But a generation of modern, working women wanted the freedom to wear comfortable clothes during pregnancy. Lena designed an elastic-waist maternity dress for a pregnant customer. An instant hit, it became her bestselling item.

Lena married Albert Maslin in 1909. He ran Lena’s business while she focused on design. They had two children together, Theodore and Helen.

When the New York Herald broke conformity and ran an ad for Lena’s maternity clothes in 1911, her supply sold out the next day. To reach customers, Lane Bryant started one of the first mail-order catalogs. It became one of the nation’s most popular catalogs.

Lena then designed stylish, plus-sized clothing, changing the way American women dressed.

Lena and Albert opened the first Lane Bryant store in Chicago in 1915, appealing to women of all sizes. Within 50 years, there were 100 Lane Bryant stores across the US.

When Albert died in 1923, Lena pioneered new ways of doing business. Her workers had employee benefits, rare in the early 1900s. They enjoyed health insurance, pensions, disability, life insurance and profit sharing.

After World War II, Lane Bryant stores became drop-off and distribution centers for needy people in Europe, including Holocaust survivors living in Displaced Persons camps.

Lena insisted that Lane Bryant replace the wardrobe of any customer who experienced a natural disaster.

Lena was active in supporting American Jewish causes, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the NY Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. She died in 1951 at the age of 71. Her children continued Lane Bryant’s ethos of stylish fashion for all. Lena’s legacy is a testament to her values, faith and determination to help others.



Comments (5)

(5) Denise Gilbert, April 19, 2020 10:27 AM

all the stories

i was moved beyond words by the beauty of the stories and how Hashem is with us when we believe is gone and without hope. thank you so much for these movings stories. lets hope to hear more.

(4) David Tholen, March 29, 2020 5:26 PM

Unaware

I found this very interesting because even after working for Lane Bryant here in Indianapolis for a few years I was totally unaware of this bit of history. Thanks for bringing this into my awareness.

(3) Ruby G.K., March 29, 2020 3:09 PM

Admirable video

Thank you for highlighting a person's comeback from tragedy and turning it into a way to give to others!
I will always look at Lane Bryant stores differently because of this video!
More people should see it!
Beautifully done.

(2) Elaine H. Kline, March 29, 2020 2:38 PM

Fascinating Mercantile History

My paternal grandmother, Rose Barmack Huberman was a Seamstress for Lane Bryant Philadelphia. Had no idea that Lane Bryant initiated the concept of Maternity Dresses. dressses

(1) Kolakaluri satyaseela rao, February 20, 2020 12:54 AM

Thanks to share inspiring true story of lena bryant's legacy

 

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