Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin (March 1877 - September 26, 1951) was an American clothing designer and retailer who founded the plus-size clothing chain Lane Bryant. Despite difficult circumstances, she saw a need and came up with a solution that revolutionized the women's fashion industry.
Early life and career
Lena Himmelstein was an orphan raised by her grandparents in Lithuania. In 1895, she immigrated to New York to join her sister Anna, where she found work in a sweat shop at $1 a week. In 1899, Lena married David Bryant, another Russian immigrant. She moved to Harlem with her husband, who was a jeweler. He died suddenly soon after their son Raphael was born. Lena then lived on West 112th St. in Manhattan. She supported herself and her son by making and selling negligees and tea gowns from delicate laces and fine silks.
In 1904, Bryant moved to Fifth Avenue between 119th and 120th Streets. She rented a shopfront on the first floor of a building for $12.50 a month, with living quarters in the rear. She hung garments from the gas fixtures, and set up shop. Her sister's new husband lent her $300 to open a bank account as working capital for the purchase of fabrics. A bank officer misspelled her name on the application as "Lane", so that became the name of the store.
Bryant earned a reputation for the clothing she made for pregnant women. Bryant created a comfortable and concealing tea gown by attaching an accordion pleated skirt to a bodice using an elastic band. She had created the first known commercially sold maternity dress. Soon she expanded to a new shop at 19 W. 38th Street where she employed a dozen girls.
Marriage and family
In 1909, at 32, she married Albert Malsin. A Lithuanian-American mechanical engineer with a degree from the Anhalt Polytechnic in Köthen, Germany, Malsin had worked for a firm that built amusement parks worldwide. Three more children, Theodore, Helen and Arthur, were born to the couple.
Lena Bryant Malsin took an active role in Jewish communal charities. She supported the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and a number of other causes. She died on September 26, 1951, at the age of 74, leaving the business to her sons in her last will and testament.
- Twelfth Census of the United States New York State, Bronx Borough, pg 39, line 37, household 375. Address: East 173rd St. This reference also lists her birth month and year, and immigration year.
- Biography at jewishvirtuallibrary.org