Mary Kay Ash

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Mary Kay Ash
Photograph of woman with curly white hair wearing a black garment and a gem as a necklace
Mary Kay Ash
Mary Kathlyn Wagner

(1918-05-12)May 12, 1918
DiedNovember 22, 2001(2001-11-22) (aged 83)
Resting placeSparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery
EducationThe University of Houston
OccupationFounder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
  • Ben Rogers
    (m. 1935; div. 1945)
  • George Hallenbeck
    (m. 1963; died 1963)
  • Melville J. Ash
    (m. 1966; died 1980)
Parent(s)Edward Alexander Wagner
Lula Vember Hastings

Mary Kay Ash (born Mary Kathlyn Wagner; May 12, 1918, – November 22, 2001) was an American businesswoman and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. At her death, she had a fortune of $98 million, and her company had more than $1.2 billion in sales with a sales force of more than 800,000 in at least three dozen countries.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mary Kay Ash, born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Harris County, Texas, was the daughter of Edward Alexander and Lula Vember Hastings Wagner.[2] Her mother was trained as a nurse and later became a manager of a restaurant in Houston.[3] Ash attended Dow Elementary School and Reagan High School in Houston and graduated in 1934.[4]

Ash married Ben Rogers at age 17. They had three children, Ben Jr., Marylin Reed, and Richard Rogers. While her husband served in World War II, she sold books door-to-door. After her husband's return in 1945, they divorced.[5] She later married the brother of Mary C. Crowley, founder of Home Interiors and Gifts.[6]


Ash went to work for Stanley Home Products in 1939.[7] Frustrated when passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained, Ash retired in 1963 and intended to write a book to assist women in business. The book turned into a business plan for her ideal company, and in the summer of 1963, Mary Kay Ash and her new husband, George Hallenbeck,[2] planned to start Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, George died of a heart attack that same year.[2] Ash was 45 years old.[3]

One month after George's death, with a $5,000 investment from her oldest son, Ben Rogers, Jr., Ash started Mary Kay Cosmetics. Richard Rogers took George's place in the company. The company started its original storefront operation "Beauty By Mary Kay" in Dallas. They used a 500‐square‐foot storefront with nine saleswomen signed up.[3] Ash copied the same “house party” model used by Stanley, Tupperware, and others. A Mary Kay representative would invite her friends over for free facials, then pitch the products. Profits rolled in, with double‐digit growth every year.[8]

According to Gavenas:

Mary Kay was a very visible, very active, and almost ridiculously feminine‐looking role model: a God‐fearing, hard‐working, immaculately groomed mother of three who was doing everything within her power to see other women get ahead, and who loved mentoring so much that she referred to her saleswomen as her “daughters.” Also unlike Avon, Mary Kay made her saleswomen more profit per unit: a Mary Kay lipstick cost roughly double the price of an Avon lipstick and hence made twice the profit, while the home‐party format meant that several customers could be approached at once...Mary Kay made her company purposely inclusive, enabling her rapid expansion into Australia, South America, Europe, and Asia.[8]


Both during her life and posthumously, Ash received numerous honors from business groups, including the Horatio Alger Award. In 1980, Ash received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[9] Ash was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1996. A long-time fundraiser for charities, she founded the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation to raise money to combat domestic violence and cancers affecting women. Ash served as Mary Kay Cosmetics' chairman until 1987 when she was named Chairman Emeritus. Fortune magazine recognized Mary Kay Inc. with inclusion in "The 100 best companies to work for in America". The company was also named one of the best 10 companies for women to work for. Her last acknowledgments while she was still alive were the "Equal Justice Award" from Legal Services of North Texas in 2001 and "Most Outstanding Woman in Business in the 20th Century" from Lifetime Television in 1999.[7]

Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc.[edit]

Ash and her partners, which included her son Richard, took the company public in 1968. Seventeen years later, in 1985, the Mary Kay Cosmetics board decided to make the company private again. Ash remained active in Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. until suffering a stroke in 1996. Richard Rogers was named CEO of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 2001.[10] At the time of Ash's death, Mary Kay Cosmetics had over 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, with total annual sales of over $200 million.


Ash was the author of several books, including Mary Kay, an autobiography in 1994 and Miracles Happen and You Can Have It All in 1995.[11][12] Her first book, called Mary Kay on People Management, was published in 1984 and was on the New York Times Best Seller List.[13]


Mary Kay Ash died on November 22, 2001.[14] She is interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.[15]


  1. ^ Gavenas, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Leavitt, Judith A. (1985) American Women Managers and Administrators Greenwood Publishing, Westport, Connecticut, p. 14, ISBN 0-313-23748-4
  3. ^ a b c Ash, Mary Kay. Mary Kay, October 1981, Harper & Row, ISBN 0-06-014878-0
  4. ^ "Distinguished Archived 2012-05-15 at the Wayback Machine." Houston Independent School District.
  5. ^ Nemy, Enid (November 23, 2001). "Mary Kay Ash, Who Built a Cosmetics Empire and Adored Pink, Is Dead at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  6. ^ Myerson, Allen R. (July 13, 1994). "From At-Home Parties To a $1 Billion Buyout". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Mary Kay Ash - Most Outstanding Woman in Business in the 20th Century". June 14, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Gavenas, 2008
  9. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  10. ^ Archives, L. A. Times (June 27, 2001). "Mary Kay Names Founder's Son as CEO". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  11. ^ "Mary Kay Ash Dies". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  12. ^ "Mary Kay Ash dies at age 83". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  13. ^ "BEST SELLERS Oct. 14, 1984". The New York Times. October 14, 1984. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  14. ^ Nemy, Enid (November 24, 2001). "Mary Kay Ash, Builder of Beauty Empire, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Charrier, Emily (September 20, 2016). "Ghosts of Sparkman-Hillcrest: Mickey Mantle, Mary Kay Ash and H.L. Hunt". The Advocate. Retrieved June 18, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gavenas, Mary Lisa. "Ash, Mary Kay" American National Biography (20080_
  • Gavenas, Mary Lisa. Mary Lisa Gavenas, Color Stories: Behind the Scenes of America's Billion‐Dollar Beauty Industry (2002).
  • Gross, Daniel. Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time (1996).
  • Gheorghe, Ionescu Gh, and Negrusa Adina. "Some aspects about the life of the greatest female entrepreneur in American history, Mary Kay Ash." Annals of the University of Oradea, Economic Science Series 18.1 (2009): 47–57. online
    • Ionescu, Gh, And Adina Negrusa. "Mary Kay Ash, The Greatest Female Entrepreneur In American History And Business Ethics." Management & Marketing 4.4 (2009). online
  • Stefoff, Rebecca (1992) Mary Kay Ash: Mary Kay, a Beautiful Business Garrett Educational Corp., Ada, Okla., ISBN 1-56074-012-4
  • Rozakis, Laurie (1993) Mary Kay: Cosmetics Queen Rourke Enterprises, Vero Beach, Fla., ISBN 0-86592-040-0
  • Waggoner, Catherine Egley. "The emancipatory potential of feminine masquerade in Mary Kay cosmetics." Text and Performance Quarterly 17.3 (1997): 256–272.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Ash, Mary Kay (1984) Mary Kay on people management New York, NY, Warner Books, Inc.
  • Ash, Mary Kay (1994) Miracles Happen: Mary Kay Ash The Life and Timeless Principles of the Founder of Mary Kay Inc. Harper Collins Publishers, New York,ISBN 0-06-092601-5; autobiography

External links[edit]