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Persis Foster Eames Albee

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Persis Foster Eames Albee
PFE Albee, ca 1899.jpg
PFE Albee, circa 1899
Born(1836-05-30)May 30, 1836
Newry, Maine, United States
DiedDecember 7, 1914(1914-12-07) (aged 78)
Other namesPersis Foster Eames, PFE Albee
Known forFirst Avon Lady

Persis Foster Eames Albee (May 30, 1836 – December 7, 1914), also known as PFE Albee, was an American businessperson and entrepreneur. She was a professional saleswoman for the California Perfume Company, which later became Avon Products, and is considered the first "Avon Lady" due to her successful marketing techniques and her recruiting and training of other sales personnel. She was a pioneer in getting women to become financially independent.[citation needed]

Early life and marriage[edit]

Persis Foster Eames (later shortened to "PFE") was born on May 30, 1836, in Newry, Maine, to Alexander Eames and Miranda Howe Eames. She had four sisters.[1] In 1866, at 30 years of age, while residing in Williamsburg, New York, she married Ellery Albee. He was an attorney in Winchester, New Hampshire, and from 1869 to 1871 was a New Hampshire State Senator.[2][3] The couple had a son, Ellery, born in 1870, and a daughter, Ellen, born in 1873.[4] Soon after the marriage, the couple moved to Winchester and lived in a white two-story colonial house on the riverbank near a railroad station in the center of town. The house included a store outlet and their store having the city's only public telephone made it a natural congregation point.[5]


In 1879 New York City book dealer David H. McConnell visited the Albee's Winchester home to purvey books. His success in selling books led to his promotion as regional manager in charge of various U.S. territories, in which capacity he recruited other book dealers. Recalling Albee and her store outlet, she was recruited as a sales agent. She started part-time at first, while running her own store at home, and eventually became a "Depot Agent" because of her location near the town's only train station and her use of it.[2]

McConnell innovated new ways to merchandise his books, pairing them with free samples of homemade rose-scented perfume. Seeing that the perfumes interested the ladies more than the books, he began selling perfumes with books. In 1886, he started the California Perfume Company. Albee was one of McConnell's most successful dealers and within months became his first "Depot Manager" in charge of her own district of saleswomen that she recruited. She was a reputable and successful businesswoman and became known in the California Perfume Company as its "mother" because of her practical system and innovative methods for selling the company's products.[2][6] Woman-to-woman selling was seen by McConnnell as a way to open doors and increase sales.[2]

McConnell was in charge of the company's headquarters: a 20-by-25-foot (6.1 m × 7.6 m) floor space of a six-story building at 126 Chambers Street in Manhattan in New York City. He was the chemist, along with his wife, Lucy, who developed the first five perfume fragrances. The other original office staff at the beginning included a stenographer, an office assistant, and a shipping clerk. His only general sales manager was Albee, who brought in other agents and saleswomen to expand the company business. She helped in developing new products, and the company expanded to take over all the floors of the building.[7]

Widowed in 1885, the town's census records showed her as a dealer in household and holiday goods. Her variety store was amalgamated with selling perfume and other products for women by the following year.[8] Albee ran the variety store from her home in 1886 when she was 50 years old and did door-to-door sales in Winchester and Cheshire County, New Hampshire.[9] She was a California Perfume Company businesswoman and had pioneered direct door-to-door selling techniques still used today.[10][11] She developed a women-only network to sell directly to other women.[12] This gave women an opportunity to earn an income and become financially independent, when traditionally it was a work force of only men.[13]

PFE Albee 1886, dressed professionally as saleslady.

Albee devised a product that was known as "Little Dot Perfume Set", consisting of five bottles of perfumes assembled in a box kit.[10][14][15][16] The perfumes were floral scented.[17] Over a hundred women were recruited as "Avon Ladies" in the first year to sell the box set as their main product.[18][19][20] Albee trained more than 5,000 representatives to sell cosmetic products in her 12-year career with the company, which later became known as Avon.[10]

Albee dressed professionally, according to the fashion of the time, when she did door-to-door sales.[4] Typical was a nineteenth-century dress or other fashions of the time. Occasionally she wore a lined hat, dress gloves, and high buttoned boots. She carried an agent's manual stating that her samples were actual items from stock and were identical to the ones that customers would receive after purchase.[14]

Albee later offered a variety of California Perfume Company cosmetics to her customers. She became a beauty adviser and sold creams, soaps, and toothpaste in addition to perfumes. Albee typically traveled by horse and buggy in her territorial district and by train into other states in the Northeast in the pre-automobile era. In the process of selling she managed to recruit more women as sales agents.[21] These jobs were self-managed, selling the California Perfume Company's line of women's products through low-pressure sales techniques at home visits.[1] Albee was with the company for 25 years and lived in Winchester during this time. The company became Avon Products years later after her death; however, Albee is considered by historian Carol Lamprey Poole as Avon's very first representative[22] – the world's first Avon Lady.[21] She is credited with inspiring the traditions now used by the Avon company as the entrepreneurial spirit in door-to-door selling.[23][24]

Other activities[edit]

Albee was also a Sunday school teacher and president of the local literary guild.[2]

Later life and death[edit]

Albee's declining health in her mid-seventies forced her to quit sales. She moved in with her daughter Ellen Albee Day at Baldwinville, Massachusetts. Albee died on December 7, 1914, at Templeton, Massachusetts when she was 78 years old. Her remains were interred in the Evergreen Cemetery in Winchester.[25][26]

Avon training center in New York


Albee's pioneering role as an independent sales agent was followed by about 450,000 other "Avon Ladies" by 1971.[27] That number had increased to over a half million by 1972.[28][29][30] Various "Albee awards" have been given to top sales performers in certain districts from time to time.[31][32]

A doll representation of Albee, produced by the creators of Hummel figurines, was given as sales awards in 1973.[33] In 1997 an Albee Barbie doll was issued; it was sold originally only to top Avon sales agents and is now a collector's item.[34][35][36]


  1. ^ a b Flanders, Vicky (2007). "The 1st Avon Lady Biography". Historical Society of Cheshire County. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Klepacki 2010, p. 18.
  3. ^ Hast 1991, p. 15.
  4. ^ a b "First Avon Lady". The Index-Journal. Greenwood, South Carolina. April 19, 1992 – via open access.
  5. ^ Klepacki 2010, pp. 17–18.
  6. ^ DeLozier 1977, p. 95.
  7. ^ Klepacki 2010, p. 19.
  8. ^ Sherrow 2001, p. 25.
  9. ^ Thompson 2001, p. 334.
  10. ^ a b c Krismann 2005, p. 21.
  11. ^ Langdon 2004, p. 56.
  12. ^ Sloane 2007, p. 78.
  13. ^ Kochan 1996, p. 14.
  14. ^ a b Klepacki 2010, pp. 21.
  15. ^ Panati 2016, p. 244.
  16. ^ Moskowitz, Levering & Katz 1990, p. 154.
  17. ^ Klepacki 2010, pp. 20.
  18. ^ Grant 1998, p. 26.
  19. ^ Rangan 2005, p. 449.
  20. ^ Kalan, Jonathan. "Africa's 'Avon Ladies' saving lives door-to-door". Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  21. ^ a b Poole & Farnan 2012, p. 69.
  22. ^ L.M. Boyd (July 3, 1979). "Here's to the first Avon lady". Daily Sitka Sentinel. Sitka, Alaska. p. 2 – via open access.
  23. ^ Williams 2017, p. 212.
  24. ^ Friedman 2009, p. 202.
  25. ^ Klepacki 2010, p. 22.
  26. ^ Poole & Farnan 2012, p. 119.
  27. ^ Bender, Marylin (December 12, 1971). "Do The Chimes Toll for Avon Lady?". The San Bernardino County Sun. San Bernardino, California. p. 43 – via open access.
  28. ^ Olsen 1994, p. 157.
  29. ^ James 2002, p. 32.
  30. ^ Henninger, Daniel (July 12, 1972). "Pleasant old country boy keeps industry booming". The Pocono Record. Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. p. 15 – via open access. This year, Mrs Albee's 550,000 commercial descendants will sell more that $1 billion in Avon products.
  31. ^ Bailey, Mary (January 6, 2005). "Combining old-fashion sales & thousands of cups of coffee". The Sun and the Erie County Independent. Hamburg, New York. p. 16 – via open access.
  32. ^ "Avon ladies are honored for service". Great Bend Tribune. Great Bend, Kansas. September 16, 1973. p. 25 – via open access.
  33. ^ "Everybody's business". The Pocono Record. Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1973. p. 19 – via open access.
  34. ^ Weber 2008, p. 453.
  35. ^ Hastin 1998, p. 495.
  36. ^ Augustyniak 1999, p. 29.


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