Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Estelle Ellis Collection


Collection ID:
Ellis, Estelle
1942 - 2004
Physical Description:
29 Cubic feet
42 boxes
Estelle Ellis is a pioneer in publishing, advertising, and marketing. She was among the first to focus on the American female demographic, especially teens and working-class women. Condé Nast Publications, Incorporated, Carter Hawley Hale-owned department stores, Phillips-Van Heusen, Dow Chemical, and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation were among her clients. The Papers include business correspondence and proposals, marketing materials, advertisements, and oral history interviews with Ellis.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Estelle Ellis Papers include material dating from the 1940s to 2004, with the majority of materials dating from the 1960s to the 1980s. Client files (including correspondence, presentations, proposals, and marketing materials) comprise the bulk of the collection. Photographic negatives, slides, and photographs from advertising campaigns and interviews with Ellis on audio and VHS cassette are also present. Ellis's personal research files on advertising and marketing, including magazine and newspaper tear sheets, are included.
The collection documents Ellis's career in publishing and as owner of Business Image, Inc. Ellis's innovative marketing and design sense is evident throughout these materials. Clients include: Carter Hawley Hale and its subsidiaries The Broadway, John Wanamaker, and Weinstock's; Condé Nast Publications and its subsidiaries
House & Garden
, and
; the Kimberly-Clark Corporation; and East/West Network, Incorporated.
Of note to researchers with interest in teen magazines will be Ellis's early work on Design for Living, a short-lived publication and precursor to Seventeen, produced by Popular Science Publishing Corporation.
Among the distinctive materials in the collection are promotional items developed for Seventeen and Charm magazines. Designed to be informative and eye-catching, these materials used creative techniques to highlight the uniquely female qualities and concerns of the magazines' readers. In one instance, price guides were "handwritten" in the form of a shopping list on a paper bag. In another example, press releases were tied in ribbons like a bundle of love letters. For students of marketing and design, as well as for historians interested in women's history and consumer culture, materials such as these will be a valuable resource.
The Estelle Ellis Papers are arranged in three series: Client Files, 1941-1994, Business Materials, 1953-2004, undated and Research Files, 1950s-2004. The original order of the materials has been retained where possible, although some reorganization has been conducted within aggregates to facilitate research.
Series 1, Client Files, 1941-1994, are arranged alphabetically by business name. Subsidiaries are listed separately from their owner. For instance, work completed for The Broadway, a Carter Hawley Hale-owned department store, is listed separately from its parent company. Where needed, sub-groups have been created and are organized by type of material or project. Materials are further organized by date. Some of the client materials were originally organized by Ellis and her late husband into seventeen oversized scrapbooks. These have been disassembled for ease of organization and access. A photocopy of each scrapbook was made to preserve a record of the original arrangement of the materials and for ready reference.
Series 2, Business Materials, 1953-2004, undated, is divided into five sub-series: Business Image, Incorporated Slides; Speeches and Articles; Greeting Cards; Awards; and Audio-Visual Materials. The slides were kept in their original order when transferred from the slide boxes to the sleeves. Of note are slides of Helmut Newton's photographs for the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche advertising campaign. (The work of prominent photographers Robert Frank and Duane Michals are represented in the materials for American Girl and Sportempos.) Speeches and articles written by Estelle Ellis span 1953 to 1994. Materials are included in this subseries based upon the original order of the collection, scope of the project, or content of the speech. Time topical greeting cards that were sent by Business Image, Inc., to clients comprise subseries 2.3. A single award from 1962 comprises Subseries 2.4. Audiovisual materials, including recorded interviews and research material, is the final subseries and is arranged by format and then date. The 1994 oral history interview by Tom Wiener on behalf of the Archives Center deals primarily with Ellis's early publishing career. The 2007 interview by historian Lu Ann Jones covers that period and later developments, including Ellis's family life. Jones's transcript of that interview is appended to this finding aid.
Series 3, Research Files, 1950s-2004, include Ellis's compilation of newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, and marketing publications. Sub-groups exist for Absolut vodka advertisements, Condé Nast Publications, and
The New Yorker
magazine. Of special note within this series is a short autobiographical note written by Ellis for her alma mater Hunter College.


The collection is arranged into three series.
Series 1: Client Files, 1942-1994
Series 2: Business materials, 1953-1994
Series 3: Research Files
Series 4: Audiovisual, 1979-2004

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
For more than fifty years, Estelle Ellis has advised American businesses about the changing face of American society: its demographics, its social structures, its values. She has helped these institutions understand social change and address the needs and interests of their diverse customers, audiences, and constituencies. Her work has spanned a period of significant social and economic change affecting women's lives and expectations. These shifts are apparent in her pioneering work for
, and
House & Garden
magazines and with corporate clients including the Kimberley-Clark Corporation, Evan-Picone, and the Carter Hawley Hale group of department stores.
Ellis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 12, 1919. She graduated from Hunter College in 1940, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a minor in Journalism. Her publishing career began at
Popular Science
magazine, which published three issues of Design for Living in 1942, before abandoning the new venture due to war-time paper shortages. Design for Living was aimed at "high school girls and the home economics teacher," and signaled the direction of Ellis' future career. Ellis also worked for Walter Annenberg's
magazine (Triangle Publications), assembling an impressive portfolio of articles.
In 1943, Editor-in-Chief Helen Valentine hired Ellis to help launch a new publication that she had conceived.
was the first magazine to identify young girls as an economically viable market. Ellis combined her strong sense of design and advertising with emerging techniques in marketing to awaken her advertisers to this viable consumer demographic. To personalize the research data, she created "Teena," a fictional character who spoke for her age group and symbolized the typical
Helen Valentine and Art Director Cipe Pineles became mentors in Ellis's life and work. Following the success of
, the trio was asked by its publisher, Street and Smith, to revitalize
and to gear it towards a new segment of female consumers. This decision re-established the focus of the magazine on the growing working woman market. To persuade advertisers to address this group, Ellis distilled market research into a series of publications titled "Interview." The "Interview" and "Teena" reports commissioned by Ellis were among the first market research studies to establish teenage girls and working women as distinct and economically powerful markets. During the period from 1950 to 1957, Charm increased in circulation and importance to the business and advertising communities. After a business merger with Newhouse Magazines,
was incorporated into
magazine, and Ellis resigned to create her own firm, Business Image, Incorporated.
Starting in 1958, Business Image, Incorporated, offered creative marketing solutions to a diverse array of clients. Ellis was among the first to identify the importance of market and product positioning, a key aspect of what today is called "branding." According to Ellis, Business Image, Inc. was dedicated "to helping business understand the impact of social change on business trends." Ellis continued to work with publishing and magazines, and she counted
House & Garden
, and their parent company, Condé Nast Publications, as clients. Ellis worked closely with editors to keep them abreast of "shifting consumer markets, values, and lifestyles." She also advised them on how to convey the relevance of their publications and the consuming power of their readers to magazine advertisers. Ellis took on smaller projects for other Condé Nast publications such as Bride's (late 1960s) and Vogue (early 1970s). Publishing industry clients also included the Girl Scouts of America's
American Girl
magazine (early 1960s),
Better Homes and Gardens
(primarily 1980s),
(late 1980s), and East West Network (1980s), publishers of airlines magazines.
The list of Ellis's clients outside of publishing is equally long and impressive. Ellis's work for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in the late 1960s and early 1970s is of particular note. In addition to recommending new products for the firm, she guided the development of its Life Cycle Center, a resource for women of all ages-from menstruation to menopause-headed by a professional education director. Ellis joined the Board of Phillips-Van Heusen and produced its innovative publication,
We the People of PVH
. Evan-Picone, Yves Saint-Laurent Fragrances, Scoville, AT&T, and the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company also were Business Image, Inc. clients.
For some thirty years, beginning in the mid-1960s, Ellis provided a wide range of professional services for New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). She created the successful FIT fundraising campaign/event "One Person Makes a Difference," which raised money for student scholarships. She created programs to build the school's enrollment and its financial support. Ellis's work also promoted awareness of the global fashion influence of New York and FIT.
Beginning in the 1990s Ellis concentrated on writing. She combined her experience in publishing with her personal interests to co-author three books:
At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live With and Care for Their Libraries
(Southern Books, 1995),
At Home with Art: How Art Lovers Live With and Care for Their Treasures
(Potter, 1999), and
The Booklover's Repair Kit: First Aid for Home Libraries
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). Most recently, Ellis co-authored
Cipe Pineles: Two Remembrances
(RIT, Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2005), about her mentor and friend.
Ellis was married for fifty years to Samuel I. Rubenstein, now deceased. Rubenstein was critical in the development of Business Image, Incorporated, and partnered with her in the firm for twenty-five of its forty-five years. She has two children, Ellis Marc Rubenstein, currently President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences, and Nora Jane Rubenstein, Ph.D., a writer, ethnographer, and president of her Vermont-based Place/Space Associates. Ellis died on July 12, 2012.


NMAH Staff
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This collection was donated by Estelle Ellis in 1991, 2000, and 2004.
Processing Information
Processed by Sarah Allen, volunteer, Anne Holcomb, intern, Anne Jones, volunteer, Mimi L. Minnick, Vanessa Broussard-Simmons, and Jennifer Snyder, archivists, May 2000. Addendum processed by Nicole Kenney, intern, 2007, supervised by John Fleckner, archivist.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but negatives in Box 62 are stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Estelle Ellis Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History


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