Kay Brownlee papers1906-1964 Majority of material found within 1939-1964
Kay Brownlee (1912-1971) was employed at the Philadelphia department store B.F. Dewees. She was originally a buyer for women's fashions, but later rose to be personnel director, a post she held until the store closed in the late 1960s. This collection contains personal and family items from Kay Brownlee, records from Brownlee's work as personnel director of B.F. Dewees department store, and documents regarding the operations of the store and its female employees.
- Majority of material found within 1939-1964
- Brownlee, Kay (Person)
1 Linear Foot
Kay Brownlee (1912-1971) was employed at the Philadelphia department store B.F. Dewees. Born Anna Kathryn Brownlee on September 4, 1912, to John Harrison Brownlee (1888-1945) and Anna Moeckel Brownlee (1891-1964) in Pennsylvania, “Kay” Brownlee attended Duke University, but apparently could not finish because of the effects of the Depression. She began working at B.F. Dewees Department Store in Philadelphia in the 1930s, and she rose quickly through the ranks. She worked six days per week; supervised the sales force; planned and arranged seasonal parties and other employee events; represented Dewees at seminars, conferences, and other retail events; and wrote and gave speeches about sales and retail. By 1939, Kay Brownlee was representing Dewees as a “style expert” at the Ford Exposition, a large fashion event held in Philadelphia. By 1940, memos indicate that she held the position of personnel director, and while it is possible that she assumed this position earlier, she retained this position until the closing of the store at some time in the late 1960s.
On June 2, 1942, Brownlee wed Francis Clifford Scherer (1907-2001) at Olney Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The two remained together until Brownlee's death in 1971 and often taught Sunday School together. There were no children by the marriage. Brownlee was the “favorite-aunt” to her nieces and grandnieces. She groomed her niece, Joan, to become a career woman like herself, and hired her to work summers at Dewees. Similarly, she taught her grandnieces how to dress, how to do their hair, and how to walk.
By the late 1960s B. F. Dewees, Inc. had filed for bankruptcy. Brownlee did not long outlive the closing of the store. In 1970, she learned that she had cancer, which she succumbed to in November 1971, shortly after her 59th birthday.
The papers have been left in the arrangement given by the donor, which is generally, but not precisely, chronological.
Several file units are composed of items that came out of a “Distinctively Dewees flowered box,” which is in the collection, and they have been separated to reflect genre—items, newspaper clippings, letters, etc.
Scope and Content
This collection contains personal and family items from Kay Brownlee, records from Brownlee's work as personnel director of B.F. Dewees Department Store, and documents regarding the operations of the store and its female employees. Employee orientation, employee rules and behavior, and employee rewards and incentives, including company parties, outings and other social events, are covered. Job performance, for both sales clerks and "elevator hostesses," was generally focused on punctuality, neat appearance, and courtesy towards customers. There are photographs of Brownlee and other employees at company social events. The collection includes a "Distinctively Dewees flowered box" in which many of the items were originally saved, lists of employees, some artifacts, including service pins, and some of Brownlee's personal effects, including a New Testament.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Gift of Linda Parry, Kay Brownlee's grandniece
- Brownlee, Kay (Person)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Kay Brownlee papers
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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