Welcome back to Badass Ladies in History, everyone!
This month’s badass lady was a businesswoman in the beauty and cosmetics industry and would eventually impact an innumerable amount of women’s lives with her “miracle product.” Born in Krakow, Poland, in 1870, Helena Rubinstein was the first of 8 daughters to Augusta and Horace Rubinstein. Her father was a wholesale food broker, and when she was old enough, Helena helped her father with the bookkeeping; her father even left her in charge of meetings when he was ill. Her mother, though, would be her main influence for business because it was her mother — with the help of Hungarian chemist Dr. Jacob Lyusky — who created a face cream known as Modjeska cream.
When Helena decided to end her studies in medical science, her father said that she could leave school if she married. Helena already had a suitor picked out from medical school, but her father refused the man she brought home and insisted that she marry a man of his choosing. Not liking her father’s choice, 18-year-old Helena decided to move to Australia and live with her Uncle Louis in order to flee from marrying. When she left, she packed 12 jars of her mother’s cream, sharing the jars with the Australian women who suffered from damaged skin due to the sun.
All the women in Helena’s town were in awe of the cream and its repairing qualities. Helena eventually ran out and had to ask her mother to send her more. One woman in town, whose complexion improved after using the cream, loaned Helena money to open up a small shop and to buy a large quantity of the cream. Helena renovated the space herself and worked 18-hour days until the small business she had created in town turned a profit.
While she worked in the shop, Helena even began to experiment with the cream in her kitchen to see how it could benefit women with different skin tones and types. The shop became incredibly successful, which allowed Helena to bring her sisters over to run the shop while Helena went to Paris, France, to get hands-on training and to learn about skin treatments and dermatology.
Helena was incredibly focused as a career woman — so much so that love was the last thing on her mind. When the man she loved — an American newspaperman named Edward William Titus — asked for her hand in marriage, she acknowledged that she loved him, but marriage would simply have to wait since she wanted to continue with her aspirations of opening a salon in London, England. As Helena continued to expand her small empire and continued to soak up all the knowledge that she could about women’s beauty, Edward was by her side and was helping her with clever advertising for her salon. In 1908, when Edward proposed again, Helena accepted, and they were married in a private civil ceremony.
In 1915, Titus convinced Helena to move to the United States, where they would be safer from the violence of World War I. When Helena, her husband, and her two young boys moved to New York, Helena opened another salon, thus beginning her American career that would eventually span across the nation. She even became a makeup consultant to the Hollywood stars and showed actresses how to emphasize their eyes with mascara.
Amongst her amazing success as a businesswoman, Helena and Edward ended up separating after Edward fell in love with a younger woman. That did not stop her, though, from succeeding in business even through the Great Depression. She trained salespeople to work in her shops and to value the product just as much as she did.
In 1935, Helena met Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia and married him in 1938. However, the marriage was cut short in 1955 when her husband died. Helena kept her focus through all of her personal grief, so much so that what started as a small shop in Australia rapidly became a global multi-million-dollar business.
Helena died of natural causes at the age of 94 in New York, but her legacy in the cosmetic industry still lives on even to this day. Her legacy includes several charitable works, such as the Helena Rubinstein Foundation that she created in order to provide money and scholarships for the arts. Her cosmetics business is said to have been worth somewhere between $17.5 million and $60 million.
So, three cheers to Helena Rubinstein! Her focus and drive not only made her incredibly successful, but she also showed us that hard work and dedication truly do pay off. Her urge to keep learning and expanding her empire makes her a stand-out badass lady. She took the world by storm with her innovative beauty products and with her dedication to making women feel beautiful in their own skin.