Ahead of Her Time
Today, it is common for a woman to be a wife, mother, and a successful business leader. But that was not the case in the 1930s. My grandmother, Caroline Sork Lubin, was the rare exception. My grandmother's early years were pretty traditional. She immigrated to the U.S. from Romania with her family, married my grandfather, Isaac Sork, and became a mother to my Uncle (Morton Sork) and my own mother (Phyllis Sork Jacobs). After her parents died, my grandmother became the matriach of the family and the surrogate "mother" to her three sisters and two brothers. But what differentiated my grandmother from other women in the 1930s was her drive to be successful. She had little schooling and less training, but she was talented and smart and she wasn't content to leave the "breadwinning" to my grandfather. She opened a seamstress business and began making bespoke outfits for women in the Philadelphia area. She was so successful that, eventually, she was hired by Rosenau Brothers (a Philadelphia-based company that was the leading manufacturer of girls' dresses under the brand names Nanette and Cinderella.) My grandmother became the head designer and one of the company's top executives. She traveled the world, spent time in the big board rooms in New York and lived a life that was way ahead of her time. She also set the example for the women in our family who followed after her. My mother also became a successful clothing designer and an entrepreneur, both of my cousins have successful careers, and I am a professional at a Fortune 100 company. My grandmother died when I was 16 years old, so I never had the chance to ask her what it was like to live such an unusual life. I know how challenging it was for my mother when she began her career in the late 1950s...so I can only imagine how much more difficult it was for my grandmother in the 1930s. I do often think of my grandmother when I travel outside the U.S. For me, traveling abroad is so easy...I board a plane, stay in a modern hotel, and remain easily connected to my business and my loved ones with a blackberry and ipod. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it was for my grandmother to make the same business trips in the 1930s...alone and with little ability to stay in touch with her family. Although my grandmother has been gone for more than 40 years, she continues to be a presence in my life and she continues to surprise me. A few months ago, just after my own mother passed away, I began searching online to find more information about my family. Shockingly, when I searched my grandmother's name, a listing came up for a patent she had filed in 1931 for a infant/baby garment design that is very similar to what is now commonly known as a "onesy." I was amazed...here was this young woman who was orphaned at an early age, raised her sisters and brothers and her own family, had a successful career, and was ambitious and confident enough to find a lawyer and file a patent! At 30 years old, I was probably lucky if I could balance my checkbook! I am so proud of my grandmother for all she did in the business world and for the family she raised. She set the bar high for her daughter and her grandaughters and she left an amazing legacy that I hope will live on and inspire other women that they can, as the saying goes, "have it all."