|We love you, Mom. Rest well.|
The youngest daughter of Russian immigrants, Estelle Ellis and her older sister Muriel grew up in Brooklyn. As a young girl, Estelle Ellis dreamed of being an international news correspondent; by her teen years, she was employed by the Works Project Administration to write radio scripts highlighting the work of WPA artists and writers.
The first in her family to attend college, Ms. Ellis graduated from Hunter College in Manhattan in 1940 with a major in Political Science, and a minor in Journalism. Her dual interests in social research and writing laid the path for the next sixty years of her career.
After working with Popular Science, Design for Living, and Click magazines, she worked in 1944 with editor Helen Valentine to launch Seventeen, the first magazine successfully to identify young girls as a distinct and economically significant market. Ms. Ellis combined emerging techniques in market research with a strong marketing and design sense to awaken advertisers to this new market. To personalize the research data, she created the fictional character “Teena” as a narrator of the thoughts and desires of the typical Seventeen reader.
In 1950, Ms. Valentine, Ms. Ellis and art director Cipe Pinelas moved to Street-Smith publications, where they launched Charm, the first magazine to position working women as a separate market segment.
To persuade advertisers to address young women, Ms. Ellis conducted and wrote the very first market research studies to establish working women and teenage girls as distinct and economically powerful markets. Her promotional items frequently highlighted the uniquely female qualities and concerns of the Seventeen and Charm audiences; she created a price guide in the form of a handwritten shopping list on a paper bag, a press release tied in ribbon like a bundle of love letters.
In 1958 Ms. Ellis and her husband Sam Rubinstein formed the creative marketing firm, Business Image, Inc., dedicated, in her words,” to helping business understand the impact of social change on business trends.” Magazines continued to be important clients, especially Conde Nast’s Glamour (which incorporated Charm), House and Garden, Bride, and Vogue. Other publishing industry clients included the Girl Scouts of America’s American Girl magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Elle.
Along with advising the magazine industry, Ms. Ellis helped other corporate clients to re-think the meaning of their products. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, for instance, she worked with Kimberly-Clark to recommend new feminine hygiene products, and guided the development of its Life Cycle Center, a resource for women of all ages headed by a professional education director. The Center’s booklet series gave Kimberly-Clark—then a virtually all-male paper-making firm—an understanding and authoritative voice to address women’s concerns around reproductive health.
In her seventies, Ms. Ellis turned her attention to two of the loves of her life, books and art. She collaborated with another writer and a photographer to create At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live With and Care for Their Libraries (1995) and At Home with Art: How Art Lovers Live With and Care for Their Treasures (1999), both of which explore the relationships between personality and home design. Her third book, The Booklover’s Repair Kit: First Aid for Home Libraries (2000) offers professional advice and supplies for the bibliophile.
She donated major parts of her professional archives to the Smithsonian and to the Rochester Institute of Technology. The Estelle Ellis Collection, 1944-1994, is available to researchers in the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History.
Contributions in her honor can be made to Connect to Learn or Scientists without Borders.