#MyHistory: Ophelia DeVore

We’ll create a demand
— Ophelia DeVore, I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America
Source: NY Times

Source: NY Times

Jet Mag, 7/29/1971  p.14
lanker, Bria. I Dream a world: portraits of black women who changed america. Stewart, Tabori & Chang: new york
"charm school charges 'racist journalism' against time, inc." jet magazine, july 29, 1971

I gotta be honest, this year's #MyHistory series has been really informative for me. I've been able to take the time to find some real gems or learn more about someone that I knew all the details on. Ophelia DeVore's story caught my attention while flipping through, I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, a book that I've had since elementary school.

DeVore was a easy Google search but the amount of information on her is expansive, she really did the hard yards to be involved in any and everything that elevated Black womanhood. 

A unique point to Ophelia DeVore's narrative is that her father was of German-American and African-American decent, her mother was of Black and Native American decent. This comes into play with her success as a professional model, starting at the age of 16 in 1938.
Because of her fair skin and feature DeVore was often labelled as having a European look or racially ambiguous, allowing her to take advantage of more modeling jobs than the average Black model.

DeVore trained at the Vogue Modeling School in NYC at the beginning of her career, in her 1989 profile in the book I Dream A World, DeVore reveals that the school didn't know she was Black based off her appearance...she took advantage of this and got the best training a model could during that time.

Source: Classic Ladies of Color

Source: Classic Ladies of Color

Judging from the trajectory of the rest of her career, it seems that DeVore was inspired to become an advocate and create a platform for the Black model community at large based on the prejudices she witnessed during her own modeling career. She was also college educated, graduating from NYU with a degree in mathematics and minor in languages. 

The Grace del Marco Modeling Agency was founded in 1946 with four partners, but the agency was the brainchild and passion of DeVore. The agency is credited to representing Dorothea Towles, Helen Williams, Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson...yeah, legends. I also thought it was interesting to learn that she represented one of the first Black female TV reporters, Trudy Haynes.


Helen Williams  Source: Afro Therapy Salon 

Helen Williams
Source: Afro Therapy Salon 

Diahann Carroll & other charm school students  Source: The Grio 

Diahann Carroll & other charm school students
Source: The Grio 

Source: Vintage Black Glamour

Source: Vintage Black Glamour

Source: America Comes Alive!

Source: America Comes Alive!

During this time, the Black fashion industry centered and depended on churches and college campuses to hold runway shows and competitions.  The agency served as a platform for DeVore to open the Ophelia DeVore School of Charm (Self-Development & Modeling) . The school was open to any young person of color looking for direction on public appearance, speaking, poise, ballet and confidence. "offering a counterweight to the tradition of internalized self-hatred that was many black Americans’ legacy." (nytimes)

In 1971, DeVore and her models took the streets of New York to protest "Racial Journalism" against Life Magazine and their parent company Time, Inc. In a feature with Jet Magazine, DeVore spoke out against an article in Life Magazine that was supposed to speak on the market growth of Black models and DeVore's success, instead it turned into piece to further spotlight "white-owned, Johnny-come-lately agencies now capitalizing on Black models" The passion that DeVore had about keeping Black models from being used and to support the growth of Black business is palpable in the article. DeVore took her case to the New York Supreme Court and was quoted saying "if the case is thrown out of the courts, we'll take it to the streets." (Jet Mag)

Source: Fashion Style Detroit 

Source: Fashion Style Detroit 

DeVore's advocacy didn't stop with Life Magazine, she continued to be a representative of Black owned agencies and speaking against unfairness in the industry with gigs that avoided hiring Black models . DeVore continued to use opportunities like being a fashion columnist for The Pittsburgh Courier, ABC's weekly program "Spotlight on Harlem" host and creating the Miss Cannes model competition at the Cannes Film Festival to push the Black is beautiful movement

I wanted America to know that beauty isn’t just white, it’s all colors. I wanted to change the way people of color were seen across the United States.
— Ophelia DeVore, The Grio

In 2004, she was honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Fashion Arts Xchange, Inc. for her contributions to fashion and entertainment. She was also a
Member of the the pres' advisory comittee on arts, JFK center for the performing arts

Ophelia DeVore's legacy speaks to creating your own lane in a major way. But is "making it" worth it if you didn't use your platform to create awareness and/or help the next person maximize on their life's purpose? I often think about this in my own studio practice, it can be very easy to keep your head buried in sand with stacks of crazed to-do lists. But how effective can I really be as an artist if I can't step outside of my goals to help the next human. It's really something to take to heart. 

Stay tuned all month for more #MyHistory discoveries and check out our Tumblr for visual inspo.