Ding Dong! Avon Calling!

The Women and Men of Avon Products, Incorporated

Ding Dong! Avon Calling!
Katina Manko
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The Avon Lady acquired iconic status in twentieth century American culture. This first history of Avon tells the story of a direct sales company that was both a giant in its industry and a kitchen-table entrepreneurial venture. With their distinctive greeting at the homes across the country--Ding Dong! Avon Calling!--sales ladies brought door-to-door sales of makeup, perfume, and other products to American women beginning in1886. Working for the company enabled women to earn money on the side and even become financially independent in a respectable profession while selling Avon' s wares to friends, family, and neighborhoodnetworks. Ding Dong! Avon Calling! is the story of women and entrepreneurship, and of an innovative corporation largely managed by men that empowered women to exploit networks of other women and their community for profit. Founded in the late nineteenth century, Avon grew into a massive international direct sales company in which millions of "ambassadors of beauty" sat in their customers' living rooms with a sample case, catalogue, and a conversational sales pitch. Avon was unique in American business history for its reliance on women as representatives, promising them not just sales positions, but a chance to have a business of their own. Being an Avon Lady avoided thestigma that was often attached to middle-class women' s work outside the home and enabled women to maintain the delicate balance of work and family. Drawing for the first time on company records she helped acquire for archives, Katina Manko illuminates Avon' s inner workings, uncovers the lives of its representatives, and shows how women slowly rose into the company' s middle and upper management. Avon called itself "The Company for Women" and championed its high flyers, but its higher echelonsremained dominated by men well into the 1990s. Avon is more than perfumes and toiletries, but a brand built on women knocking on doors and chatting up neighbors. It thrived for morethan a century through the deceptively simple technique of women directly selling beauty to women at home.
"Ding Dong! Avon Calling! is a lively and informative account of a firm that sold women cosmetics and promised them entrepreneurial independence. By taking Avon Ladies seriously as economic actors, Katina Manko reveals the nuances and complexities of gender, race, and enterprise, challenging our very notion of what counts as a business. Anyone interested in the economic history of the twentieth century must read this book. " -- Wendy Gamber, IndianaUniversity"Manko skillfully combines deep archival research and personal narratives to provide a nuanced study of how Avon gave women the opportunity to earn money and assume corporate responsibilities, yet retained a gendered culture which reserved top management for men. " -- Geoffrey Jones, author of Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry"In this thoroughly researched and beautifully written book, Katina Manko deftly weaves together the history of an iconic American company with that of the women sales agents who helped build it. Equal parts business, social, and women' s history, Manko unravels the larger story of women' s growing need and desire for an income throughout the twentieth century and the ways in which direct sellingDLmarketed as a form of entrepreneurshipDLenabled them tosimultaneously stay within gender norms of motherhood while also moving beyond them into the wider world of business enterprise. " -- Debra Michals, Merrimack College"Katina Manko' s Ding Dong! Avon Calling! is a compelling business history of the steady rise and the rapid fall of a direct-sales colossus. An American company created by a man and managed by men, Avon enlisted an army of middle-class white women to sell its products and image to other middle-class white women. Its business model was based on women' s need and desire to function simultaneously in commerce and in the home. Manko describes a businessculture built upon the suspect notion of women as independent contractors, leaving open the question of whether such a model was supportive or exploitative. In the age of Uber, Manko has given us a piquantexploration of the blurred lines between owners, managers, sub-contractors, and female working stiffs. " -- Mary A. Yeager, University of California, Los Angeles
Katina Manko is an independent scholar specializing in US women' s history. She has taught at Bard College, Ramapo College, and Merrimack College, and currently teaches History for the Yeshiva University High School for Girls. She lives in New York City.