Charm, Beauty, and Grace

Posted by Precious Jewel on

In 1948 Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell, former model, agent, charm-school director and newspaper publisher, opened the first black charm school to teach African-American women etiquette, self-preservation and confidence. 

Long before the phrase “Black is beautiful” gained currency in the 1960s, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell was preaching that ethos by example. In New York in the 1940s — an age when modeling schools, and modeling jobs, were overwhelmingly closed to African Americans — Ophelia helped start the Grace del Marco Modeling Agency and later founded the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. As a charm-school director, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell taught dress, diction and deportment to thousands of students, including the future television newswomen Sue Simmons and Melba Tolliver, and the future hip-hop artist Faith Evans (my favorite vocalist!!).

Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell’s most famous protégée, Ms. Carroll, who attended the charm school as a teenager, went on to stardom as a singer, a Broadway actress (she won a Tony Award in 1962 for her performance in the Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings”) and the title character in “Julia,” the NBC series about a young widowed nurse.

The success of the agency, and the visibility of the school’s thousands of graduates, helped pave the way for the careers of contemporary black supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks.

Happy Black History Month!

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