When Beatrice Fox Auerbach became president of Hartford’s G. Fox & Company in 1938, in an era where there were scarcely any female retail executives to be found in the United States, neither she nor any of the popular department store’s board members expected her to remain in the position for very long. But instead of stepping aside, Auerbach remained the head of the company for the next 27 years, steering it into a golden age of expansion that led it to become the largest privately-held department store in the United States.
The 50-year-old widow was certainly no stranger to the department store business: Her grandfather, a Jewish German immigrant named Gerson Fox, had founded G. Fox & Company as a fancy goods store in downtown Hartford in 1847, and Beatrice’s father, Moses, became president of the popular store upon Gerson’s death in 1880. Beatrice’s husband, George Auerbach, was also from a family who owned a large department store in Salt Lake City, Utah. After her husband’s untimely death in 1927, Beatrice Fox Auerbach took over his role as a board member for G. Fox, and when her father died eleven years later, she assumed leadership of the entire company.
Auerbach proved to be a brilliant executive who oversaw the greatest expansion in the company’s history while simultaneously implementing a system of generous benefits for G. Fox’s 3,000 employees, which included five-day, 40-hour work weeks, structured retirement plans, and even “safety net” programs, like interest-free loans, to employees in need. She pioneered several innovative ideas designed to make shopping at G. Fox a pleasant and customer-centered experience, from the inclusion of beauty salons, lounges, personal shopping assistants, and even foreign-language interpreters at the company’s brick-and-mortar stores to the creation of the nation’s first toll-free telephone order department for men and women who preferred the convenience of ordering from home.
Auerbach also quickly established a reputation as a generous philanthropist who poured her money and energy into bettering her community and offering assistance to those who sought to work their way toward a better life. She established a retail training program for career-focused young women attending Connecticut College in New London, and offered African-American men and women jobs at G. Fox with full benefits and plenty of opportunity for advancement. On March 11, 1941 — three years to the day after Auerbach assumed the presidency of G. Fox & Company — the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation was formally established. Through the Foundation, Auerbach funneled millions of dollars over the course of her lifetime to local community organizations like Hartford-area hospitals, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and the Wadsworth Atheneum, in addition to funding scholarships for students seeking business degrees.
Auerbach stayed at the helm of G. Fox & Company until 1965, and after her death three years later at the age of 81, she left one-third of her estate to the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation, which continues to fund philanthropic efforts across the greater Hartford community. The business maven who defied expectations by creating a more compassionate corporate culture while realizing record retail profits left a memorable legacy for Hartford and beyond, beginning on this day in Connecticut history.
Amanda P. Roy, “Beatrice Fox Auerbach: Retail Pioneer Led Family Department Store,” connecticuthistory.org
“Beatrice Fox Auerbach,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame
“Remembering G. Fox & Co,” Connecticut Historical Society online exhibit