Friday, May 4, 2012

When I grow up I want to be a Tupperware Lady Part ll


Last week I bared my soul about Tupperware. I've done a little research since. 
Today's post takes on a historical and even an academic perspective, 
one I had lacked until logging on to pbs.org.

Tupperware is even the subject of a PBS Documentary aired on The American Experience series. From an article by University of Minnesota Historian Elaine Tyler May, on the subject of women and business following World War ll: 


 "Another way women extended their homemaker role was in enterprises, like Tupperware. It was one of several occupations that homemakers could do at home, in their spare time, that became careers. They could sell products to women through their homes or friendship networks, and they could make money; they could become part of a business operation. There were other businesses -- Mary Kay, cosmetic companies -- that enabled women to sell to other women, in ways that didn't really conflict with their homemaker role. 


"Getting together mid-morning while your kids were at school, having coffee -- the Tupperware enterprise grows out of the professionalization of homemaking, and the business expertise that went into running a home. It was an extension -- almost a natural extension -- of being a homemaker."


 Also on the PBS website is an article about the documentary, which notes:


 "Tupperware seemed to be custom-made for a post-war America in love with modern conveniences. But it wasn't an instant success. Its creator, Earl Tupper, spent years tinkering with his machines in the heart of Massachusetts' plastics industry. Eventually, he figured out how to mold raw polyethelene, developed for use in weapons, into food containers. Inspired by a paint can, in 1945 he developed the watertight, airtight Tupper seal. But his Wonderbowl languished on store shelves.


"In 1947 a young mother and divorc√© named Brownie Wise was living in Detroit when she stumbled across Tupper's product. Wise was a self-taught saleswoman who never got past eighth grade growing up in rural Georgia, but she had an intuitive gift for marketing. In 1951, she traveled to Massachusetts to meet with Tupper. She argued that his products should be sold not in stores, but at home parties, where women would demonstrate the revolutionary, unbreakable bowls to their friends and neighbors. Tupper not only bought her reasoning, he hired her on the spot to head up his entire sales operation, Tupperware Home Parties. 




 "From the company's lush new headquarters just outside Orlando, Florida, Wise began to train an army of Tupperware ladies to put on parties and recruit new women into the business. She inspired and motivated her sales force, rewarding them with minks, appliances, and European vacations. Wise developed exuberant annual Jubilees -- filmed by the company, and excerpted in this documentary -- that were equal parts costume party, business training, cheerleading, and Hollywood glitz." 


 A moment for a confession: Before visiting the PBS website and learning more about life in post-World War ll, I had not considered Tupperware in the context of empowering women to achieve success in the business world while raising their families. After World War ll, many jobs women had performed were claimed by veterans and the new generation of young men seeking employment. I'm a baby boomer, and these women who became very savvy while working out of their homes (and supporting their families) paved the way for me to do something I was more suited to do: go to college. That's the route I took, and I had a satisfying career. I worked hard, but the opportunities were there, too, and I have always been grateful for my education. Truly, I'm a lousy sales person. I couldn't have made it as a Tupperware Lady, not if my life depended on it. 


 I mentioned that my mother never owned a piece of Tupperware, at least not to my knowledge. If she did, it was probably a gift. World War ll, marriage and motherhood interrupted her college education, and my father's, too, for a number of years. I'm the youngest of three, and by the time I was in 9th grade my sisters were in college. Then both of my parents went back to college. There I was, still in Junior High. Sometimes home was a lonely place. It seemed like everyone was always studying, writing a paper at the dining room table, or away at class. I saw how hard they all worked and how much our family sacrificed in order to earn those college degrees. That was always my perspective, and it's what I was taught by their example: do well in school, get accepted to a good college (and earn a scholarship), do well in college, go to graduate school, and pursue a worthwhile career. It was the path I was more or less groomed to follow, and, as I have said, was more suited to follow. 


 So, in all seriousness, my hat is off to Tupperware Ladies all over the world. You accomplish great things, all kidding aside. We really share a sisterhood, no matter how we feel about plastic bowls and parties. Women who have succeeded in business by using their talents and their courage, without the benefit of a formal college education, are even greater achievers in my book. I hope you understand that I still think people are funny, though, no matter what hat they may wear. Life is funny. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. 


 You can log onto PBS and share your Tupperware Story. Really. And you can answer the question: “Has Tupperware affected you?” Viewers are invited to respond. There’s a Teacher’s Guide and you can even watch the bonus Jubilee Fashion Show video. 


From the PBS article: "It was like a fairy tale," remembers dealer Li Walker. "Like you're in a wonderland."  


It just doesn’t get any better than that, folks.

No comments: