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Sat, 08.12.1922

Ophelia DeVore, Fashion Entrepreneur born

Ophelia DeVore(1970)

*On this date in 1922 Ophelia DeVore was born. She was a Black fashion model, and is an entrepreneur.

From Edgefield, South Carolina, she was one of ten children of John Walter DeVore who was German and French and Mary Emma Strother who was Black and Native American (Cherokee). Her father owned a road contracting business and her mother was a teacher and church organist. DeVore said that her father was her mentor in learning to communicate well with people, and her mother stressed education, the importance of appearance, and etiquette.  Her mother also taught DeVore that she did not have to be trapped by racism.

She attended segregated schools until she was nine, and then moved to Winston-Salem to life with her mother’s brother John.  Two years later she was moved to New York City to stay with her great-aunt Stella Carter. This was to prevent any future educational interruptions due to her fathers travel schedule.  DeVore began doing occasional modeling when she was 16 years old. Mainly because of the Depression (1938) little work was available. She also finished at Hunter College High School and went on to New York University.  There she majored in mathematics and minored in languages.

In 1941, DeVore married Harold Cater. He was a fireman and while studying fashion, public relations, and advertising together they had five children.  Around 1946, she and four friends established the Grace Del Marco Agency, one of the first modeling agencies in America focused at the non-white market.  This Black model agency paved the way for numerous Blacks in the industry.

In the agencies early days it was a stepping stone to countless household names; Diahann Carroll, Helen Williams, Richard Roundtree, Cicely Tyson and others. Racism was everywhere in New York’s fashion business. Her agencies shows took place in churches, college campuses, and in the ballrooms of the Diplomat and Waldorf-Astoria hotels. Like so many Blacks in the mid-twentieth century DeVore’s breakthrough came in Europe; specifically through the French fashion world.

Initial impact to her Grace Del Marco Agency came with their entries at many of the Cannes Film Festivals in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She also seized the importance of media in her quest for business equity by co hosting on ABC’s Spotlight on Harlem.  Her intensity to “make it” demanded dedication and a non-stop work ethic; enough to cause a heart attack for DeVore while still in her twenties; still she persevered. DeVore has always maintained a role as activist for Black inclusion in both the fashion industry while demanding a stronger investment by white American companies through advertising in Black businesses. After her divorce, her second husband Vernon Mitchell whom she married in 1968 died in 1972.

Soon DeVore’s son Jim became president of Ophelia DeVore Associates. He like his mother had been nurtured as a child by both of his parents to succeed.  In 1985, she broadened her enterprise globally to include Swaziland as a client while also becoming publisher of her late husband’s newspaper the Columbus Times in Georgia. The Ophelia DeVore Organization is backed by more than 60 years of experience in grooming professionals for all areas of business.  Recently a New York physician recruited DeVore’s program to educate his staff on “how to treat people in distress nicely.”

Ophelia DeVore, one of the first Black fashion models created an industry concept designed to bring out the best in anyone.  Ophelia DeVore died at a New York City hospice on February 28, 2014, at the age of 91.

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