Return to Ohio Biographies
Return to Index

Martha Cornelia Dow
pages 455-460

EVERY human being either submits to the controlling influence of others or wields and influence which touches, controls, guides, or misdirects others. If one is honest and successful in one's chosen field of endeavor, investigation will brighten one's fame and point the way along which others may follow with like success. Consequently, a critical study of the life record of the late Martha Cornelia Dow, one of the best-known business women in the United States and one of the remarkable geniuses of the age, will, no doubt, be both interesting and beneficial to the readers of this historical and memorial compendium, for her life was one of the brilliant success, usefulness, and honor, and it indicates how a woman may rise to positions of responsibility and prominence in the industrial world, even while young in years, if she directs her energies along proper paths and is controlled by correct ideals.
Miss Dow, who was born in Patterson, New Jersey, March 11, 1868, was regarded almost as a Cincinnati institution in which city she was personally acquainted with thousands of citizens and was known, through her business enterprise, by nearly everybody in the metropolitan Cincinnati district. Her chain of stores has linked her name, in a business way, with the greater part of the United States. The drug business which she developed in Cincinnati is said to be the largest retail industry under one name in the entire Ohio Valley, although the Dow drug stores had their beginning in her native State. She was a daughter of Edwin Burleigh Dow and Catherine (Hook)Dow, the latter a daughter of Leonard Hook, a successful, well-known agriculturist who spent the latter years of his life in Patterson, New Jersey, after his retirement. Edwin Burleigh Dow was born in Vermont, his ancestors having emigrated from England to that State in an early day. His wife was born near Amsterdam, Holland, from which country she was brought to the United States when young, her father being forty years of age at that time. Mis Dow's father left New England when a young man and located in New Jersey, where he remained until 1870, when he removed to Cincinnati, Ohio, and entered the drug business in a small way. Desiring a larger business, he bought a wagon and team and drove over nearly every part of Ohio selling porous plasters. Always his little daughter and only child went with him. Mr. Dow would buy out the unsalable stock in the drug stores he visited, and pay for it with salable plasters, at retail prices. He originated that idea, which for many years afterward was used extensively in this country. The plan cost very little, and it brought business. His health failed in 1878, to such an extent that he was unable to do either physical or mental labor, and his little store was looked after by his daughter, wo was about sixteen years old, until he died. Then, without financial resources, she took charge of this business, which she developed rapidly, and at the time of her death she owned eleven large, modern drug stores, a great warehouse, and a substantial and well-equipped plant for the manufacture of drugs.
She received her primary education in the public schools. She was a precocious child, and had a pronounced predilection for music, beginning to develop a remarkable talent in that direction when only six years of age, being able to play on the organ and piano various musical selections after listening to some one play the airs. It was her early ambition to continue the study of music and to become a grand-opera star. Many years later she declared:
"Frankly, I did not yearn a lot for pharmacy. I did want grand opera, and had an ambition to stand behind the footlights and pour forth volumes of melody to delighted audiences. But there was the matter of bread-winning, and so I studied pharmacy and powders and pills, and then, as now, I enjoy harmony with the crowd and not from the stage. It is all right; but after twenty-five years I still confess to an ambition to star in Wagnerian rôles." She never lost her passionate love of music, good books, and the higher inspirations engendered by lofty ideals.
Putting aside her longings for such a life as a woman craves, she put a clerk to work in the little store and became a student at the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy, studying night and day until she passed her examinations, graduating at the age of nineteen, second in a class of ninety. She was the first girl graduate of the school; but she was so young that she was not permitted to fill prescriptions, and for a time she had to keep the registered pharmacist as a clerk. With a woman's ideals, she abhorred the old-fashioned drug shop, with its disagreeable odors and suggestions of the sick-room. This, together with the fact that her business had outgrown the little store her father had established on Fifth Street, induced her to open a splendidly equipped establishment on Race Street, near Seventh. She did not have enough money to buy show-cases. She had no credit; only ambition. "For four years I ate my meals in that store," Miss Dow told her friends. "I did messenger work, janitor work, bookkeeping, and stenography. I had no nights off, and few pleasures beyond the joy of seeing a created business grow." Aside from the idea of having a different kind of drug store, perhaps, the most potent factor in her success was the cut rate plan. "I haven't a word in the world against the other druggists of Cincinnati," she often said. "May they live long and prosper. I was sued, blacklisted, ignored, hounded, threatened, boycotted, attacked, slandered, followed by detectives, and even sentenced to jail."
The head of what was to become the great Dow system began catering to women patrons. She soon had women clerks for women's trade. It was a new idea, and it developed into departments for women. It paid, but not through a miracle. The cut-rate plan was started. In not only brought opposition from Cincinnati druggists, but New York wholesalers. She was compelled to buy stock from Denver and San Francisco that she had been buying in the East; but the business grew, and one after the other the chain of Dow stores sprang into being under the genius of this remarkable woman. She started Store No. 3 at Fourth and Central Avenue, at that time a gloomy place. A clerk in the store got the race-horse fever and was discharged. He inherited some money and opened an opposition store, put a clerk in charge and followed the races. Soon a card in his window announced "Assignee's Sale." From what was becoming a force of habit Miss Dow put in a bid and got the store. In June, 1896, she started a store on Vine Street which was kept open day and night and finally did the biggest business of any of the Dow stores. A man had run a drug store at Sixth and Walnut streets for fifty-two years. He said that people had quit buying anything but postage stamps. Miss Dow bought the store. The best location was in the Mercantile Library Building. That store was opened in 1903. The stores at Fourth and Main streets, Kemper Land and mcMillan Street, McMillan and Gilbert Avenue, Fifth and Main streets, and Seventh and Vine streets came along, the owner said, "as they were needed." She opened her own ice-cream plant, and soon was paying two thousand dollars a month for sweet cream alone. She opened an office in the Provident Bank Building, but she visited all her stores every day. A warehouse was established on Eighth Street. Soon the little woman at the head of the big drug business had developed the most complete laboratory in the Middle West, at Seventh and Race streets. There were fifteen thousand chemicals and pharmaceutical items in it. Now there is a big warehouse at Ninth Street and Broadway. The latest Dow store was opened shortly before her death at Sixth and Main streets.
By business genius and the hardest kind of work, the little girl who was left at the head of a store when her father died, May 2, 1898, wrought a business miracle in the face of many-sided oppositions. The wholesale trade she built up was by no means insignificant. More than two million prescriptions have been filled in those stores. There are more than one hundred and fifty Dow trade-marks and preparations. No other drug hours in the country, even in new York, uses as much newspaper space. There was much and persistent advertising from the beginning. The cut-rate system has saved customers many thousands of dollars. She personally supervised every detail of her business, hiring and discharging the employees. She had a certain hour in the afternoons for seeing traveling salesmen, and it is said that she disposed of from five to thirty-five such visitors with a rapidity that would have done credit to any business man. She personally ordered her goods, purchasing in vast quantities.
Miss dow's mother is still living, making her home on Michigan Avenue, Hyde Park, Cincinnati. She is now advanced in years, but has well-preserved faculties and an excellent memory. Her careful training had much to do with the great success of her talented daughter. She is a woman of gracious personality, kind, religious, and sympathetic.
Miss Dow had two hobbies--music , and the Humane Society. Her musical ambitions were thwarted almost entirely, but she took time from her drug business to become one of the staunchest supporters of the Humane Society. The two pamphlets, "A Plea for Kindness" and "The Horse's Prayer," which are printed in nearly every language, were bought by Miss Dow in half-million lots and sold to organizations everywhere at cost price and in many cases given away. From girlhood to the end of her days, she gave freely to the support of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. She had emphatic ideas concerning the treatment of animals. She sold her horses and animals to farmers when automobile trucks were brought into use, getting a promise from the farmers that the horses would never again be used for work in city streets. Many times Miss Dow would plead with drivers to be kind to their horses. She followed cases into police court, and she has been known to get up at night to look after a horse's comfort.
The question of woman's suffrage also got considerable attention from Miss Dow. She was unalterably opposed to suffrage for women. She said at one time: "No woman needs to vote, and no woman needs to insist on her rights. Her sex gives her more than her rights at the hands of honest, upright men." She declared that it would be a calamity if ever the time came when women could vote nationally upon national questions; that it would usurp the home life of the nation and result as well in an economic failure. In a letter written a few years ago to a woman in lexington, Kentucky, who had asked questions in regard to her big drug business, miss Dow replied, in part:
"The only objection I have found to women clerks is their desire for day runs. They object, as a rule, to night work and Sunday work. It is difficult in a busy city store to place a woman on a special run which is superior to the other clerks, in that it works her less hours. As far as the brains and ability of the women, I think they compare favorably with the men, and the ratio of success is not controlled by sex. I believe to-day all lines of business are willing to pay women as much as men if they have the same ability. The men in the Dow shops seem to extend much consideration and gallantry to women, and I have never seen a discourtesy or heard any unfavorable comment. We have about the same percentage of failures in women clerks as men. The main objection, perhaps, to women entering the profession is the hard work and long hours. I think pharmacists have hesitated in employing women because they are not available for all kinds of drug work, such as lifting a jug, unpacking goods, chopping ice, letting down awnings, etc. The small drug store with perhaps one or two clerks and the proprietor, necessitates work on the part of all or an unequal division of the work, which seems a little unjust to the men, perhaps, if salaries are equal.
"I'm a bit old-fashioned on the whole question of women in business. I like the old-time idea best, where women were the idol of the home and the men went out into the world. The whole industrial scheme has changed and we much believe that it is right or it would not be. I was forced into business, as are most women, but I'm frank to admit I'd a whole lot rather have spent my life in a comfortable home, reading a bit of Eugene Field and struggling to bring harmony out of an intricate Beethoven sonata; and so it goes. Most of us imagine that we should have done something else, and we are probably wrong in our surmise."
During the last two years of her life Miss Dow had been unable to manage her chain of stores on account of failing health, but she kept in close touch with her business because she had come to love the work. Attention to business when she should have taken a vacation, weakened her health and primarily was the cause of her long illness. There was too much energy and ambition for such a frail body, and she ceased her wonderful activity when too late. Several long trips were made by the noted woman, but she failed to receive any benefit, and she was summoned to take up her work on a higher plane of action Sunday night, October 17, 1915, at the early age of forty-seven years, when in the prime of life and usefulness. Her many employees heard the sad tidings with sorrow, for she was always kind and sympathetic to them and took great interest in their welfare. She will long be sadly missed by her hundreds of friends and acquaintances.
Miss Dow created a separate and distinct fund to be known as the "Cora Dow Endowment Fund," the income from which is to be used for the perpetuation, support, and betterment of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Association. The amount of that fund is between seven hundred thousand and one million dollars.
Miss Dow often said that the biggest problem of modern business was the rent question. At one time she declared:
"Taxation is unscientific, unjust. For instance, I cannot get a lease on any store for more than five years. All the expenditures we make for show, attractiveness, ornamentation, are speculative. This spent money is little more than a gamble. We build up a trade, and the, when we begin to make money, the landlord comes around and because of our industry doubles the rent."
The builder of this great drug business was one of the most modest women imaginable. Nobody ever heard her take the credit for her wonderful success; but every time she was asked what was the reason for it, she declared, "My employees." It is said that at no time, even during the most stringent business periods, did a clerk in any Dow drug store loose any of his vacation time or have his wages cut because the business might be losing money temporarily; and there were approximately two hundred men and women in her employ.
The death of few women in this country ever caused more extended, more numerous, or more laudatory press notices. Columns were devoted by the great daily newspapers everywhere to her remarkable career and wonderful personality and high character, her life being help up as a model worthy of emulation by young women everywhere who are ambitious to do something worth while, to win success and at the same time be of great service to the world. Among the many excellent editorials that her death brought forth, we quote the following as typical, which appeared in one of the leading metropolitan dailies of her home city under the caption of "A Remarkable Woman."
"The death of Martha Cornelia Dow closes the career of one of the most remarkable women in the United States. Although an opponent of female suffrage, Miss Dow was an exponent of the doctrine of equal opportunity for her sex. From a humble commercial beginning, she introduced methods into the retail drug business that proved revolutionary. She appropriated an idea from our shifting industrial conditions, and her reward was a personal fortune. From the midst of intense competitive conditions she emerged a conqueror. Her success must prove and inspiration to the woman worker.
"The stress entailed by the creation of a great business did not harden Miss Dow to the better things of life. She retained all the graces of the woman. Her recreative hours were devoted to music. Her charitable work was personal as well as financial. For years she conducted a campaign for better conditions for the horse; and in her death, 'man's noblest servant; loses an enthusiastic friend.
"It was a full life, a fine expression of the best of aspirations, although encompassed in but two score and seven years."


Background Design

Barbara's Bordered Backgrounds

Representative Citizens of Ohio; Memorial--Biographical (Cleveland 1917)

Page design © 2002 - 2008 by &