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Ophelia DeVore, Founder of 1st Black Modeling Agency, Donates Papers to Emory University

Ophelia DeVore
Ophelia DeVore was a model-turned-entrepreneur, launching a modeling agency, charm school and cosmetics line, and taking the helm of the Columbus Times in Columbus, Ga., after her husband’s death in 1972. She remains the paper’s owner today. (Photo credit: Ophelia DeVore papers, MARBL, Emory University.)

ATLANTA, Ga. — The founder of one of America’s first modeling agencies to represent women of color has placed her papers at Emory University.

Pioneering entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore Mitchell set up the New-York-based Grace Del Marco in 1946 at a time when it was almost unthinkable for black women to be recognized in the media for their beauty.

In its early days, the groundbreaking agency paved the way for African-Americans to pursue careers in the fashion and entertainment industries.

Agency launched black superstars

Indeed, the agency and modeling school helped launch the early careers of actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson.

It also represented people such as Gail Fisher; Richard Roundtree; Trudy Haynes, one of the first black female TV reporters; and Helen Williams, one of the first African-American fashion models to break into the mainstream.

DeVore’s extensive collection consists of thousands of items, from photos to scrapbooks relating to her time at the helm of the agency, to lengthy correspondence from her other business ventures.

In an interview with theGrio, DeVore, who is surprisingly lucid for her 92 years, says when she co-founded Grace Del Marco, “people of color didn’t even count in the beauty industry, not just in America, but across the world.”

Her drive,  she says, came from her own personal experiences working briefly as a model, mainly for Ebony Magazine, from the age of 16.

Though DeVore is of mixed-race origin, the South-Carolina-born beauty became acutely aware of how black people were depicted in the media and subsequently made it her mission to change these images.

Two years later, in 1948, Devore established the Ophelia DeVore School of Charm, where young black women learned etiquette, poise and posture, speech and ballet, and self-presentation.

The archives, which span from the 1940s to 1990s, document the changing attitudes and images of non-whites in the beauty industry, says DeVore’s son, James D. Carter, who took over the charm school for a number of years and later ran other aspects of the Devore businesses.

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