Mary C. Crowley (1915-1986)

Company: Home Interiors & Gifts
Started: 1957; sold 2008
Size: $500 million in annual sales in 1986

Business, religion, and opportunities for women were all compatible to Mary C. Crowley, the maverick behind one of the largest direct sales companies in decorating and gift items, Home Interiors & Gifts. A single mother of two in Sherman, Texas, Crowley moved from a series of jobs before being recruited by her friend Mary Kay Eckman (aka future cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash) into direct selling in the 1940s. Although she liked the work, Crowley was incensed by her employer’s policy that limited commissions for its female sales team. In 1957, with savings, loans from friends, and a $6,000 bank loan – unusual for women in that era – she launched Home Interiors, and incorporated the party-selling techniques popular at the time. A devout Baptist, Crowley was famous for holding business meetings with a Bible on her lap. She saw the company as her divine mission and a way to aid other women, urging the mothers who made up her sales force to schedule work around their family obligations. She also wrote and self-published several inspirational books. The company was sold in 2008 and became part of Celebrating Home, a husband-and-wife owned home interiors business based in Carlile, Texas.

References:

  • “Cox School to Honor Crowley,” Dallas Morning News, April 9, 1986.
  • Mary C. Crowley, “Mary C. Crowley, President, Home Interiors and Gifts, Inc., Dallas, Texas,” in Patricia Harrison, ed., America’s New Women Entrepreneurs: Tips, Tactics, and Techniques of Women Achievers in Business (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, 1986), 75-76.
  • Holly G. Miller, “The First Lady of Home Interiors; Mary C. Crowley,” Saturday Evening Post, April 1983, 58; Crowley, You Can Too; “Our Story,” company website (http://www.celebratinghome.com/1_0_comp_profile.ashx).
  • http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/home-interiors-gifts-inc-history/.
  • Allen R. Myerson, “Company News; From At-Home Parties to a $1 Billion Buyout,” New York Times, 13 July 1994 (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/13/business/company-news-from-at-home-parties-to-a-1-billion-buyout.html).