The Story Of A Millionaire Who Was Locked In An Asylum Out Of Jealousy

The pages of history are filled with stories of visionary, daring, smart people creating and inventing new things.  We praise those inventive and resourceful people who’ve had the idea and founded some of the most successful businesses and companies. Yet most of these tales are about men. Surprising, right? Well, not really. For centuries, women have been relegated to do things that are more "fit" for their condition. Any audacious woman who dared to break with those barriers was either punished or unfairly disregarded by the society of the time. But that never stopped them. No matter how many obstacles they faced, they learned how to overcome and avoid them. Here’s the story of a woman who overcame every single hurdle in her life with grace and strength: Harriet Hubbard Ayer, a cosmetics mogul.

Born in 1849 to a privileged family, Harriet grew surrounded by luxuries, elegance, and etiquette. As a shy and pampered socialite girl, she was often asked to pose for paintings and attended many social events. She soon met Herbert Copeland Ayer, the wealthy heir to an iron company with whom she had three daughters. As it usually happens with these stories, at the beginning they both enjoyed their marriage with trips to Europe and luxuries. However, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, and she soon found out that her stunning husband was a drunkard and a cheat. Naturally, divorce was off the table in those times, especially for a lady of her status. But she wasn’t going to endure a life of misery and pain. She took her belongings and her daughters and moved to New York City, where she found a job as a furniture saleswoman.

When she decided to leave her husband, her family turned their back on her. Harriet knew she had to come up with an idea to give her daughters the life they were used to. She saved some money and traveled to France to find Monsieur Mirault, a famous pharmacist who owned the "miraculous" cream formula that had kept women young. After many intense meetings, she managed to persuade Mirault to sell her the formula. Now she had to find a way to market it in the US.

In 1866 with the help of investors and a massive publicity campaign she began promote her products, including brushes, soaps, balms, and the crown jewel, the Récamier Cream. The fact that a woman was becoming so powerful with a company she fully owned and directed infuriated several men in the business, who tried everything they could to end with her success, but only one man managed to do so. She was denounced for scandalous public behavior and actually got five legal suits. Plotting with her former husband, James Seymour, a former investor, became a very close friend of hers but behind his nice gestures, he was plotting to get the company for himself. Her daughters, who had been studying abroad, were turned against her and stopped having contact with her. It was time for the final strike: Seymour convinced Herbert Copeland Ayer to commit her to an asylum claiming that she was "mentally despaired."

Of course, Seymour got his way, and she lost the company she had created, but she proved they had to be more inventive to destroy her will and drive to move on. Fourteen months later, with the help of some friends and lawyers, she managed to escape the institution. Instead of just trying to forget the terrible experience, once free, she publicly talked about the false accusations that had resulted in being sent to the asylum. Moreover, she delivered a set of lectures exposing the injustices and bad treatment the patients received in American mental institutions. She saw a new life path she wanted to pursue: journalism. Resourceful as she was, she became a successful journalist at the New York World owned by John Pulitzer.


We all have a resilient soul deep within ourselves, but there are people that have to resort to it every single day of their lives. Check the story of Marcelino Serna, The Illegal Mexican Who Became A WWI Hero.



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