Ophelia DeVore was only 16 when she began modeling in New York City. She was sent there to live with family after her parents determined she would have more opportunities and stability there than in the segregated hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina. Being of mixed heritage - African-American, German-French, and Cherokee Indian - Miss DeVore found employment relatively easy as a "European looking" Black woman. However her experiences revealed how difficult it was for people of color to be hired for fashion photography or advertising once decision makers realized they were not white - regardless of how much he or she could “pass.” This discrimination became the impetus of Ophelia DeVore’s mission to change the world’s definition of beauty.
In 1946 along with her then husband, Harold Carter, and four other partners, Miss DeVore opened Grace Del Marco Modeling - an agency specifically designed to represent men and women of color. Among its top talents were award winners Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Richard Roundtree; fashion trail blazer Audrey Smaltz and also top fashion models Helen Williams and Cannes Film Festival winners Cecelia Cooper and LeJeune Hundley and TV personalities LuLu Guerrero and Sue Simmons.
But Miss DeVore felt her purpose was bigger than simply representing movie stars and models. She knew there was an urgent need for people who had been rejected and marginalized to start feeling good about themselves and recognizing their value. This led to the launch of “The Ophelia DeVore Charm School.” Starting in Queens, then moved to 125 Street in Harlem, and eventually making its way to the heart of Manhattan, Broadway, above the Ed Sullivan Theater - the ODV Charm School became the center for individual and professional development. Students were taught Social and Business Etiquette, Visual Poise, Vocal Dynamics, Fencing and the Power of Positive Thinking. Charm was the word of the day, and was coordinated and delivered by Miss DeVore's primary program director, Jacqueline Wellington-Moore.
Once the school was firmly established and staffed, Miss DeVore decided to confront two bigger giants - Madison Avenue and Washington, DC. She clearly understood that no matter how much she prepared individuals for the workforce, if industries at large did not become more inclusive her efforts would have far less impact. Throughout the 60's and 70's, Miss DeVore partnered with organizations like the NAACP, Operation Breadbasket, Congress of Racial Equality, United Negro College Fund, NAMD, and other progressive organizations and aggressively pushed for equality and fair representation in all arenas.
In 1968 she married her second husband, Vernon Mitchell, a newspaper publisher in Columbus, Georgia - and later assumed its lead executive role as publisher when Mitchell passed away. Even though The Columbus Times was a daily local Black newspaper, as a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Miss DeVore had a platform to address issues facing Black and Brown people on a national level.
Ophelia DeVore's visibility and influence grew exponentially, leading to six US Presidents wanting to meet and hear her voice on combating racism and creating long-deserved opportunities for people of color. In 1985 President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the President’s Advisory Committee on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was also one of 75 women included in photographer Brian Lanker’s 1989 book, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.
In 2012, Emory University secured rights to Miss DeVore’s papers as the pioneer of the 1970's “Black is Beautiful” movement and a key contributor to the expansion of Civil Rights in the United States. In 2011 Senior Curator Elaine Nichols, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, requested Miss DeVore donate several of her fashion artifacts to the museum, which she graciously complied.
Shortly before her passing in 2014, Miss DeVore worked with author Alina Mitchell on her biography, The Color of Beauty: The Life and Work of New York Fashion Icon Ophelia DeVore. It was published and released in 2019, with a forward by fashion trailblazer Audrey Smaltz, one of Miss DeVore’s proteges.
The Ophelia DeVore Legacy continues...
Many of you know the fabulous award winning Jacqueline Wellington-Moore, Director of the Ophelia DeVore Charm School for many years. Jacqueline’s book “Inner Spirituality Outer Beauty” details her consciousness…her life’s teachings as she personifies the spirit of love, artistic endeavor and giving back to mankind.
When Jackie entered the Ophelia DeVore Charm School, Miss DeVore knew she was the “It” girl, having everything her students needed as a role model … her walk, her wardrobe, her smile and confidence. She was fashionable and classy from head to toe. She was ultra chic! Jacqueline was selected three times as one of Essence Magazine’s Ten Best Dressed Women.
Jackie lived and preached Positive Thinking and introduced “Magic of the Mind” to the DeVore students and taught them beauty started from within…her inner peace and beauty are reflected in her ability to reach and encourage others to seek similar inspiration and confidence in themselves.
A graduate of Spelman College, with a B.A. in Sociology and Art Education, Jackie also studied at Columbia University towards an advanced degree. She was a Seminarian at Interdenominational Theological Center in the Atlanta University Center. Jacqueline retired from the Social Services Administration in New York City and she has received numerous awards for her work in Atlanta, GA, New York, and the DeVore Charm School. The Pittsburgh School of Social Work recently awarded her a Certificate of Recognition.
Jacqueline holds dear in her heart loving memories of her husband George and daughter Yasmin.
DeVoreCarter Communications is honored to have Jacqueline Wellington-Moore join its Advisory Board.
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