Businesswomen and Entrepreneurs

Erma Proetz, Graduation Day 1910


Erma Perham graduated from Washington University in 1910, with a degree in Liberal Arts.  In 1918, she married a fellow graduate, Dr. Arthur Proetz, after his service overseas in World War I. 

She began work as a copywriter at Gardner Advertising in 1923.  Her career was launched while working on the PET Evaporated Milk Company account.  Over the next twenty years she created a very successful national campaign with radio broadcasts, magazine articles, promotional recipes, and demonstration kitchens.  For much of her career she published under the pseudonym Mary Lee Taylor.  Learning on the job, she worked her way up at Gardner to executive vice president.


Proetz served in leadership positions for the Women's Advertising Club of St. Louis, the St. Louis Branch of the Fashion Group, and the Council of Women's Clubs of the Advertising Federation of America.  She received many awards during her career.  Most notably, in 1952, she became the first woman inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.  Today of the nearly 200 inductees, only thirteen are women.

After her death in 1944, the St. Louis Fashion Group established the Erma Proetz Memorial Scholarship at the Washington University School of Fine Arts "in recognition of her great interest in students and the wide help and encouragement she gave many young girls starting out on their careers."



Cover image from The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1946)
Available from Washington University Library


Irma Von Starkloff was born in 1877 to recently emigrated German parents.  Educated in both public and boarding schools, she attended classes at Washington University's School of Art in 1894.  She married, had three children, and continued her education through informal groups such as the Wednesday Club.  This was the pattern of many middle- and upper-class St. Louis women.

Her husband, lawyer Edgar Rombauer (Law class of 1887), suffered from profound depression that led to his suicide in 1930.  As a widow, she moved in with her adult daughter and needed a way to support herself.  With limited options, she decided to create a useful cookbook for the modern 20th century woman - The Joy Of Cooking: A Compilation Of Reliable Recipes With A Casual Culinary Chat.  The first edition (1931) was written and self-published by Irma, with illustrations by her daughter Marion.

The Joy of Cooking offered shortcuts for busy women and offered ideas for new ready-made foods, like canned soup and Jello.  This was the first cookbook that listed every ingredient needed and gave step-by-step instructions, a pattern followed by nearly all cookbooks to this day.  After Irma's death in 1962, her family continued to publish updated editions.