I’ve been working at the Tupperware Home Office for about five years, and loving every crazy minute. My Dad, Rick Elgeness, has worked here 20 years, and now I understand why he’s so passionate about this place. It’s hard not to be dedicated when you know that what you do each day could help so many amazing Tupperware business owners.
…I had no idea I was moving next door to someone who knew one of my idols…
When my husband and I bought our house near downtown Orlando in October of 2014, I had no idea I was moving next door to someone who knew one of my idols: Tupperware party pioneer Brownie Wise. Our neighbor, Frances, was sweet to us from the beginning, chatting with us over the low, chain-link fence about our yard (her backyard is a gorgeous garden and ours…is not.)
When I told her where I worked, she offhandedly mentioned knowing Brownie and her mother, Rose Humphrey, and also being a Distributor in the fifties, like it was no big deal, while continuing to harvest some collard greens. But I convinced the lovely Frances to sit down with me one day and tell her story.
How did you get started in Tupperware?
I had never heard of Tupperware before I was invited to a party in April 1953 with a girlfriend of mine whose husband worked with my husband. We went to the party together and were recruited together! I was about 26 then.
I joined under Rose Humphrey’s (Brownie’s mother’s) organization, but she was not very big at that time. She’d recently brought her business up from South Florida. She lived one block over here, and we went to meetings at her house all the time.
I was only a dealer for a year before Brownie asked me to move to Mobile, Alabama, and become a Distributor.
What was that like? To move to become a Distributor?
You won’t say I’m shy, but I’m not an outgoing person by nature, I had to force myself. I don’t just run out on the street and talk to people; I have to know you a while. I have a friend at church, younger than I am, who hugs everyone. [laughing] I’m not like that. When Brownie asked me to become a Distributor, I had no self-confidence, I said, “I can’t do that!”
But Brownie could look at you and say, “You can do this, Frances,” and she made me believe it. She was wonderful. The greatest lady I’ve ever known, really. Sometimes Earl [Tupper] thought he knew more than Brownie, and though her head may have gotten a little too big, she was worth it.
So we had just bought this house; we were only the second people on the block. The road wasn’t even paved here. It was still orange groves all around. To move to Mobile, we decided to rent it out to some air force people.
We got a new Plymouth to drive out there, and we had $10,000 cash. We didn’t even have enough to buy Christmas presents that year; everything was in Tupperware, all our money. A Distributorship had already been in the area, they told us, we were told there were dealers who were there, but I don’t think they were selling 100% Tupperware. They were selling other direct sales products, too. I had to work like a Trojan, to get the sellers active again and to get them selling Tupperware. I had to go all over Alabama and some of Mississippi to check up on them. I also had a friend who became a Distributor in New Orleans around that time, so between the two of us, we were able to cover the area pretty well.
Did your Distributorship have a location?
We did have a warehouse and meeting space in nearby Prichard, but we held most meetings at hotels because people were so scattered. We only had one car, so I took my husband to the warehouse, took my daughter to school, then would go to a party, and back to the warehouse. I was pretty busy, and I built up the sellers in the area pretty good, had a number of people came back.
Did you bring your people to Jubilee that year?
No, I came to Jubilee myself that year, and we sold out not long after that. The work was out of my husband’s line. He did well in the warehouse, but it wasn’t really for him. I was happy to come back to Florida, too. This was home; we had the house and a nine year old. It just worked out that way.
Anyway, we came back and built my husband’s stucco and plastering business in Orlando back up again. We had business everywhere, all over the state.
I kept up selling Tupperware, but wasn’t totally active. I just did enough to go to the Jubilees. There we had lobsters everywhere, and wow, do I remember the Jubilee at Brownie’s island. We went out there, all of us. Tupperware had hired all these little motorboats to take us out and we had a luau. Tupperware brought people from Hawaii to perform and even to cook. It was very authentic. When we were getting ready to leave the island at midnight, all the boat drivers were drunk. Only two boats operating, so it took us a while to get back to the car. It was a late night, but worth it. There was a boat crash that night, but none of us really knew it until we read it in the paper later.
Sounds like you really enjoyed the Jubilees?
Oh, yes. While I was active in Tupperware, I went to every single one of them. I especially loved Jubilee 1955, the Wild West Jubilee. In those days, the trail [Orange Blossom Trail] was almost nothing. We came down OBT and here are these horses, cowboys and Indians, we were so excited.
When I got home, by myself, I pulled into the driveway and jumped out of the car. I thought I had shifted into park, and ran in to tell my husband all about it. I was all fired up. I looked out the window, and my car had slid out and went into the driveway across the street, smack into my friend Alice’s car across the street.
Jubilees are great because even though I’m not the jumpy kind, it made us excited to see everyone all enthusiastic, jumping around.
Our Jubilees were something else, all the writers and press would come. Brownie got the biggest names and entertainers, like Will Rogers!
What was one of your favorite memories with Brownie?
I was very close with her mother Rose, she was my upline, but I saw Brownie often.
One day we had our monthly meeting at Brownie’s house, Water’s Edge on lake Tohopekaliga, I had won some contest (I won a lot at that time, like three trips to Nassau), but it was some other contest. I was in line to get a gift, but I said to Brownie, “I’d rather have the dress you’ve got on!” She went into her room, changed clothes and came out and gave it to me. I had to spend a lot of money to get it tailored to fit me, but I loved it!
I’ve read about her doing things like that—it’s so amazing to hear you say it happened to you! What was it like to go to her house, Water’s Edge? It looked so glamorous in the Sparks newsletters and the marketing materials she put together.
In those days, we weren’t all that impressed. I don’t go around checking everything out. I had some friends who could go into a house and tell you where everything was. [laughing] Not me.
When I was there, they were always Manager meetings, and always more business oriented. No wild parties really—Brownie’s son Jerry was always in the back room, he was still a child then.
When did you lose touch with Brownie?
Well, Rose passed away in 1959, and I went to her funeral. And after Tupperware, Brownie moved into Kissimmee, around the corner from the courthouse. I visited her there several times, I think it was around 1964 or 65. She tried to recruit us into her new cosmetics business (Cinderella,) but I didn’t want to do that.
What do you treasure most about your time in the business?
Mostly that we were all very close in those days, like family. And many lived in this neighborhood. The town was small then. I had a lot of fun when I went to Dayton with Gary McDonald for a Distributor training when I first became a Distributor. I went up on the plane with him, changing flights four times. Brownie, Gary and all the Execs were like our special friends.
It’s amazing how much of what Frances loved about her Tupperware business in the fifties is still true today: it’s all about the relationships formed, the confidence others can instill in you, and having tons of fun together at celebrations like Jubilee. You’ve just got to experience it to believe it.
Oh, and though her vintage (70-year-old!) Tupperware still works great, she’s been happy to get her hands on a lot of the new stuff, too.