Rose Marie Reid

September 12, 2006 | 24 comments
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In 1950s America, Rose Marie Reid was a household name. She was born one hundred years ago today.

She invented the modern bathing suit. She married three times, each more disastrous than the last. She wrote a series of missionary discussions aimed at Jews that was used church-wide. Two of her grandchildren drowned in her swimming pool. She owned the company that sold more bathing suits in the 1950s than any other. She was poverty-stricken in her later years as her fortune was squandered by financial advisors whom she trusted too much. She donated a significant sum to the construction of the Los Angeles Temple; the Relief Society sisters in the area hand-sewed thousands of sequins onto a bathing suit design that was so popular in 1954 that one would-be beauty queen stole it off of a mannequin. She was responsible for a good portion of the shape and form of BYU today. Her children lived for a few years in another country while she worked around the clock to establish her business. She was thanked by Marilyn Monroe as a major source of her success. She redesigned the temple garment at President McKay’s request. She allowed her twelve-year-old daughter to go on vacation to New York City, alone, for a month. She refused to design immodest bathing suits. She was an official, set-apart missionary for two decades, serving the church by sharing the gospel with everyone she met while running her stunningly successful business.

She, in short, lived an amazing life and may still be the most famous LDS woman ever.

Happy Birthday, Sister Reid.

Source: Rose Marie Reid: An Extraordinary Life Story

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24 Responses to Rose Marie Reid

  1. Idahospud on September 12, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Wow, what pile of sand has my head been in? I didn’t know she was LDS, nor that she was so diversely accomplished and personally iconoclastic. Thanks for the tribute!

  2. Kaimi Wenger on September 12, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for this one, Julie. Nice tribute.

  3. Susan M on September 12, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Never heard of her. What an interesting life!

    I think Gladys Knight might carry the title of most famous LDS woman nowadays.

  4. Wilfried on September 12, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    How interesting, Julie! Allow me to add a visual aid.

  5. paula on September 12, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Are you sure the garment design was at the request of President McKay? I heard Barbara B. Smith talk about this once, and thought that it was Spencer W. Kimball who worked with Rose Marie, in the design of the two piece garments.

    How was Rose Marie Read involved in the” shape and form” of BYU?

  6. Julie M. Smith on September 12, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    paula,

    According to her biography (page 201), it was President McKay.

    She donated significant sums to BYU, spoke there often, worked with their marketing dept., etc.

  7. Mark B. on September 12, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Gee, and I thought that it was her design of the first swimming suit to include a brassiere (a little known–or cared about–fact that she disclosed when she spoke to my seminary class in 1968) that “shape[d] and form[ed] at least half of the people at BYU. (I’m not sure that a woman, even a very old one, should bother a bunch of teen-aged boys with that bit of trivia.)

    Ms. Reid, her daughter and son-in-law and their family moved into my ward in Provo in 1967 or ’68. We knew of her coming before she got there–the names of the owners of the big houses on the hill tended to leak long before they moved in. My mother spoke of her as if we should know the name–but we didn’t.

    I didn’t know what became of her after that, and anything I might say about her family would be gossip.

  8. Mark B. on September 12, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    I will have to ask my mother about the sequins on the bathing suits. I have a vague recollection that it was a “welfare” project for some of the southern California stakes back in the early fifties.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on September 12, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks, Julie. I kept wondering, “Is this the Hollywood Squares Rose Marie?” I suppose not.

    So, am I the only one who found the bio rather sad? (And can you IMAGINE a modest, Mormon designer ever winning the Sports Illustrator Designer of the Year again?)

  10. Julie M. Smith on September 12, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Alison Moore Smith,

    There were some very sad elements to her story, yes, but she was also a lemonade-out-of-lemons person, as well, and that element was inspiring.

  11. Anita Wells on September 13, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    A few years ago I attended a RS Enridchment where Rose Marie’s granddaughter spoke and modeled some of the vintage bathing suits. It was such a fascinating life story! She told a fun anecdote that when Rose Marie was working on the garment design, she really pushed for the 2 piece, but Pres. McKay refused. RM said that when she died she was going straight to the top, and six months after she died, the two piece garment was introduced.

  12. Jon L. on September 18, 2006 at 12:27 am

    Julie;
    Thanks for cracking open the door on an old memory. I recall as a young boy visiting the house of the famous “Rose Marie Reid” with my parents. She was my uncle’s sister, and I never knew what the big deal was. I have two memories of the visit: 1) stay off the white carpet. [I couldn't understand why anyone would have white carpet in their house (white???). How could you live in a house where you couldn't run on the carpet? The experience has led my thinking about appropriate carpet colors for close to 40 years now] and 2) the big house had a great view of Utah Valley. I think I was seven.

    Your post inspired me to ask my Dad about her. I had no clue. I’m thinking about buying her biography. Many thanks.

  13. Betty Tisdel on September 18, 2006 at 10:21 am

    Someone could contact SHARON ALDEN living in Alta,Wy
    and active in the Church in Driggs,Idaho, a living daughter of
    R.M.R., and get the straight scoop. She is a delightful,valiant
    Saint and would appreciate the opp., I would venture.

  14. Lee on March 9, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    When did she die? I couldn\’t find the date on any bios….

  15. Barbara Trembley on August 6, 2007 at 11:29 am

    I was Rose Marie\’s junior model in 1955-56 – in a beauty contest – Ms.Granada Hills – and Ms. Reid offered her sequined suit – with glamerous skirt – (for evening dress pool parties) sewn by the ladies of the church – sales to benefit the church.
    I guess, maybe,, might of been – (date? not sure) (but I did not steal the suit) I was both the maniquin and the \’would be\’ beauty constestant – in the article – The models used to be invited to Ms. Reids home in Brentwood often – She did put forward the Morman faith – giving us all books on it.
    She was an inspiring – hard working woman – I\’m glad to have known her. Barbara Trembley

  16. Julie M. Smith on August 6, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Barbara, thank you so much for your comment.

  17. Dawn on May 17, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    The information on this site is really interesting. It will be a great help to me in preparing a mini bio for my website on Famous Canadian Women (http://famouscanadianwomen) .
    For the person who asked when Rose Marie died…the date I have found is November 18, 1978.

  18. R. Meigs on June 2, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    My mom worked at the Rose Marie Reid factory near LA Airport and then moved with the complany out to the Valley. I remember as a child she would have open house for the seamstresses and you could bring your children. I remember the those visits as happy times. There were also sad times when her grand children drowned.

    What a nice lady I always thought. I actually met her (at about 5). I didn\’t know she was LDS until I \”googled\” her name.

    By the way I\’m an african american and she hired quite a few and she was the highest paying at the time.

  19. Julie M. Smith on June 2, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Thank you, Dawn and R. Meigs for your comments.

  20. Carole Reid Burr on July 17, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Dear Julie:

    You have it correct. It was President Mc Kay who requested Rsoe Marie Reid design the garments. Also the sequin suit was designed and manufactured specifically for the profits to be given to the building of the Los Angeles temple. The Relief Societies sewed the sequins and they were responsible for thousands and thousands that were sold in the stores throughout the world. The white carpet was in her Utah home and was an experiment with Union Carbide to make fiber for carpets. It was like a cloud and had to be combed. Everyone had the run of her home at all times but the white carpet was replaced so people did not have to be restricted. Clarifying the Sports Illustrated Award. This award was long before the Sports Illustrated magazine even existed. Her life was dedicated to modesty and she certainly would never have allowed one of her designs to be in that magazine. It was first the name for the prestigous award for design and sadly the magazine many years later used the same name for their magazine. The award was for a particular line of suits – all modest and lovely.

    Thanks to all who cared enough to comment,

    Sincerely,
    Carole Reid Burr Rose Marie Reid\’s daughter

  21. Julie M. Smith on July 17, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Carole Reid Burr,

    Thank you so much for your comment!

  22. Ardis Parshall on July 17, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Now *that* was a comment worth waiting for.

  23. Chris Hash on July 23, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Carole Reid Burr, I came to a Relief Society event in NE Provo about 10 years ago, where you came and spoke about your mom and some of her swimsuits were modeled. I fell in love with them, bought the book about her, and have since collected many pictures of her suits plus a few of the suits themselves. Are you still in the Provo area? I would LOVE to see some of the suits up close again, if you ever have any events scheduled. If you would be willing to contact me, go to my web site ModestProm.com. Thanks so much!

  24. Molly on August 9, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Hi!
    I’m your average 19 year old girl who loves swimming and the beach… Well a few houses on my block are having a yard sale. And the other day my family friend who lives across the street brought over an old bathing suit that she found while she was going through boxes of clothing. This is a bathing suit that she wore when she was 18, 19 years old. This was in the 60′s. The Bathing suit which fits me like a glove is a Rose Marie Reid design and it’s gorgeous. I feel like a pin up girl in it. Just letting you know the legacy lives on =]