By Chris Griebel and Eric Soucy, undergraduates, Saint Anselm College
Therese Olzendam was born on December 16, 1896 in Woodstock, a small town in central Vermont. She was the second child of Louis H. Olzendam and Lillian H. Marble. Her older brother, Roderic, was a writer. Olzendam’s mother was a member of the Vermont branch of the Woman’s Suffrage Association, as well as an elector in the Electoral College, voting for Warren G. Harding. Therese was the granddaughter of Abraham P. Olzendam, a prominent politician and factory owner in Manchester, New Hampshire, who came to America as a Prussian immigrant.
Olzendam attended summer classes at the University of Vermont. It is not clear if she graduated. She held various jobs as a typesetter, power press operator, and an office suffrage worker. She began her career at Elm Tree Press in Woodstock, Vermont. She was quoted as saying that she “was the first woman to run a power press in that vicinity and also the fastest woman typesetter.” Following this position, Olzendam moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked as a circulation manager at The Suffragist. From May 1916 to September 1920, Therese wrote a number of reports for The Suffragist. Later Olzendam moved to New York where she worked as a secretary at the National Woman’s Party headquarters. According to the August 3, 1918 Suffragist, she also joined at least one NWP protest.
Following this position, Therese was hired at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York City by Helen Resor. She crafted a niche for herself within the company as the resident expert on medical research. While at the company, Therese applied for membership in the American Journal of Public Health in the Industrial Hygiene Section. The J. Walter Thompson Company newsletter described Therese in the following way: “There must be few other men or women who are so knowledgeable in the medical-scientific field and at the same time so thoroughly grounded and experienced in practical advertising.” She continued to work at J. Walter Thompson as a member of the Editorial Department until 1951.
During her time in New York, Therese lived in a couple of places around New York City. When she was applying for membership in the American Journal of Public Health, she lived at 420 Lexington Avenue. Later, in the 1940 census, Therese is listed as a lodger with Adelaide Kuntz and her son, John, at 26 Sturges Road in Eastchester, New York.
Therese passed away on October 18, 1963. The location of her death is unclear, and there is no known obituary for her.
There is minimal record of Therese Olzendam’s suffrage work in Vermont, Washington, D.C., or New York. The J. Walter Thompson Company records at Duke University and U.C. Berkeley list some correspondence from Therese, but none of it is available online.
The quote provided in the biographical sketch comes from Jennifer Scanlon, The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader (New York: NYU Press, 2000), 214. This book also touches briefly upon her time at Elm Tree Press, her work at The Suffragist in Washington, D.C., as well as her work in New York at the National Woman’s Party headquarters. It also discusses her time at the J. Walter Thompson Company where she spent the remainder of her working career. We also learned from this book that Therese did not have a college degree. The footnote (#63) for this section of the book states that the information was found from Therese Olzendam’s personal file in the J. Walter Thompson Company Archives at the Duke University Library, Durham, N.C., which we did not have access to. The Library of Congress website has an image of Therese Olzendam from ca. 1918. Therese’s birth and death dates can be found at findagrave.com. Here, too, we found the birth and death dates of both of her parents, and her grandparents. From this website, too, we learned a significant amount of information (at least dates and names) of siblings of her parents and grandparents. The Vermont Bulletin from January 1916 shows in the University of Vermont registration page that Therese Olzendam was registered within the University, so that she must have been attending at least some classes. As mentioned above, The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader suggests that Olzendam did not complete her work or earn a degree. Globalizing Ideal Beauty: How Female Copywriters of the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency Redefined Beauty for the Twentieth Century suggests that Therese did complete her degree. The book states “Therese Olzendam graduated from the University of Vermont.” The National Woman’s Party Papers tells us that Therese wrote reports between May 1916 and September 1920, although we did not have access to these reports. Her brother, Roderic, wrote an autobiography, Green Gold for America: The Life and Times of Roderic Marble Olzendam, but it was unavailable for our use. Ancestry.com provides her residential information as a lodger. The American Journal of Public Health Association News from September 1937 lists Therese as a member of the Association, specifically in the Food and Nutrition Section. Her name is listed along with the address of her residence at the time. Politicalgraveyard.com provides the information about Therese's mother's membership in the Electoral College.