Syma Cohen/Syma Busiel - who was she? Why did she change her name? How old was she?

Started by Private User on Thursday, February 2, 2012


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Private User
2/2/2012 at 4:50 PM

Our Grandfather's older brother Harry married Ida Cohen, who was part of the family that founded and ran Lady Esther Cosmetics, one of the largest and most successful American cosmetics enterprises of the 1930's and 40's. The 1900 census reveals a number of interesting points:

First, Ida's father, Aaron, is shown as immigrating in 1880 from Russia. Yet his wife and 6 children do not arrive until 1898. One might think that he married a widow with 6 children, except that the census also states that they had been married for 16 years! This means that either Mary and the children were here all along and the census taker mistook their immigration year, or that Aaron was popping back to Russia every year, or that he came in 1880 and then went back for a long period, returning again to America. According to the census, he was a naturalized citizen -- but he also lists his trade as a blacksmith -- hardly a profession for frequent overseas travel!

To further the mystery -- he simply disappears from any subsequent censuses. Did he leave his family? Did he die young? Mary also disappears from the censuses, except for a Chicago death index showing a Mary Busiel passing away in 1949. The Mary Cohen in the 1900 census, was born in 1869 -- could they be one and the same?

Their 4th child was Sadie, born in 1990. Later Syma appears on the scene, supposedly born in 1891. I am personally convinced that little Sadie Cohen grew up to be the celebrated entrepreneur Syma Busiel. Syma reinvented her name, probably took a year off her age (which is a shame, because according to the original census age, she lived to be 100!).

It is my opinion that Aaron Cohen was less than a consistent father, and that is why several of the children changed their name to Busiel. It would also help explain why Ida divorced Uncle Harry -- that she kind of "married her father" (Harry was unreliable and a drinker), ultimately leaving him as her mother probably separated from Aaron. In any case, the 7th child, born after the 1900 census was taken, Alfred, was always known as Alfred Busiel. He and Syma built the company to the giant it became, they lived like celebrities, she built a famous mansion in Glencoe (which later gave way to a synagogue), lavish parties, world travel, media -- the works.

All was lost, however, after Alfred's untimely death in 1951 (just days after I was born), when the will was contested not only by Syma but by two of his three wives and one of his daughters. Ultimately the courts dictated the sale of Lady Esther's assets, the proceeds of which were somehow allocated to the survivors.

Private User
2/5/2012 at 1:41 PM

@Syma Busiel Here is what I have heard from Seymour. He remembers hearing the first batches of Lady Esther cosmetics were actually cooked up in the bathtub in Harry's house. After Harry married Ida and her family fell on hard times in Chicago (maybe the father Cohen had left them?) they all moved to Holland and lived with Harry and Ida (including even the older brothers initially). Alfred, Esther and Syma started the company together and Esther married early and sold her share to her siblings. Alfred and Syma took their mother’s maiden name. They would sell their face cream in drugstores, etc. and things really took off for them when one of the major chains signed a contract with them (I think maybe Walgreens?). The rest of the story is as you said. After Syma sold her home to the synagogue she maintained a suite at the Drake Hotel in Chicago in her old age that she apparently lived in until her death. Alfred was also not a particularly nice guy by the sound of things. Apparently he divorced his first wife and abandoned their daughter when the wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to the famous Jewish Hospital in Denver to be treated. A son of Alfred’s first daughter reached out to me by email last year and we communicated a bit, which is how I learned about this.

Private User
1/10/2013 at 4:06 PM

Just reread this. One mistake as to Syma's birth -- I wrote 1990 and of course meant 1890!

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