Friday 24 September 2010

Who was Anna Ruppert?

I have often noticed this rather striking advert in The Lady's Dressing Room, a book I happen to have on cosmetics etc. from 1893.

But who was Anna Ruppert? The size of the advert, the mention of multiple premises internationally, all suggest that she was successful. So I went looking ...

She appears in London in 1891. Here's an advert from the Times:

"ST. JAMES'S-HALL. - FREE LECUTRE to ladies and gentlemen by Mrs. ANNA RUPPERT, the celebrated American complexion specialist, on Wednesday October 14, commencing at 3 o'clock. By permission of the Commanding Officer, the Band of the 2d Life Guards will perform a selection of popular music from 2.30 until 3 o'clock. Door open at 2 o'clock. Floral decorations. Each lady in the audience will be presented, gratis, with Mrs. Rupperts standard work on "Beauty". Admission by ticket free, which may be hand on application to Mrs. Ruppert's Business Managers, Mitchell's Royal Agency, 33, Old Bond-street, W."

A report on the 'demonstration lecture' in the Newcastle Courant notes that it was attending by men as well as women, and describes Mrs. Ruppert as "a beautiful woman, with the well-known personal characteristics of a refined American. She wore a rather decollete gown of black silk and lace edged with ostrich feather-trimming, and made with infinitesimal sleeves. The long black kid gloes reach to the above the elbow, still showing a considerable portion of the upper arm uncovered. A trail of flowers on the skirt and an effective floral boa, consisting of red roses and their foliage, completed the lecturer's equipment, which, however, included the incidental attractions of a diamond necklace, a sparkling medal fastened on the corsage, and a rose-colour feather, cunningly arranged in the coiffure, which by the way was singularly elaborate."

It sounds like a rather impressive outfit  (nb. I think it's worth noting, that lectures by women were still something of a novelty at this time). There was, of course, a dangerous precedent for would-be beauticians in the form of the infamous Madame Rachel.  It seems that Mrs. Ruppert faced this head-on, with a piece from the Yorkshire Herald noting that, regarding her lectures, "to convince fathers, mothers and husbands that 'she is not a Rachel or cosmetic artiste' she invites the attendance of gentlemen." A piece from a Dublin paper, citing the Daily Telegraph, describes her as 'an Amercian reformer' and says the title of her lecture was 'How to do without Cosmetics' and describes how Mrs. Ruppert 'polishes her face with a piece of chamois leather'. Cosmetics were, of course, rather frowned upon in Victorian London, as disreputable (more the province of the whore than the lady) and many women would not admit to 'painting', as it was known. This, then, was Mrs. Ruppert's unique proposition - to improve the complexion, without using make-up. She seems to have been a force to be reckoned with in 1892/93, with numerous advertisements in the national and local press, and numerous  public lectures.
For example, a reasonably large advert appears in the Times in January 1892.

"A PERECT COMPLEXION. - Such a Complexion obtained by the use of Mrs. RUPPERTS world-renowned SKIN TONIC.
What is Guaranteed for Mrs. Anna Ruppert's wonderful Skin Tonic.
    That it is not a cosmetic, as it does not show on the face after application.
    That is does not require constant use, as it is a positive cure, three bottles being usually sufficient to clear any complexion, which lasts in the average case eight years.
    That is contains no lead, sulphur, lime, arsenic, or anything in any way injurious to the skin.
    That its action is perfectly natural, cutting the poisonous fillings that have been accumulating for years, thus assisting on the face, as our wearing apparel by constant friction does on the body, to loosen the callous cuticle.
    That is does not give you a washed-out appearance, but will positively clear any complexion and restore to it the natural freshness of youth.
    That it will positively remove in any case freckles, moth, pimples, salt rheum, eczema, and, in fact, any and all discolourations or blemishes to which the skin is heir to, including wrinkles not caused by facial expression, redness of skin, &c. It is not only harmless, but actually beneficial to even the most delicate skin.
    All the above is guaranteed by Mrs. Ruppoert, and is corroborated by thousands of the best ladies in the world.
    Aside from these guarantees, Skin Tonic has had its merits publicly tested by ladies on exhibition while using it.
    Skin Tonic sent to any address in the world. Price per bottle, 10s.; three bottles, £1 4s.
    Send stamped envelope for valuable particulars, interesting to all, to Mrs. Anna Ruppert, 3a, Shandwick-place, Edinburgh.
    Mrs. Ruppert will lecture at the Music-hall Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, on the 27th February."

There's another advert in February, which varies the tone a little, notably describing the product as a mild astringent, whilst making grand claims for its universal efficacy.

"BEAUTIFUL WOMEN are always looking for something to make them more beautiful, for there is no beauty without care. How can wo expect to look well without constantly looking after our personal appearance? Can a woman be called pretty with facial blemishes? No: a faultless complexion is far more desirable than an elaborate gown. Ladies will say, "I cannot afford to buy things for my complexion, but I must buy a gown." Now the face is far more necessary, as it is not worn on one, but every occasion.
     Anna Ruppert's remedy is not an expensive one, as it is a permanent cure, and will in every ease of a severe skin disease save at least £10 in doctor's fees.
    ANNA RUPPERT'S SKIN TONIC is a mild astringent, it opens the pores of the skin, and is extremely beneficial in cases of influenza, as it allows free transportation of pure air into the system. Its progress is natural, harmless, and speedy; nature throws out to the surface impurities such as ache, enema, salt rheum, freckles, oiliness. excessive dryness. &c. Skin Tonic at once removes these blemishes by cleansing and toning the muscles of the skin.
    Ladies annoyed with coarseness of skin upon arms, shoulders, neck and face will find it extremely beneficial in refining the texture of the skin. Skin Tonic is harmless, has no bad after effect, does not show, is not a powder of paint, contains no lead arsenic, &c. One bottle shows improvement, three usually required for a cure. Sent all over the world. Price per bottle, 10s.; three bottles, £1 4s. No charge for consultation. Send stamped envelope for very valuable information concerning same. Address, in perfect confidence, all communications and orders to the celebrated complexion specialist, Anna Ruppert, 89, Regent-street, London, W.
     For the benefit of ladies who reside in the following towns, Mrs. Ruppert has opened branch offices at Edinburgh - 3a, Shandwick-place; Manchester - 3, King-street; Brighton, - 124, Western-road."
It's hard to know, of course, how much Mrs. Ruppert made all these claims, and how much was the 'puffery' of advertising men. The Penny Illustrated Paper in May 1892 reports on one of Mrs. Ruppert's lectures as containing "a great deal of very good advice" and states that her claim for the tonic is that it simply "opens the pores". It mentions in passing that she inveighs against dyeing hair blonde or red ("which women are so prone to do at the present day"). Another review, from Dublin, cites her constituency as ladies "of a certain age", praises her as "graceful and pretty" and remarks on her "good and valuable" advice regarding questions from the audience (such as 'Do you approve of washing in hot or cold water?' - although, sadly, it does not give her answer.)

Another 1892 advert reads:

"... even the specialists are now recommending this wonderful Tonic .... Skin Tonic is not a cosmetic, but a mild lotion ... can not be seen on the face more than water. Contains no oil, arsenic, &c. to injure; will not hurt a child's skin. Beneficial for gentlemen also."

Again, the stress that the product is not a cosmetic. Another advert, the following month, leads bluntly with 'RED NOSES CURED.' and promises 'Next Lecture, at Princess's Theatre, Tuesday, May 10th, 3p.m.' Then, in July, a briefer advert which leads with:

"A POPULAR NAME. - Mrs. Anna Ruppert, so says a titled lady this week in a letter of testimony. - Mrs. Ruppert's name is now used more frequently in parlour chats than any one subject we speak about. Every lady has heard of, seen or used Mrs. RUPPERT'S celebrated SKIN TONIC; scarcely a society lady in London who has not herself used Skin Tonic by recommendation. ..."
The variety of appeals used in the adverts is quite remarkable. Another, the same months, starts 'AT  the SEASIDE, Mrs. ANNA RUPPERT'S SKIN TONIC will be found extremely beneficial. It removes and prevents freckles, sunburn, and roughness usually accompanied by outing ...'.  Another advert in August promises that the tonic will tackle 'THAT HORRID PIMPLE' and also advertises a broader range of services than previously:

"Anna Ruppert's new valuable Book of Beauty, sent to any address free for 2d. in stamps. Anna Ruppert's new American Long-waisted corset, already used by nobility, durable, excellent for figure, from 12s. 6d. Choice perfumes. Manicure and chiropody, best artists, scientific work. Full line of manicure instruments and cases for beautifying hands and nails ..."

We then get a long advert in October 1892 which promises that Mrs. Ruppert has discovered a cure for dyspepsia ...

"Having positively found a cure, Mrs. Ruppert has purchased the formula at a big price and now offers for a sale a positive remedy. She does not pretend to go into every minute detail as to the cause of it, but honestly and truthfully says she has a vegetable remedy that contains no poison or harmful ingredients."

The advert also promotes the tonic, the 'American Corset', manicures and chiropody. A more extensive range of contact addresses, including several European capitals, and passing mention of Calcutta, Melbourne and Sydney (although no addresses given for these). All-in-all, it seems that Mrs. Ruppert is set to have an impressive 'beauty' empire. She's even given a magazine columin in Hearth and Home in mid-1893.

However, there's then nothing in the Times until October 1893, until we find:

TO be LET, commanding SHOP, corner of Albemarle-street and Piccadilly. Excellent opportunity, at a bargain. Apply to Anna Ruppert, 89, Regent-street.

Had Mrs. Ruppert over-stretched herself?

In fact, in the latter half of year, the British Medical Journal published a series of pieces criticising her as a quack, following a court case in Ireland, where she was prosecuted by the Pharmeutical Society of Ireland for selling poisons without a licence, her tonic being found to contain a 'corrosive sublimate.'  I suspect this was hardly unusual in beauty products of the time (and she only received a £5 fine) but it fatally undermined her claims to the harmlessness of the tonic, and was widely reported in the press. It seems that she changed the formula of the tonic and had the poisonous material removed; but we only know this because a second prosecution was brought in Dublin (with the defence claiming one of the old bottles had been sold by mistake). From this trial we learn a bit about her history:

"Madame Rupert had been for many years assistant to Dr. Sherman, who carried on an extensive business in the preparation of these matters for the adornment of ladies ... She afterwards came to England and started on her own account. She had a factory in New York, and a place of business in Regent street, London."
These trials marked the end of her beauty career, and there were also a couple of other cases to do with arguments about the contents of the product. The business empire seems to have fallen apart with astonishing rapidity.

So what happened to Mrs. Ruppert herself?  The next thing I find in the Times is a Mrs. Anna Ruppert starring in Odette in the Royal Princess's Theatre in September 1894. Can it be the same woman? Yes! An advert for a charity matinĂ©ee at the Princess of Wales Theatre (May 3, 1894) has Madame ANNA RUPPERT in the lead role, with tickets available from her 89, Regent-street address, familiar from the advertising above.

Reviews of Odette were not overly favourable. The Morning Post wrote:

"Why Mrs. Anna Ruppert should have been led to produce an English adaptation of Sardou's Odette is by no means clear. It is hardly a piece for a lady "star" ... To have justice done to it needs an accomplished interpreter .... How then should Mrs. Ruppert, who is her own "leading lady" and whose stage experience is so small and recent, expect to do much, if anything, with a part so onerous. Then there is the essential weakness of the play itself ..."

Moreover, it seems that Mrs. Ruppert actually undertook to manage the theatre herself (as the piece above mentions), attempting to reposition herself from beauty expert to both theatrical impressario and actress, putting out adverts in the press with the headline "Mrs. ANNA RUPPERT'S SEASON."

What became of Mrs. Ruppert's acting career? She finished her season at the theatre (a strange piece of gossip in a Devon paper notes that she was "poisoned by sweetmeats sent to her" but nothing more) and undertook a Christmas tour of the south coast together with a small company, starting with the Isle of Wight and ending in Eastbourne in early 1895. One suspects it was not that successful.

A death notice then appears in the Era (the theatre paper) in July 4, 1896.

"The death is announced, at the age of thirty-two, in Missouri, of Madame Anna Ruppert, who it will be remembered distinguished herself both as an ambitious aspirant for dramatic honours, and as a professional repairer of the ravages made by time on the female face and figure."

The fullest account, however, comes in the Dublin paper Freeman's Journal:

"Madame Rupert, whose name was well known in Dublin and London, is dead. She first came out in America as the owner of a face wash, and made a fortune. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland prosecuted Madame Ruppert about five years ago for selling face wash in Dublin, on the grounds that it contained poison, and that she was not a person legally qualified to vend poison. This action forced Madame Ruppert to discontinue the sale of the wash. Then she became ambitious to go on the stage, and leased at least two different theatres in London, the last being the Princess's. Failure broke her down in health and reducd her means, and she returned to the States about eighteen months ago. Madame Ruppert's maiden name was Amy Shelton, and she was born in the small Missouri town where she died, growing to young womanhood in her native place. Being full of energy and ambition, she started out like a boy to seek her fortune. She found it very quickly in St. Louis, her first stopping place. There she became acquainted with an old lady who had long treasured the formula of "a secret facial wash" in which she had the greatest faith. She persuaded Miss Shelton to undertake the manufacture and sale of the bleach, and so well did the girl manage the enterprise that in ten years she had built up a fortune. She was 32 years old. She died of consumption."

I don't know how much of this to take entirely seriously - the little old lady bequeathing her formula sounds too good to be true - but Madame Ruppert seems to have been a remarkable example of a determined, late-Victorian female entrepreneur, and a fascinating character to boot. If anyone knows more about her, let me know ...


  1. According to the BMJ of April 1893, she "Started consulting rooms in the fashionable quarter of Berlin" Where the Police were a bit unhappy at her promiting quackery, and released an advert that listed the ingredients of her tonics to put people off.

    P.S, I nopw have my own blog, any tips would be welcomed! Visit me at

  2. Linked to the blog - good luck with it! My only tip is that it's probably worth getting on Twitter, if you're not there already, as lots of history people are publicising stuff and also lots of museums ...


  3. Mrs. Ruppert's ad here (on page 19 in the epub file) includes an interesting description of her establishment.

    Nice article! I spent the good part of an afternoon reading up on the infamous Madame Ruppert!

  4. There's also some interesting links on but unfortunately not the full text ... if the dates are right, then there's the possibility the business carried on after her death ... a mystery!