About Hortense Mendel

Hortense Mendel, 1900–1960, publicity director at the Composing Room, married Ismar David on June 3, 1953.

Hortense Mendel, undated
An undated snapshot of Hortense Mendel.

Hortense Mendel was born in New York City on November 19, 1900, the daughter of a German-born father and a New York-born mother. When she applied for her first passport in 1925 for a trip to Europe with her widowed mother, the clerk described her as 5 feet 9½ inches tall with a low, wide forehead, dark brown eyes, a long nose, large-full lips, a medium chin and a sallow complexion. Her face was oval and she wore eyeglasses. In those days, she was a secretary- stenographer.

She had already worked for various advertising agencies and art magazines before The Composing Room’s magazine, PM, noted her brief vacation in December 1935, after Amalgamated Agency, where she had been production manager, went out of business. She joined The Composing Room in 1936, where she served as typographic consultant and handled publicity. She was associate editor, with Robert Leslie, of PM, later A-D. From 1944, she co-curated the exhibitions that the firm began sponsoring in December of the year she began working there and is credited with identifying and promoting new talents, among them, Paul Rand. Her predecessor Percy Seitlin wrote:

It is easy to say that Bob Leslie has been lucky with his associates, and, as a matter of fact, it’s correct — he has. Miss Mendel has played an important part in conceiving and organizing some of the best shows A-D Gallery ever had, which is another way of saying some of the best shows in the art-in-industry field ever hung in this country. Since her name first appeared in connection with the gallery, there have been exhibits of Lester Beall, Paul Rand, Hugo Steiner-Prag, Alex Steinweiss, Ladislav Sutnar, Ben Rose and Will Burtin. Also a collection of Clarence Hornung’s early Americana, the work of the Book Jacket Designers’ Guild and a show on lettering and calligraphy.1Seitlin, Percy, The Story of the A-D Gallery, AIGA Journal, May 1949, vol. 2, #1.

She co-founded an informal group of women in the graphic arts. (Book designers Freda Browne and Alma Reese Cardi, art director Sybil Hastings, Sally Michaels and Alice Roberts were members.2Robert Leslie Papers, New York Public Library Manuscripts Division. She presumably first met Ismar David in 1947, when Helen Rossi arranged for him to meet Leslie. She would write to David from Havana in 1949, “I did not dream that I would miss you so much nor that I would feel almost guilty in my enjoyment of any beauty because you too were not beside me.”3Mendel, Hortense to Ismar David, undated letter.

At Mendel’s sudden, premature death from a heart attack, she had been married to David for six and a half years. Friends and colleagues remembered her vivacity, enthusiasm, warmth and hard work. As a 24-year-old, she had entered handwriting contest in the New York Daily News, won $10 and received this assessment from the graphologist: “This is the hand of a ‘go-getter’ and nothing short of a tie-up on the subway can keep Hortense away from her objective. She is snappy, lively, insistent and determined.”4New York Daily News, November 13, 1924, p. 14. He was spot on.

Hortense Mendel’s Hebrew Primer

A few pages from a beginning Hebrew book, part one, the alef-bet, by Kalman Bachrach, published in New York in 1941.

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