Mary Phelps Jacobs was only 19 when she became dissatisfied with the confining corset-style under-garments of the era. It was 1910, and the wealthy socialite wanted to wear a revealing gown to a debutante ball. But her tight and restrictive corsets, a typical fashion of the day, poked out from under the plunging neckline.
Struck with inspiration, she asked a maid to bring her two silk handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon and transformed them into a comfortable undergarment suitable for backless gowns.
The bra was so flattering and practical that Jacobs’ friends asked to have ones like them. When strangers wanted them too, Jacob realized she had a winner. She was granted a patent in 1914, founded the Fashion Form Brassiere Co., and eventually sold manufacturing rights to the Warner Brothers Corset Co., which to this day is still a large maker of bras.
But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of the pioneering feminist, who lived the life of a rich hedonist with many husbands and lovers, wrote and published erotica, and named her dog Clytoris. She became a patron of the arts and is often described as the "literary godmother to the Lost Generation of expatriate writers in Paris." She founded the Black Sun Press with her second husband, Harry Crosby, and published some of the early works of many authors who would later become famous including Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, James Joyce, D.FH. Lawrence Hart Crane, and Arthur Miller.
Mary, later known as Caresse Crosby after she married wealthy heir Harry Crosby, purchased a rundown castle named Castello di Rocca Sinibalda 43 miles north of Rome in 1949 and turned it into an artist colony.