Sophia Elizabeth Strong Taylor, President Taylor's Department Store
193 Bratenahl Road
Sophia Strong Taylor was widowed in 1892 and found herself owning one of the largest department stores in Cleveland, the William Taylor & Son Co., founded in 1870 by her father-in-law, William Taylor, positioning Sophia as the leading woman business leader in the community.
On April 21, 1870, William Taylor and Thomas Kilpatrick opened a one-room dry-goods store, known as Taylor, Kilpatrick & Company, on Euclid Avenue at Public Square. Thus began the retailing trend away from Superior Avenue to Euclid Avenue. “One price of all” was the pioneering principle.
In 1885 Taylor’s son, John Livingston Taylor, joined his father as a partner, and in 1886, the store was renamed Wm. Taylor Son & Co. when Kilpatrick moved to Chicago. William Taylor died in 1887, leaving his son, John, in active management of the firm. Just five years later, the unexpected death of John posed a significant dilemma for store officials. After much discussion, the board of directors appointed his widow, Sophia Strong Taylor, as its president.
In 1901, William Taylor Son & Co. was incorporated with Mrs. Taylor serving as president. The 31-year-old Mrs. Taylor was no stranger to the business.
William Taylor Son & Co. erected a five-story building at 630 Euclid Avenue in 1907. The site had been the home for Samuel Cowles, built in 1833 by architect Jonathan Goldsmith. The three-story, brick residence, built “way out” of town, had been a showplace of the community. Six years later, four more stores were added, and employment reached 1,500.
Mrs. Taylor was considered a progressive who modernized operations. Her attention to high fashion prompted the store to install a radio photography system in 1926, allowing Taylor’s to display the latest trends eight hours after they seen on the boulevards of Paris.
In the 1930s, Mrs. Taylor acquired the adjacent Taylor Arcade and the Clarence Building, completed a modernization program, and changed the store name to Taylor’s Department Store.
Sophia was a profoundly religious Presbyterian and visited church missions around the world. She upheld the principles of her father-in-law with no work done on Sundays, no advertising in Sunday newspapers and shades drawn across display windows for the day. Her convictions were reflected in the store’s ground-floor bible department that carried bibles in every language spoken in the melting pot of Cleveland.
Viewing her employees as family, she spent many hours out in the store getting to know them. She turned over one of her homes as an employees’ summer retreat and often lent money in times of need. They returned her generosity with unswerving loyalty and commitment to maintaining the store’s high quality.
Taylor served as president of the store until 1935 when she took the title of chairman of the board. Her younger brother, Charles Henry Strong Jr., became president.
The depression threw the Taylor estate into disarray, and her brother was left to salvage what he could. Sophia Taylor’s estate was eventually settled in 1939 when the May Company secretly purchased the store. The dual ownership became known in 1945, and May Company operated two downtown department stores until December 16, 1961, when Taylor’s closed, and the downtown store remodeled into an office building in 1964.
Sophia Elizabeth Strong Taylor was born May 5, 1861, in Mexico, Missouri, to Charles Henry and Elizabeth Roe Strong. She moved to Cleveland as a child and educated through private schools and tutors. Her father had owned a very successful engineering firm for many years.
She married John Livingston Taylor on April 30, 1890. Just two years later, John died on November 7, 1892. Choosing not to remarry and having no children, Mrs. Taylor divided her time between the store and her philanthropic interests. She gave liberally to Presbyterian missions, the Community Fund, and other philanthropies. Her charitable instincts led to the creation of St. Luke’s Convalescent Home in 1924. A large part of her Bratenahl estate was converted to homes for disabled and needy children.
Sophia Taylor died at her Bratenahl home on September 30, 1936. For forty-four years, she played a vital role in the leadership of the department store, upholding the principles of her father-in-law. The store observed her death by closing its doors the day she was buried in Lake View Cemetery alongside her husband.