Monday, November 14, 2011

A Lasting Symbol: A Woman & A Ribbon

By Mitchell Schmale

On November 12, 2011, breast cancer activist Evelyn Lauder died at her home in New York City. She passed away after losing a five year battle with ovarian cancer, but will forever be remembered for her contribution to the battle against breast cancer and for helping to create a simple, yet powerful symbol for the fight against the disease.

The now internationally known campaign was created in 1992 when Lauder and her friend, Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, created a simple pink ribbon to help raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer. It started small – so small in fact that during the early days of the campaign, many people confused the pink ribbon as a symbol for AIDS awareness. Evelyn Lauder and her husband, Leonard, with the Estee Lauder cosmetics company, created the first of the tiny bows to hand out to women at department store cosmetic counters.

From those simple first steps, the campaign grew to symbolize an entire movement and countless fundraising projects from numerous organizations. Ultimately, the campaign helped raise more than $330 million in donations (and counting) to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation that Lauder founded, as well as elevating overall awareness about the disease.

Lauder was born in 1936 in Vienna, Austria and came to the U.S. after fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe with her family. She met her husband in college, the son of Estee Lauder, who owned a small, but growing cosmetics company. Evelyn Lauder was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, but continued to take part in numerous cancer-related events around the world.

Breast cancer will strike roughly one in eight women in the U.S. But, thanks to greater awareness which has led to earlier detection from screenings, death rates have been falling since 1990. It’s amazing how much of a difference one person and a simple idea can make in the lives of so many others around the world. Thanks to Evelyn Lauder for being one of those people and for making a difference.

Mitchell Schmale is Vice President of Maroon PR.  Contact him at

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