Her father was a Scottish grocer in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, where Florence was born in 1878. She was the last of five children and was named for the famous nursing pioneer. (Many children in that generation bore the same name of Florence Nightingale). Her mother died when she was six and she lived in Ontario for the first twenty-four years of her life. She enrolled in a nursing program and took great interest in burn creams and skin salves not just as medicine, but as a potential for beauty creams and lotions.
She left nursing school without graduating because it was not meeting her emotional needs. Her brother had moved to New York and she followed him there. She found a job in a cosmetic shop and then became a partner in a beauty shop. Finally, she opened her own beauty shop on Fifth Avenue and changed her name to Elizabeth Arden. Here she began to formulate, manufacture and sell her own products.
In 1918, she married Thomas Lewis, a banker, and through him became an American citizen. She never permitted her husband to own stock in the company and when they divorced he went to work for Helena Rubinstein. The FBI, in 1941, investigated her company over allegations that the salons in Europe operated as cover Nazi operations. A second marriage to a Russian prince lasted only two years.
During the war, Elizabeth Arden saw the changing needs of women as they entered the work force. She taught them how to apply their makeup and dress appropriately for careers outside the home. She started a fashion business with notable designers like Charles James and Oscar de la Renta on staff. She created a lipstick named Montezuma Red for women in the armed forces that matched the red on their uniforms.
By the end of 1930 it was said that "There are only three American names that are known in every single corner of the globe: Singer sewing machines, Coca Cola, and Elizabeth Arden." Some of her patrons included: Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Wallis Simpson and Mamie Eisenhower. The perfume Blue Grass introduced in 1934 is considered the first all-American scent and is still being sold today.
In the nineteen forties and fifties, she turned to horse racing and breeding. Her stable became the leading money winner in the United States. In 1947, her colt "Jet Pilot" won the Kentucky Derby. The horse Busher was inducted into the Hall of Fame and in 1954 and her filly "Fascinator" won the Kentucky Oaks.
Elizabeth Arden died in New York City in 1966 and was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Her monument is inscribed by a large word "GRAHAM' and in smaller letters "Elizabeth N. Graham." Her estate was valued at between $30 million to $40 million. In 2003 the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics company was bought by Unilever for $225 million.
Not bad for a Scottish girl who never lost sight of her dream.