Ellen Stewart, the Queen of the East Village

“She was never eager to speak about the part of her life before her arrival in New York, and details about it are scarce…. What is known is that she studied to be a teacher at Arkansas State College and worked as a riveter in a defense plant in Chicago during World War II. In 1950, she moved to New York with the intention of going to design school, but ended up having to support herself with a variety of jobs. At one point she was a porter and operated an elevator at Saks Fifth Avenue. According to a story she often told, on a visit to Delancey Street one Sunday, she met a fabric shop owner who encouraged her dream to become a fashion designer. He gave her fabrics to turn into dresses, and when she wore her own creations to work at Saks, she created such excitement that the store made her a designer.”
 — Ellen Stewart, the founder of the East Village’s La MaMa theater, has died at the age of 91.