Gists

Pioneer who started America’s first female-friendly sex shop after being harassed about buying vibrator at Macy’s dies at age 92

A woman who changed the sex-shop industry died last week at her home in Manhattan.

Dell Williams, owner of sex-shop Eve’s Garden, passed away last Wednesday, a friend confirmed to the New York Times.

Williams started the first sex shop catered to women from her home in the early 1970s, after having an awkward interaction with a male sales clerk when she tried to buy a vibrator at Macy’s.

In the four decades since that fateful encounter, Williams has made it her life’s work to help women become more comfortable with sexual expression.

A former actress, advertising executive and Army WAC, Williams took a workshop on sex from legendary instructor Betty Dodsen in the 70s, who recommended she buy a Hitachi Magic Wand.

During her years in the Women's Army Corps.

During her years in the Women’s Army Corps.

Pioneer: Williams founded Eve's Garden after having an uncomfortable experience buying a vibrator at Macy's.

Pioneer: Williams founded Eve’s Garden after having an uncomfortable experience buying a vibrator at Macy’s.

The Magic Wand is designed as a personal massager, and available in most department stores, but Dodsen said it could also be used as a vibrator.

But when Williams went to pick up the product at a Macy’s she ran into a ‘pimply 20-something’ male salesmen who made her uncomfortable about the purchase.

‘What do you want it for?’ he asked Williams.

‘I left Macy’s that day, clutching my precious, anonymous brown shopping bag and thinking: Someone really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it,’ Williams wrote of the experience.

Williams store first started off as mail-delivery only, but grew to include a brick-and-mortar location in Midtown New York and a website.

Today, Eve’s Garden sells vibrators, flavored condoms and bondage kits.

Williams’ approach to selling sex toys has helped turn it into a multimillion-dollar industry today with several chains now dedicated to female shoppers.

Williams became somewhat of a talking head for women’s liberation issues after starting her store, and was often called upon my newspapers and TV shows to give her opinions on the feminist issues of the day.

When asked about the 2003 Britney Spears song about masturbation called ‘Touch of My Hand, Williams said: ‘In the past 50 years or so, even as the medicinal and moral fears of masturbation have ebbed, the stigma still remains — and that’s what is shameful. Hopefully, Britney’s honesty and her song can help women overcome feelings of embarrassment and instead embrace something so natural.’

Williams was born Dell Zetlin in Manhattan in August 1922, and grew up in the Bronx. She had a brief wartime romance, which ended in a painful abortion before enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps in 1945. During the war she performed on Army radio broadcasts and in a touring WAC musical.

Following the war, she moved to Los Angeles where she focused on acting, but eventually moved back to New York to pursue a career in advertising.

In 2005, she wrote a memoir titled ‘Revolution in the Garden’ detailing ‘how a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx ended up owning a sex toy store’.

Williams leaves behind no close relatives. DAILYMAIL

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