Helen Williams, a Top Model in a Segregated Era, Is Dead at 87


Helen Marie Williams was born on Sept. 16, 1935, in Burlington County, N.J., and grew up in East Riverton, a Delaware River town about 15 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Her father, Ellis L. Williams, was a chauffeur; her mother, Helen (Blackstone) Williams, a homemaker.

After high school, Helen found a job as an assistant at Pagano Studios, a commercial photography studio in Manhattan used by catalogs and advertising agencies. Bert Pagano, the owner, also specialized in children’s photography. Ms. Williams eventually worked as a stylist there, and often hired the models. Ms. Darden recalled being hired by her for a catalog shoot, and showing up in her typical uniform, slacks and no makeup.

“It was not a bandbox look, and Helen did not approve,” said Ms. Darden. “She came from the era of gloves and matching purses and hose, with an extra pair stored in your bag in case you got a run.”

Ms. Williams had a brief, early marriage to John Clayton Anderson. She married Norman Jackson, a men’s clothing salesman, in 1977. He died in 2017.

When Ms. Williams retired from modeling in the 1970s, she continued styling and had her own company, H & H Fashion, with Henry Castro, a photographer, working mostly for women’s clothing catalogs.

“Helen Williams was my inspiration,” Bethann Hardison, the fashion model — another alum of the Battle of Versailles — and activist whose recent documentary, “Invisible Beauty,” chronicles her history in the industry, wrote in an email. “Much respect. She was it.”


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button