Fur Trimmed Beaded Opera Cape
Oil entrepreneur Mae Belcher was a woman in a man’s profession
by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content
“Clothes are my weakness,” said Texas oil magnate Mae Belcher (1891–1983). As a very young woman wearing this elaborate and stylish beaded evening cape in 1912, Belcher was just finding her footing as a glamorous socialite. Over the next 70 years, she would become as comfortable in the oil field as she was confident in the boardroom. Swathed in mink, jewels jangling, Belcher crafted a polished, public persona.
A self-professed fortune hunter willing to take risks, Belcher would make and lose millions of dollars in oil from Texas to California. In the early 1900s, Mae Belcher was a young bride married to a much older man who made a fortune mining in Salt Lake City. He indulged her love of fine things, taking her to “the biggest stores in the biggest cities [to buy] me beautiful things.” Many purchases came from Neiman Marcus, a Dallas based specialty store that catered to the wealthy. Belcher purchased this elegant, sable trimmed opera cape there for one of the social events of the 1912 season. Paired with a mocha brown, hand-embroidered dress with fringe hem, Belcher made a glamorous entrance at the opening of Dallas’s Adolphus Hotel.
When Belcher’s husband died, she quickly became a young businesswoman with two daughters to support. She began selling mining claims and eventually moved to Oklahoma where she saved enough money to invest in a lucrative oil field. Exploring for oil was financially risky though, and Belcher lost two more fortunes in the Oklahoma oil fields. In 1936 she moved to Dallas and began investing in an oil field near Wichita Falls. She profited again and was able to invest in additional fields in northern Texas, southern Oklahoma, and Arizona.
Her success in the oil industry came from trusting her instincts and hard work. She was known to buy elaborate mansions, furnish them lavishly, and then sell them to play a hunch in the fields. Her hunches frequently paid off, and she earned respect by working side-by-side with the oil crew, personally seeing to the drilling of her own wells. By 1961, a newspaper in Las Vegas described her as a world-famous woman oil magnate.
“A floor is something to get off of,” she quipped.
When she died in 1983, the oil magnate-wife-mother-grandmother-great-grandmother was living a comfortable life in the wealthy Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas.
Courtesy Dallas Historical Society
Clothing and Accessories
Time Period: 1866 - 1936
This artifact is not on view.