Harry Doehla: Doehla Greeting Card Company
Harry Doehla, a son of poor German immigrants, was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts on February 11, 1900. At age seventeen, just as he was preparing to start studying chemistry in college, he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and arthritis. This would lead him to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In an article in Guideposts, Doehla said he “was crippled. Useless,” as all his plans and what he considered any future hope to secure a successful job and a living wage all went away. Later that year, Doehla decided to do whatever it took to help his family and experimented with trying to sell Christmas cards. With $4,400 given to him by his family and friends, Doehla was able to sell 19,000 boxes of Christmas cards, 7,000 more boxes than his original order of 12,000. Two more years of successful sales went by and, eventually, Doehla began making his own card designs as Doehla Greeting Cards Inc. was born.
As time went on, Doehla Greeting Cards Inc. continued to help Harry Doehla and his family make a lot of profit. By the 1950s, the company had moved from being managed in the Doehla household on Frankfort Street to having over 600 employees working at four factory buildings in the city of Fitchburg. However, due to the demand for more space that was not available, Doehla Greeting Cards Inc. set up a new headquarters in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1951, where the newly invested property would be, as noted in a history at the Fitchburg Historical Society, "large enough to handle all of its manufacturing operations under one roof and still allow the company to expand.” Doehla would continue to manage a part of the company until he passed away in New York City on October 8th, 1977. In 2012, one building of the old Fitchburg Factory was converted into Simmonds Hall, a residential living space for students attending Fitchburg State University.
As manager of the company, Doehla was seen as “kindhearted and caring. He hired the handicapped and provided good working conditions for his employees” (Fitchburg Historical Society 58). These good working conditions included enrolling “all his employees in a Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan,” providing a first aid room with a full-time nurse, and partnering the company “with a local physician who would spend one day a week at the plant conducting consultations and making diagnoses ‘free of charge to all personnel” (Shalhoup). This idea of a healthy and safe work environment for Doehla’s employees easily fits the World Health Organization’s 2010 idea for a healthy workplace as “one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.” However, Doehla introduced all of these ideas at once when the company moved to the Nashua location, as opposed to gradually introducing things as time went on. This contradicts a 2015 study conducted by the International Journal of Health Services, where a company that “introduced a pre-existing program from its parent company… was met with some skepticism and resistance” by its workers (Wyatt 173). Regardless of the fact, Doehla’s ideas for a safe and healthy workplace were ahead of their time and proved to be one way that Doehla cared for his workers.
Another way Doehla was able to show his forward-thinking was with the recruiting of people with disabilities. While businesses will recruit people with disabilities in today’s culture, it does not mean that they are always welcomed with open arms. In a 2005 study focusing on discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, it was found that “Allegations of workplace discrimination were found to center mainly on hiring, discharge, harassment, and reasonable accommodation issues” (Chan). Along with this, discrimination showed to have a higher occurance to those with uncontrollable but stable disabilities, including visual imparment, cardiovascular disease, and spinal cord injuries. A 2007 study identified that “Job applicants with [a] disability were rated more negatively than applicants without disability in poor-fit conditions” including those that required contact with other individuals (Louvett). The idea of Harry Doehla breaking boundaries for those with physical disabilities, allowing them to have a safe environment in the factories of Doehla Greeting Cards Inc, shows how he perceived the need to counter such discrimination.
While Harry Doehla may not be with us today, his ability to defy his own perception of himself as “useless” and create a company revolving around a healthy and welcoming environment for all workers, whether they have disabilities or not, was a big step in the work industry. Doehla’s work environment was so welcoming that his company, an 1951 article in The Christian Advocate, was “noted throughout New England for its liberal wage policies and excellent working conditions.” His ability to consider the health and safety of his workers as well as not discriminate against those who are often seen as less abled should be recognized. Even outside of the workplace, Doehla was able to help unrecognized artists by having them submit their work so he could use them as designs in his cards and, as such, helped people “get started in the difficult and highly competitive field of commercial art." In the end, Doehla’s ability to be a successful millionaire by starting a greeting card company after his hopes and dreams were challenged by rheumatic fever shows how great of a story his life is. As said in the dedication of a Hydro-Therapy Pavilion in Doehla’s honor, albeit with language we no longer use due to its derogatory nature, “His life story should serve as a beacon of light and hope to crippled children everywhere."
The artifacts shown here include: Harry Doehla’s short autobiography in Guideposts, an article about Doehla in the December 13, 1951 issue of The Christian Advocate, a history of Doehla Greeting Cards Inc., a picture of the Fitchburg factory, a Christmas Card from the Doehla factory, and a short pamphlet about The Harry Doehla Hydro-Therapy Pavilion, established in 1969.
Chan, F., McMahon, B.T., Cheing, G., Rosenthal, D.A., and Bezyak, J. "Drivers of workplace discrimination against people with disabilities: The utility of attribution theory." Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, vol. 25, 2005, pp. 77–88.
Fitchburg Historical Society. Legendary Locals of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Arcadia Publishing, 2014.
Louvet, E. "Social judgment toward job applicants with disabilities: Perception of personal qualities and competences." Rehabilitation Psychology, vol. 52, no. 3, 2007, pp. 297–303. https://doi.org/10.1037/0090-55126.96.36.1997
Shalhoup, Dean. “From Teen to Greeting-Card Millionaire.” The Nashua Telegraph, 19 Dec. 2015, www.nashuatelegraph.com/life/health-lifestyle/2015/12/19/from-teen-to-greeting-card-millionaire/.
World Health Organization. "Healthy Workplaces: A Global Framework and Model: Review of Literature and Practices." Geneva, 2010. www.who.int/occupational_health/ healthy_workplaces/en/index.html
Wyatt, Katrina M. “Understanding How Healthy Workplaces Are Created: Implications for Developing a National Health Service Healthy Workplace Program.” International Journal of Health Services, vol. 45, 1 Jan. 2015, pp. 161–185.