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Developed to be a personification of a Software Toolworks instructional typing program, Mavis Beacon debuted as simply a photo of a model on the software's packaging in 1987. The model chosen to be the face of Mavis was Haitian-born Renee Lesperance who was discovered working behind the perfume counter at Saks 5th Avenue Beverly Hills by one of the software developers, in 1985. Mavis's name comes from a combination of Mavis Staples (one of the software developer's favorite singers) and the word beacon (an allusion to her role as a guide to typing).
Because of Mavis Beacon's race, some retailers were initially reluctant to display the product. However, once the popularity of the program became evident, many of these distributors reversed their decision and began to display the line of software bearing Mavis Beacon's image.
Since its introduction, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing has been the best-selling instructional typing software.
Mavis Beacon has been seen as groundbreaking for being one of the first computer instruction characters and for being a female African-American embodiment of computer software, a field viewed as overwhelmingly white and male. Throughout the 1990s Mavis Beacon served as the computerized typing instructor at numerous American schools. As of 1998 she had instructed 6 million school children. Mavis has been compared to American cultural icon Betty Crocker and has been called "the Betty Crocker of cyberspace".
Mavis Beacon is often thought to be a living or historical figure by the public. This confusion has led many to contact the software developers seeking to speak to, interview, or book Mavis for an event. Furthermore, as a result of Mavis Beacon's continuous use in computer typing software, and her image on millions of software boxes, many consumers have reported confabulations (false memories) of Mavis Beacon winning typing contests or appearing on talk shows.