PR Women who changed history

1980-- Doris Fleischman Bernays, the industry's first known professional woman, dies at age 88, after a career working alongside husband Edward Bernays, who died in 1995 at age 103. In this NYT obit, Fleischman is recognized for co-creating the phrase "counsel on public relations" and providing the foundation of the "principles, practices and ethics" for PR. Presidents from Coolidge to Eisenhower, Edison, Ford, Freud, are listed among the many dozens she advised. She joined up with Edward Bernays in 1919, making this the centennial year of professional women in the public relations field.

If you don't already know Muriel Fox, you should. When Fox applied for a writing job at the Carl Byoir agency in the 1940s, she was immediately rejected. "Women aren't writers here," she was told, "they're secretaries." But Fox's persistence not only got her hired, it drove her quick rise up through the male-dominated ranks, becoming Carl Byoir & Associates' first woman vice president in the early '60s. In 1963 she met feminist author Betty Friedan, and the two co-founded the National Organization of Women (NOW). As its PR chair, Fox issued NOW's first press release, announcing the organization's plans to fight for equality and women's rights at work and society. Fox donated the original copy of this release to the Museum at our opening in Sept., 2014, and it's become one of our single most popular exhibits in the collection. See Fox's artifacts at our Mar. 7 exhibition at our 3rd annual tribute of "PR Women Who Changed History," Mar 7, 6pm, @WeWork 85 Broad. 

1944-- At 3 a.m. one night, Denny Griswold woke up her husband, Glenn, with a game-changing idea: to publish a weekly newsletter for the fast-growing PR industry. It would be a "how to" for best practices, report on client wins and staff promotions, and contain a PR case study in each issue. Most important, it would be the industry's first publication it could call its own. The time was ripe: In the 20 some odd years since the first agencies had opened in Boston and NYC, there were now nearly 100 firms throughout the U.S. and big corporations were quickly developing their own in house departments. So important was the newsletter to the field that the NYT published stories about its 20th and 25th anniversaries in its Advertising column. Griswold was known for her relentless advocacy for the profession, handing out "PRoud to be in PR" buttons to everyone who would wear one. She was also heralded for her advocacy on behalf of women in the field, co-founding Women Executives in PR in the 1970s. The Museum holds original materials from PR News, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Peggy Olson's legendary rise from secretary to copy editor to Management is also the story lived by thousands of PR women in the MadMen era. If you wanted to work in a PR firm, you'd most likely be asked to take a typing test (even a Masters degree made no difference if you were a woman). The young men, not surprisingly, were given writing tests. Once in a while, a woman would get a break, as Peggy did when the account team desperately needed a "woman's voice" for a pitch to a lipstick client. Besides having "billable" talent, women like Peggy would need to be accepted as "one of the guys" (being "one of the girls" meant you were seen as a -- God forbid-- secretary again). So it was important to keep up with politics, talk passionately about the Yankees and Knicks, and learn how to wield a cigarette and shot glass with your left hand so you could shake a guy's hand with your right. Starting sometime in the eighties PR women no longer had to "prove" how good they were for the company. Now it became the company's job to "prove" how good it was for the women.

2000-- "Public relations is fundamental to a democratic society where people make decisions in the workplace, the marketplace, the community and in the voting booth," said Betsy Plank, upon accepting the esteemed Alexander Hamilton award, given annually by the Institute of Public Relations. "Its primary mission is to forge responsible relationships of understanding, trust and respect among groups and individuals – even though they often disagree." Known as the First Lady of Public Relations, Plank (1924-2010) was the first woman to head a division of Illinois Bell, the first woman to serve as president of the Publicity Club of Chicago and first woman president of PRSA (in 1973). She is considered one of the field's foremost champions of PR education. In 1989, Plank made possible the PRSA's first-ever scholarship endowment fund-- providing support for PR education at 40 U.S. colleges and universities. She was also one of the founders of PRSSA. Today the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, headquartered at Plank's alma mater, the University of Alabama—carries on her legacy: encouraging mentoring, diversity, leadership training and PR education. Learn more here.