Madchatter Revisits the OG women of the Public Relations Industry 

This Women’s Day, Madchatter revisits some of the OG women who shaped public relations and what we can learn from them

Most historical accounts trace back the origin of Public Relations as a profession to the early 1900s. These accounts, unfortunately, only vaguely mention just how instrumental of a role women played in the shaping of the PR industry as it is today. In an effort to acknowledge and immortalize the role of women in PR history, let’s look at the OG women of PR. 

Doris E. Fleischman (1891-1980)

Doris E. Fleischman (1891-1980) was a women’s rights activist and reportedly the first woman to formally practice modern public relations as a business executive. She is grossly under-represented in historical accounts despite being the lateral business partner and wife of Edward Bernays, popularly known as ‘The Father of Propaganda’ and regarded as having created the modern profession of public relations. Fleischman provided a significant contribution to Bernays and their firm through innovative campaign ideas, organizational structure, and constructive criticism. While epitomizing the capabilities of her gender, she also actively pushed women to empower themselves by publishing multiple articles and books such as Furious Desires and Victorious Careers and An Outline of Careers for Women: A Practical Guide to Achievement. 

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944)

Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) was known for Muckraking, a practice of American journalists who sought to expose large organizations over corruption. Her aggressive approach involving the evaluation of businesses and providing damning rebuttals to solidify the need for transparency on the part of large corporations is now known as ‘Investigative Journalism’. She pioneered the concept of ethical reporting in the media. Her writing had a significant impact on big businesses that functioned unethically with the belief that the press would either side with them or ignore them. Kathleen Brady, author of her biography titled Ida Tarbell Portrait of a Muckraker states “She was called to achievement in a day when women were called only to exist. Her triumph was that she succeeded. Her tragedy was never to know it”

Vira B Whitehouse (1875-1957)

Vira B. Whitehouse (1875- 1957) was the first female director of the United States Committee on Public Information (CPI) at a period in time when women had just begun to fight for the expansion of their rights in society. Whitehouse was largely influential in the women’s suffrage movement; she was involved in securing publicity, making cold calls, and even raising money for the suffrage movement. During the First World War, she was further instrumental in international communications and the strategic spread of information, through which she achieved positive international relations and fairly favorable public opinion towards the United States. She involved herself in publishing pamphlets, translated speeches of American influential figures in German to expand the spread of information on an international level. Her unique efforts to influence public opinion, especially during the First World War, soon came to be known as Public Diplomacy. 

Lorena Hickcock: (1893-1968)

The name Lorena Hickock and the term ‘Trailblazer’ are synonymous in the history of women in politics and public relations. Primarily known as the first woman to hold the strategic public relations counsel position to a President of the United States, her PR position in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration is at the top of her achievements in her journalism career. This only led to Hickock’s less spoken of, yet glorious career in public relations as the Public Relations Director for the New York World’s Fair and as a Democratic National Committee (DNC) executive in the 1900s. 

Originality. Grit. Perseverance

Women occupy 60-85% of the Public Relations industry’s workforce. It is important to know that this feat was earned and fostered by women ever since the genesis of PR as a profession itself. It is not a mere coincidence that most of the legends mentioned above were PR pioneers as well as women’s rights activists. They pushed other women to study, work, and fight for their personal independence. 

By celebrating these women and their indispensable contributions to the PR industry as it stands today, we at Madchatter wish you a Happy Women’s Day! 

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