In honor of National Women’s History Month, let’s talk about Mad Women who made history in Advertising. From a long line of history shaping women, here are just some influential Ad Ladies:
Mathilde C. Weil
The first ad woman, Mathilde C. Weil, moved from Germany to New York in 1870. After her husband’s death, she began booking magazine space for a friend to make ends meet. She then decided to start her own agency, called The M.C. Weil Agency. She understood what magazines women liked to read, and was very successful, leaving a fortune when she died.
Everyone has heard of J. Walter Thompson. But the two names behind the agency are less known: Stanley and Helen Resor. In 1916, Stanley had bought out Commodore Thompson and renewed the company. Helen was the Creative Director. They knew that the major purchasers of goods and services were women, and that there was opportunity in this market. Helen formed the Women’s Editorial Department – a creative group consisting of only women. These women oversaw 75% of the company’s clients and billings. Most notably, in 1917 Helen Resor was the first to introduce a “sex sells” campaign. She also is credited with being the first to use nudity in advertising. See her Woodybury Soap ads here:
Bernice specialized in retail advertising, and was the highest paid woman in advertising in the 1940s, earning over $50K – or over $800K – in today’s dollars. She influenced department store and fashion advertising by introducing fashion shows, dance instruction, lectures, etc. She did revolutionary work for Macys, Gimbels, Marshall Fields, jump started many female copywriter careers and wrote a book about her experience:
Phyllis Robinson was inspired by Fitz-Gibbon, and decided to make her career in advertising copywriting. Robinson was Doyle Dane Bernbach’s first Chief Copywriter. Phyllis Robinson supervised some of the best, and toughest, “madmen” of the era (the original Peggy Olson).
Mary Wells Lawrence
Mary Wells was the star in the mid-1960s when her advertising campaign for Braniff International Airways took off. “The End of the Plain Plane” played a significant part in the airline’s turnaround. She hired Alexander Girard as project designer, Alexander Calder for aircraft paint schemes, and Emilio Pucci for uniforms for flight attendants and crew (She had me at Pucci).
In 1966, she went on to found Wells, Rich, Greene (WRG) advertising agency with creative partners Richard Rich and Stewart Greene. Braniff remained a Wells, Rich, Greene client through 1968. Other major WRG clients included American Motors, Cadbury Schweppes, IBM, MCI Communications, Pan American World Airways, Procter & Gamble, Ralston Purina, RC Cola, and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. By 1969, Mary Wells was reported to be the highest-paid executive in advertising.
So as you’re anticipating the next season of Mad Men (and we do love you Mad Men) don’t forget about the Mad Women who also led the way!