[Editor’s Note: With the arrival of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we focus on two of the many female PR pros who’ve made history inside and outside PR.]
In 1950, Muriel Fox opened a newspaper to the classifieds section. Job ads for professionals sought men only. Two years earlier, Fox graduated from Barnard College. Since then she’d had PR jobs from NY to Miami.
Regardless, her application for a writing job at Carl Byoir & Associates—the largest agency in the world at the time—was rejected. The firm didn’t “hire women writers,” a male EVP told her.
In the early 1950s PR was a booming profession as communication and technologies continued to advance. But not necessarily for women. Men dominated the industry and always were in charge.
Following the Byoir rejection, Muriel waited until the end of the year to reapply, this time successfully coming onboard in the radio/TV department, as a publicist. By 1952, she was in charge of the department. In 1956, Fox became the youngest VP at the agency.
She continued to climb the ladder, eventually becoming group VP, in 1974.
In 1985, before leaving the company and after a lot of changing the world with Betty Friedan (see below) and many vital women at the National Organization for Women (NOW)—Muriel proudly held the title of EVP. It was the same title as the man who rejected her initial application to Carl Byoir & Associates 35 years before.
We Need Change and We Need it ‘NOW’
In 1963, after coordinating interviews for Friedan and her new book, “The Feminine Mystique,” at American Women in Radio and Television, Fox was inspired to work with the influential activist to make big changes for women.
There were no laws to protect women in the workplace, nor were women allowed to apply for loans or buy houses without a man’s name and signature. Fox, and many others, believed women were not valued properly.
In 1966, Friedan and Fox founded NOW with a handful of strong, determined women, including Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm. Fox was Friedan’s lieutenant while heading PR and operations at NOW. Oh, yes, she also continued at Byoir. Full-time.
NOW’s many accomplishments included proposing laws that would enforce equal rights and eliminate discrimination against women anywhere, anytime, for anything.
Today Fox is the chair of the Veteran Feminists of America, an organization that continues to share stories of the many dedicated, influential women who are and were part of the modern feminist movement. The association also recently produced and hosted a webinar celebration for Friedan’s 100th birthday.
In the webcast, Fox reminisced on NOW’s many accomplishments and promises that the organization still is “pressing hard for more change.”
Inez Kaiser’s First Battles
For women of color, the battle for equal rights proved to be much more difficult. In Kansas City, Missouri, Inez Kaiser was making history when she opened Inez Kaiser and Associates, in 1957. She was the first African American woman to open a PR firm.
Born in 1918 in Kansas City, Kansas, Kaiser majored in home economics at Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburgh, Kansas. Defying racism and sexism, she powered through her undergraduate studies, not even being permitted to cook because she was Black.
Kaiser proudly graduated nonetheless and went on to teach home economics for many years in Missouri. After realizing the joy she experienced from writing a column covering fashion and lifestyle for a local Black publication (eventually seeing it syndicated across the country), and receiving advice from a trusted colleague, Kaiser decided to leave teaching and practice PR full time.
A Battle for Real Estate
Securing office space was not easy. Building owners in downtown Kansas City, MI, did not want Black tenants. For six weeks, Kaiser fought landlords with threats to call executives of NBC, CBS and ABC (contacts she acquired from her newspaper column) if they did not lease a space to her. Finally, in a huge win, Kaiser opened her firm in the City National Bank building in downtown Kansas City.
Kaiser went on to build an impressive book of business. Her specialty was educating clients on how to appeal to Black consumers. She also published a best-selling cookbook, “Soul Food Cookery,” making the term for southern cooking famous nation-wide.
Staying active in the fight for equal rights, she held roles in organizations focused on equal opportunities for minorities and also worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus on behalf of her clients.
[Note: Celebrate Women’s Month with the Museum of Public Relations, March 11, 6pm ET. For more information and to register visit: https://www.prmuseum.org/031121-pr-women-who-changed-history]
Contact: [email protected]