Three Pioneering Women Who Quietly Shaped PR and Changed The World

Jared Meade, Principal, Rayne Strategy Group

[Editor’s Note:This history series is a collaboration with The Museum of PR. It is a celebration of the 75th anniversary of PRNEWS.]

It is estimated that some 75 percent of the PR industry is composed of women. Yet too few women are mentioned during discussions of PR’s pioneers and leaders.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, International Women’s Day on March 8, and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S., it is important to remember women who have changed, and continue to change, the world through PR.

Doris Fleischman: The Mother of PR

Doris Fleishman
The Mother of PR

Besides being an early feminist and author, Doris Fleischman was a PR pioneer. In 1919, Fleischman was the first hire at Edward L. Bernays, Counsel on Public Relations. When she married Edward Bernays in 1922, she became not only his domestic partner, but also an equal partner in the firm.

It was one of the great collaborations in PR history. Fleischman’s skills complemented those of her husband, who is acknowledged as the father of PR.

Fleischman wrote several of Bernays’ most successful campaigns. Being a woman, though, her work was rarely acknowledged. Her husband received most of the credit.

She, however, was equally important to the success of the Bernays firm. She and Edward created the phrase “counsel on public relations” and helped form the principals, practices and ethics of the profession.

Fleischman began her career at the New York Tribune as a feature writer. She also served as the assistant women’s page editor and later as the assistant Sunday editor.

A lifelong and fierce advocate for women’s rights, she made headlines as the first woman to use her maiden name when checking into hotels, registering for her passport and even signing her daughters’ birth certificates.

After a lifetime of proving that a woman can ‘have it all,’ Fleischman passed away in 1980 at the age of 89, in Cambridge, MA. Bernays died in 1995, aged 103.

Leone Baxter: Political consultant

Leone Baxter began her career writing for the Portland Oregonian before moving to Redding, CA, and securing a job promoting a water carnival for the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Widowed at 26, Baxter met Clement Whitaker in 1933, and they started the first political PR and consulting firm, Campaigns, Inc. They married in 1938.

Campaigns, Inc. provided PR, advertising and/or consulting work on campaigns, including Richard Nixon for president and Shirley Temple Black for congress.

Along with Whitaker, Baxter was a pioneer of modern political management, setting a standard for political consulting.

After Whitaker passed in 1961, Baxter ran a successor firm out of a penthouse in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel until her death in 2001, aged 95.

Muriel Fox: NOW, There’s a lady

Muriel Fox began her writing career while still in college when she became a stringer for United Press. She covered events such as the 1946 Conference on the Atomic Bomb and World Government.

In 1950, Fox applied for a job at Carl Byoir & Associates, then the world’s largest PR agency. She was rejected immediately. “Women aren’t writers here; they’re secretaries,” a male Byoir EVP told her.

Fox persisted.

The Byoir firm hired her as a publicist later that year. By 1952, she was heading Byoir’s radio & TV department. Four years later, she became Byoir’s youngest VP.

Eventually she rose to EVP. Ironically, EVP was the same title of the man who originally refused to hire her.

Later in her life, Fox joined with “The Feminine Mystique” author Betty Friedan to help create the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.

Today, at 92, she remains an important leader in the feminist movement.

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