First off, let me say Happy Women’s History Month! It is important to celebrate how far women have come in history and critical to learn about the women who changed history for the next generation. Think about it: when was the last time you learned about a female public relations pioneer in your public relations class? Which is why I took a deep dive this month in learning more about the women trailblazers in public relations. It was no easy task, as many women of public relations history are still not talked about for their accomplishments in the communication field and overshadowed by their male counterparts. This month gives another opportunity to empower women in all industries.
Considering this a crash course, I am scratching the surface on some incredible Women PR pioneers that changed history, and believe me they are far too many incredible female professionals to include in one blog post. So let’s discuss a few of the powerful women of PR.
Women PR Pioneers
Doris Fleishman is known as the first female professional. She was hired as the first employee by one of the world’s first PR firms: Edward L. Bernays (yes, that Bernays), which she later would become an equal partner in the firm. She developed campaigns and worked with clients such as the NAACP, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Sigmund Freud. She used her writing platforms to advocate for women’s pay and women’s advancement in media careers.
Fun Fact: Doris Fleischman, known as the wife of Edward Bernays, was the first woman to keep her maiden name when she got married, and the first woman allowed to not have her husband’s name on her passport; talk about a #girlboss.
Betsy Ann Plank
Betsy Ann Plank is known as the First Lady of PR. She was a champion of PR education and advocated for women in the communication field. Plank attained leadership positions not reached by previous women. She earned the vice president of Edelman Inc. and the first professional ever to receive three of PRSA’s top individual honors. Oh, and did I mention she assisted in the creation of PRSSA? She was an advocate and mentor for public relations students and made her mission to use her platforms to advocate for education, creating a legacy we all utilize today.
Inez Kaiser is the first Black woman to found a PR firm in the U.S.: Inez Kaiser and Associates Inc. and the first Black-owned business in Kansas City. Not only did Kaiser have to fight as a woman, the institutional racism that existed in the country made it anything but easy to obtain an undergraduate degree. Achieving multiple degrees she would hold national clients such as 7-Up, Sears, and Roebuck, as well as serving President Nixon and Ford as an advisor on minorities in business. Not only blazing the field with her client and agency, but she became the first Black professional to join PRSA. She was an advocate, activist, and trailblazer in every sense of the word.
Dr. Debra Miller
Dr. Debra Miller became the first Black President of PRSA, and the first Black woman awarded the coveted PRSA Gold Anvil Award. A leader in multicultural PR, Miller used her business, nonprofit, and PR knowledge to mentor and inspire practitioners nationally. She created new disciplines in the industry that helped practitioners become proficient in communicating with multicultural audiences. Take advice from Dr. Miller and challenge the status quo, lead by example and take your work to empower the next generation. If there’s one thing to note about her as a professional, she worked to create new paths for the next generation of PR professionals.
Are you surprised by their accomplishments? I am not— nothing can stop a powerful woman, and many of these women deserve far more recognition inside and outside the industry. The month of March is full of opportunities to learn more about PR’s incredible women who have changed history. These professionals changed the way women are represented in the communication field and media. These women trailblazers fought to create opportunities for you and I to be successful in this field. Take time this month to learn more about how the women before you can empower you in your career.
Finally, from the wise words of Dr. Debra Miller, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
So take her advice — know your power, learn from those before you and create change for the next generation.
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