Academic journal article Journalism History

Rediscovering Women in Public Relations: Women in the Public Relations Journal, 1945-1972

Academic journal article Journalism History

Rediscovering Women in Public Relations: Women in the Public Relations Journal, 1945-1972

Article excerpt

Historical studies of women in public relations and their contributions to the field have been rare. Yet, an understanding of women's ocntributions is important, especially in light of their growing domainance in the profession. This article begins the process of rediscovering women in public relations by examining the Public Relations Journal for the presence of women from 1945, when the journal began, through 1972, when the Public Relations Society of America elected its first female chair. The author argues that women were initially accepted into the profession because public relations was a new field with few barriers to entry. As the profession matured, it became more male dominated despite a growing number of women.

I have worked in packing plants and building construction public relations, and men have said,'No, this isn't work suited to a woman,' but I just answered, `Let's see if it is or if it isn't.' I showed them and myself that I could do it and do it well, and won their applause.1

The woman quoted above may have won the applause of her male peers in 1967, but her triumphs and tribulations, along with those of other women in public relations, have been lost over time. Historical studies of women in public relations and their contributions to the field have been rare. Susan Henry has examined the career of Doris Fleischman but primarily from the standpoint of her relationship with husband Edward Bernays.2 And Karen S. Miller has looked at the public relations contributions of Jane Stewart, president of an independent consulting firm.3 But that, for the most part, exhausts the list.4 One reason for the paucity of studies may be, as Miller pointed out, that "for the first seven decades of its existence, relatively few women worked in formal public relations, and the number in executive positions was miniscule."5 Another reason may be that the historical record of the public relations profession in general, and public relations women in particular, is sparse or nonexistent. Public relations, as Scott Cutlip called it, is the "unseen power."6 PR professionals tend to work behind the scenes, making it difficult to trace not only the results of their efforts but also what those efforts were in the first place.

The work of women in public relations, as Miller notes, has been lost in many cases, and yet an understanding of women's contributions to the profession is important, especially in light of the growing dominance of women in the field. As women outnumber men in public relations, scholars have expressed concern that women will be relegated to the role of technicians and kept out of the corporate boardroom, creating a "velvet ghetto."7

One way to begin the process of rediscovering these women and their contributions is to look at the presence of public relations women in the Public Relations Journal, the official organ of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). This is the national organization of public relations practitioners, and although not everyone in public relations is a member, it has worked to strengthen the field's professionalization. The presence of women in the Journal would suggest the level of acceptance they received from their male peers. It also would provide information about the women, their role in the field, and the issues that were important to them. Thus, this study examined every issue of the Public Relations Journal from 1945 through 1972 to gain an understanding of women's work in public relations during a time of great societal change and growth in the field.

The beginning point of this study was 1945 because it was the year the Journal began. It also marked the beginning of a dramatic growth in public relations. The end point was 1972 because it was the year that PRSA elected its first female chair. The election of a woman to the association's highest office can be seen as an acceptance of women's value to the field. The questions are: What was public relations like as a career for women in these years? …

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