As we wrap up Women’s History Month, we are taking a look back at the women in our industry who paved the way for so many of us. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, women make up 67% of the public relations workforce. Female communicators are a force, and we have our mentors, our peers, and many of these women to thank for the progress that’s been made in our profession.
Ida B. Wells started her career as a teacher in Memphis, but after being forcibly removed from a train for refusing to give up her seat in the first-class car, she became an investigative journalist focused on exposing racial injustice. Wells wrote extensively about lynching, bringing national attention to the issue. She also fought for women’s suffrage and worked with Susan B. Anthony and other prominent suffragists in addition to founding the National Association of Colored Women’s Club.
Betsy Plank is widely regarded as the “First Lady of PR” for her significant contributions to the industry. She helped to establish the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and she received the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Plank was an advocate for higher education in public relations and played a key role in the establishment of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama.
Mila Albertsons, Tracy Telego, Mary Dyess, & Ellen Werther: Founders of WWPR
In 1980, a group of women headed by Mila Albertson, Tacy Telego, Mary Dyess, and Ellen Werther placed an ad in a local trade publication seeking participants to form a network for women working in communications and related fields in the Washington, D.C. area. Thirty-five women responded, and they held their first meeting at the old YMCA in downtown, on a hot summer day without air conditioning. Six years later, WWPR became a nonprofit corporation.
Barbara Gardner Proctor began her career as a teacher before becoming one of the few Black women to own an advertising agency in the United States. Her agency, Proctor & Gardner, was founded with no partner. She used her maiden name to give the appearance of a male associate.
Proctor was known for creating innovative campaigns that challenged stereotypes and highlighted the diversity of Black culture. She was also a champion of diversity in the advertising industry and mentored many young professionals. Proctor was named the Chicago Advertising Woman of the Year and was cited by President Ronald Reagan in his State of the Union address.