The Forgotten History of the Women Who Shaped Modern Advertising

From Ciara Lavelle’s article on Bitch Media:

“One major success of the Women’s Editorial Department was their digression from the typical advertising copy of the period—text that merely described what a product did without much embellishment. For example, an ad for Pond’s Vanishing Cream might explain its use (“Promotes firmness of skin texture”) alongside a drawing of the bottle. Resor’s team took a more psychological approach. “They connected the products in consumers’ minds with “a special kind of feminine allure, a hint of romance, social status, ideal beauty, or all of the above,” writes Denise H. Sutton, author of Globalizing Ideal Beauty, which traces the history and influence of the Women’s Editorial Department. It’s the same approach used today by car ads that feature attractive women.

The ads by Resor and her team also disregarded Victorian ideas of femininity. “A common theme [of advertising at the time] was the call to be a modern woman,” Sutton explains, noting that “most of the depictions of women during that time showed them as housewives.” Victorian morality discouraged women from traditionally male pursuits of sports, entertainment, or work outside the home—essentially anything that wasn’t cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. The Women’s Editorial Department’s ads placed the ideal woman squarely outside that realm. An updated Pond’s Vanishing Cream ad showed a woman golfing with her sleeves rolled up. The copy reads, “The Out-of-Doors Girl can easily avoid the unpleasant effects of sun and wind on her delicate skin.” Other portrayals of women showed them playing tennis, riding bicycles, and attending upscale parties. Resor’s modern woman was no mere housewife.”

helen resor

Helen Lansdowne Resor