Forget Mad Men, Here's How Advertising Agencies Really Recruited Women In 1963

real women of mad men

Photo: BI / AMC

Peggy Olson is depicted as the sole female copywriter to wander the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in Mad Men‘s depiction of advertising in the Sixties, but women had actually been working in the industry for decades.

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Early examples include Mathilde C. Weil, who opened the M.C. Weil Agency in 1880, and Helen Lansdowne Resor, who was hired by JWT in 1907 and created an all-female editorial board.

JWT (then J. Walter Thompson) published a booklet in 1963 titled “Advertising: A Career For Women,” to lure college women to Madison Avenue—and not just for its secretarial pool.

While JWT’s recruitment book was certainly progressive, it also reflected some of the stereotypes of the era—particularly when compared to JWT’s other booklet, “Advertising: A Career For Exceptional Men.”

JWT kindly agreed to let us excerpt both booklets, and gave us access to its photo archive. The images and the text form a stunning historic record of the real women of the Mad Men era.

Each slide in the following gallery features a female JWT employee from the era, with text from the booklets used to recruit them underneath the image.

(Also check out our interview with JWT’s longest continuously employed female staffer—she started at the agency in 1951 and hasn’t yet retired.)

The booklets begin with an explanation of what advertising is, with one notable difference ... (see below).

In the male-oriented booklet, the text reads: 'There are probably as many forms of advertising--and as many facets to it--as there are leaves on a tree.'

For women, there are as many different kinds of advertising 'as there are soap flakes in a box.'

Women often worked on soaps and other lady-friendly accounts.

The leaflets gave different reasons why advertising is an interesting career ...

The women's recruitment guide had a special section dedicated to opportunities specifically for women ....

It begins with the pitch: 'Advertising is a particularly promising field for women because so much advertising is directed to women and so many products are purchased by women. At J. Walter Thompson, women work in all departments and in all phases of advertising. Included among the many women holding highly responsible managerial and executive positions are two Assistant Treasurers, 10 Vice Presidents and a member of the Board of Directors.'

Pretty impressive for 1963.

The section continues with the company's declaration of being dedicated to furthering women's careers ...

'The J. Walter Thompson Company was the first to recognise the importance of women's contribution to advertising. And advertising, itself, offers the young woman a unique and real opportunity -- a career in which you have a real chance to 'get somewhere.''

While JWT valued female candidates, it used different figures of speech to appeal to the different genders.

The women's packet uses phrases like 'your cup of tea.' The men's booklet uses the term 'lone wolf.'

JWT expected both men and women to have attended college (the New York office had female employees from more than 100 colleges) but only men were expected to have graduate degrees.

While JWT hails its many qualified and powerful female employees, the packet gives the disclaimer:

'And by all means--don't snub typing! Ask your friends already in the business world ... you'll be impressed with how many of them used their typing ability as a 'toe in the door.''

This advice was not included in the men's recruitment book.

But seriously, if you were a woman, you started as a secretary ...

When JWT pitched job opportunities to men straight out of college, it talked about specializing in copywriting, public relations, art, television and radio, etc.

Jobs 'open to women,' however, began with membership in the 'General Staff' group, which meant new women would work under the Personnel Department and 'substitute for other girls who may be ill or on vacation.'

Although women got to work in the different sections of the company, they were often a 'right hand to a busy executive' or 'secretary to one of the senior analysts,' and of course needed good typing and shorthand skills.

If women showed potential, JWT assured them that they could move up in the company: 'many of our accounts are household products, foods, cosmetics, soaps, etc., there are broad opportunities for women to get ahead.'

If a woman was interested in copywriting, she could 'try your wings' at JWT's Women's Copy Study Group. Women with 'initiative and intelligence' might be assigned writing projects from actual writers.

... due to the many lady-friendly accounts.

Furthermore, 'a woman's potential earning power in advertising is considerably greater than in most fields,' although JWT warned that beginning salaries were 'not dramatic.'

Marriage isn't discussed in the men's booklet, but nuptials are discussed in the ladies' guide.

'If your immediate future includes marriage, we're still interested in you--if you plan to work long enough to make it worthwhile for both you and us,' the book assured. Some staffers were even working mothers!

JWT was even interested in talking to women who were planning on getting married in June, right after graduation.

Women were encouraged to send their applications to the Personnel Director for Women.

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