By Emily Westkaemper
272 pages, softcover, $27.95
Published by Rutgers University Press
“Keep a stiff upper lip, with some lipstick on it,” said innovative adwoman Dorothy Dignam in a 1933 lecture, encouraging women to pursue careers in advertising despite discrimination. In Selling Women’s History, author Emily Westkaemper highlights Dignam and her fellow adwomen, along with feminists, historians, corporations and the advertising industry—those who defied convention to expand the legacy of women’s lives beyond a dedication to homemaking.
In contrast to the television show Mad Men, which portrayed women working in advertising as a rarity in the 1960s, Selling Women’s History introduces us to the women who led the way from the suffrage movement around 1910 to the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. One such pioneer, Matilda C. Weil, began working in advertising in 1867 and later developed her own agency. Adwomen also promoted feminism and feminist history through women’s advertising clubs, such as the League of Advertising Women of New York and the Women’s Advertising Club of Chicago.
Simultaneously representing women as both protectors of the past and modern consumers of the future, advertising campaigns would soon target them for products beyond cleaning supplies, such as cars, cosmetics and cigarettes. While the descriptions of these ads are intriguing, readers would enjoy seeing more of these vintage illustrations. With nearly 50 pages of footnotes, Selling Women’s History is dense with information, skillfully weaving together the influence of adwomen, the emergence of the female consumer and the rise of feminism into this diverse collection of women’s historical legacy. —Ruth Hagopian