10 Female Adland Trailblazers: The Women Who Changed the Industry #HistoryMonth

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The world of advertising has not always been seen as the (mostly) fair and inclusive industry it tries to be today. In fact, even today women only hold around 29% of leadership roles among the top ad agencies but that’s somewhat offset by the fact that women now constitute nearly 70% of all advertising professionals.

If it wasn’t for a handful of women that saw beyond the glass ceiling many years ago, however, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now. In the last 100 or so years, adland has seen numerous influential women who have not only broken barriers but also set new standards in creativity and leadership. Today, let’s celebrate them together, shall we?

1. Mathilde C. Weil

Mathilde C. Weil was the first woman to start her own advertising agency, M.C. Weil, in New York in 1880. Her pioneering efforts paved the way for other women to own and operate their own agencies, setting a precedent for female entrepreneurship in a male-dominated industry​.

2. Helen Lansdowne Resor


Helen Lansdowne Resor made history as the first female copywriter when she was hired by J. Walter Thompson in 1908. She led the Women’s Editorial Department and introduced a psychological approach to advertising that appealed to a wider female audience. Her innovative strategies included portraying women in roles beyond traditional domestic duties, effectively challenging gender norms in advertising​.

3. Bernice Bowles “Fitz” Fitz-Gibbon

Bernice Fitz-Gibbon revolutionized department store advertising with her work at Macy’s and Gimbels. She coined iconic phrases like “It’s smart to be thrifty” and “Nobody, but nobody, undersells Gimbels.” Fitz-Gibbon’s influence extended beyond her campaigns as she became a mentor, making “Fitz-trained” copywriters highly sought after in the industry. Her legacy includes being one of the highest-paid women in advertising by the 1950s and a member of the board of directors of Montgomery Ward and Company​.

4. Barbara Gardner Proctor


Barbara Gardner Proctor was the first African American woman to own an advertising agency, Proctor and Gardner Advertising Inc., established in 1970. She began her career in the music industry, notably bringing The Beatles’ records to the US while at VeeJay Records. Her agency quickly became the second-largest African American-owned ad agency in the US, and she was named Advertising Person of the Year by the American Advertising Federation in 1974​.

5. Mary Wells Lawrence

Mary Wells Lawrence co-founded the Wells, Rich, Greene Agency and became the first female CEO of a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1968. Known for her creative brilliance, she was later inducted into the American Advertising Hall of Fame. Lawrence's work set new standards in creative advertising and business leadership​.

6. Erma Proetz


Erma Proetz was a trailblazer as the first woman elected to the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1952. She worked as a copywriter and executive at the Gardner Advertising Agency and was recognized as one of the most outstanding women in American business by Fortune magazine in 1935​.

7. Caroline Robinson Jones

Caroline Robinson Jones became the first African American female vice president of a major advertising agency, BBDO, in 1977. She started her career as a secretary at J. Walter Thompson and rose to prominence by focusing on marketing strategies for minority consumers, helping many others enter the industry​.

8. Margaret Johnson


Margaret Johnson, the executive creative director and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, became the first woman to be named partner at the agency in 2012. She has won numerous accolades, including being named Executive of the Year by Ad Age in 2018, highlighting her impact on modern advertising​.

9. Phyllis Kenner Robinson

Phyllis Kenner Robinson was a key figure during the golden age of advertising. She was DDB's first chief copywriter, supervising iconic campaigns like "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Real Jewish Rye" and the renowned Volkswagen Beetle ads, which revolutionized advertising with their wit and simplicity.

10. Jean Wade Rindlaub

Jean Wade Rindlaub was one of the first women to become a major advertising executive. She worked at BBDO, where her campaigns for clients like Campbell’s Soup and General Mills were highly influential. Her "Back Home for Keeps" campaign during World War II was especially memorable, symbolizing hope and perseverance.


These women have not only excelled in their careers but also played crucial roles in breaking industry norms and paving the way for future generations of female advertising professionals. Their legacies continue to inspire and shape the industry today.

Header image by Luciano Koenig Dupont


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