Is Copywriting a Man's Career? The Copywriter Who Cracked the Glass Ceiling


Will Newman

Is copywriting a man's career?

Of course not!

Take a look at the successful women in copywriting right now like Kim Krause Schwalm, Carline Anglade-Cole, or the many successful women AWAI members.

Thanks in large part to AWAI, copywriting is now a lucrative career with opportunities for anybody.

It wasn't always like this.

In the early part of the 20th century, women really had no opportunities in copywriting. But one of my heroes of this profession changed all that.

This hero of mine opened the door not only to women in copywriting but to people of any race, religion, ethnicity, education, or physical ability.

The first great woman copywriter in history, Helen Lansdowne Resor is inspiration for all copywriters. She opened opportunities for us all because she proved gender doesn't matter.

All that matters: Results.

Helen Lansdowne was born on a farm in Grayson, Kentucky in 1886, the second youngest of nine children. When she was four, her mother left her husband, something unheard of in those days.

So of course, Helen's mother had to work to support her family, providing a lesson in feminism and self-sufficiency that stayed with Helen for life. Her mother told her daughters, “You’re never going to get caught the way I was. You’re going to learn how to work.”

And work she did.

Helen started writing copy at age 17 — when “a woman’s place was in the home.”

Not surprisingly, Helen had to struggle to gain recognition for her skills. But she was so good at what she did … and so successful doing it … that the New York Herald Tribune described her as the greatest copywriter of her generation.

Not the “greatest woman copywriter of her generation.” The greatest copywriter.

The quality of her work won her the vice presidency of J. Walter Thompson Company, at that time (and still today) one of the largest ad agencies in the world.

As vice-president, Helen employed talented women writers, paving the way for women in our industry.

While at JWT, Helen produced ads like the Woodbury Soap campaign — “A Skin You Love to Touch.” This ad is credited with being the first advertisement to use sex appeal.

This ad's sex appeal seems mild by today's standards. Had Helen thought of coming close to today's unbridled appeal to sex, she would've lost her customers.

And herein lies the success of her advertising. She knew, and knew well, the people she advertised to … the women of her era.

Helen Lansdowne Resor's efforts didn't stop at advertising. Although she worked 12 to 16 hours a day at the office, she still had time to challenge the status quo as a suffragist.

After many years actively involved in the movement, her female employees and she marched in the celebration parade in New York after ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Helen also had a long history of public service. As president of the Traveler’s Aid Society, she got the group to provide shelter to homeless women during the Depression.

She also donated freely to institutions like the New York Museum of Modern Art and Radcliffe College.

Helen Lansdowne Resor is more than just a pioneering woman copywriter. She's a model for us all of who seek freedom … freedom to do what we want regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or education.

Freedom to achieve the writer's life.

What are your thoughts about Helen Lansdowne Resor … and the role she played in opening up copywriting for everybody? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let us know by commenting below.

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Published: July 25, 2016

16 Responses to “Is Copywriting a Man's Career? The Copywriter Who Cracked the Glass Ceiling”

  1. I now have a new female hero and role model!

    Guest (Nancy)July 25, 2016 at 12:20 pm

  2. great story but really I don't know what a copywriter does so tell me

    Guest (Truth)July 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm

  3. Will, Thank you for shining a light on Helen Landsdowne today. I am delighted to know these historically significant facts. Not only is it an intriguing story but an important one. AND inspiring beyond compare. I always enjoy your articles Will, but this one is exceptional. Thanks again.

    Guest (Lee Nourse)July 25, 2016 at 2:16 pm

  4. Once again, Will, fantastic article. I wholeheartedly agree; Helen Lansdowne Resor is a hero to us all that want "the writers' life". Oh, and you hit the nail right on the head; AWAI makes it possible for all of us here to do it!
    Tom Arillotta

    Thomas ArillottaJuly 25, 2016 at 2:19 pm

  5. Helen was a remarkable woman and obviously had lots of talent. She was able to achieve all that success as a copywriter back in the day when women were home ironing. I never felt copywriting was a man's field. this field is open to both sexes. I haven't pursued it because I just don't have the money for these courses. I am retired and on a limited budget. I know it sounds like just another excuse but those ARE the facts. I write letters to the editor of our local newspaper, I create greeting cards for my friends and family. I am, however, interested in the email program for businesses that you have written to me about. emails are short and to the point. So I may pursue that arena.

    Guest (antoinette oliveira)July 25, 2016 at 2:27 pm

  6. I would thank her if I could. She proved to many women that they did not need a man to do for them in terms of income. Many men I am sure hated that part. They had competition. Men don't like that any more than women do. Interesting article. Thank you, Will.
    Patricia.

    PatriciaPjrsJuly 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

  7. Hi Dear Mr Will Newman,

    It was always my point of view that women in many activities are better than men.To prove my attitude i signed up the equal rights amendment at change.org.We could even make enormous progress in developing our social and cultural networks if the ratification of equal rights followed as soon as possible.Please don't hesitate to sign up the equal rights amendment at change.org.

    Yours for best future in USA,

    Ali Rely.

    Guest (ali rely)July 25, 2016 at 5:02 pm

  8. Dear Wil, I have enjoyed your articles all year, but I am particularly pleased with the topic of this last post. It is timely, inspiring, and positive -- something appreciated very much in light of all the negativity we've had to deal with lately. Thanks for some truly inspiring thoughts!

    Guest (Daria Walsh)July 26, 2016 at 8:16 am

  9. I want to say "Me Too" After 30 years as a Morgan Stanley broker/investment adviser - marketing my services - the light bulb hit; my niche was obvious.
    I'm loving the Financial Program's successful finance copywriters interviews. Now writing my first spec headline and lead;figuring out where to send it.
    So I say - there's no glass ceiling in copywriting. With the trailblazers before me - Here I Come!

    MoneySpeak PatJuly 26, 2016 at 11:59 am

  10. Hi Will, I truly enjoy all of your articles, but the last post was especially enlightening. Although I have lived in Vero Beach, FL for over 30 years I am originally from Grayson, Ky,the same as Helen Lansdowne. I have a feeling my grandmother and her sisters probably knew Helen. Grayson is a very small country town where everyone knows everyone. Grayson is a very small country town which only had one red light in the entire town until the mid 70's when an interstate exchange was built. There is a street called Lansdowne Avenue. It's quite an inspiration to know that someone coming from such a small town could rise to such a great heights. Thanks again for the post.

    Gerry WaiteJuly 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm

  11. It certainly was very interesting story to know about. On the other hand I never thought that Copywriting was only for woman, there are men doing it too. I could write a strong copy for automotive tools, technical information or maintenance. Very good article.

    Guest (Abimelech Rodriguez )July 26, 2016 at 8:41 pm

  12. Hello Will Yes Helen Lansdowne Resor was a quite remarkable person and a shining example to all. Thanks for sharing. Once again a great article from yourself.

    Guest (John Chapman)August 15, 2016 at 4:23 pm

  13. Wow! I had never heard of her! I'm so glad you wrote this article, Will....it's a little 'kick in the pants' for when I'm feeling like this is just too hard......working full time, trying to find time to write....all I'll have to do now is think of Helen and stop feeling sorry for myself, and get to work!

    Joyce HAugust 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm

  14. Wow! I champion women like Helen Lansdowne, but even more the spirit of her mother to get out and create a life for the family despite modern consesus. That move gave Helen the impetus that WOMEN CAN!

    Guest (faith)August 16, 2016 at 9:21 am


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