Honoring Women Pioneers in Public Relations


March is Women’s History Month — a time to celebrate the essential role women have in American history. As a majority women-run and employed organization, Martin Waymire recognizes the importance of gender diversity in public relations. We observe Women’s History Month by acknowledging the contributions and accomplishments of women in the industry.

Betsy Plank, APR

Often referred to as the first lady of public relations, Betsky Plank broke through the glass ceiling to set many firsts for women in public relations:

  • She became the first woman elected president of Chicago’s Publicity Club in 1963.
  • Plank became the first woman elected president of the Public Relations Society of America in 1973.
  • She was exclusively recognized with PRSA’s three highest distinctions: the Gold Anvil, the Lund and the Patrick Jackson Award.
  • The PRSA Educators Academy celebrated Plank with the first David W. Ferguson Award.
  • In the 2000s, she was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award and the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arthur W. Page Society.
  • Plank was also the first woman to receive the Institute for Public Relations’ Alexander Hamilton Award.
  • She was the executive VP and treasurer of the Daniel J. Edelman agency before being the first woman to head a department at Illinois Bell.
  • Plank co-founded The Chicago Network and received its First Decade Award in 1989.

Beyond breaking many barriers, Plank was a true advocate for PR education and co-chaired the 1987 Commission on Public Relations Education, which created the guidelines for undergraduate PR curricula across the country. She also founded the PRSA’s Certification in Education for Public Relations as a review program for PR studies worldwide.

Belle Moskowitz

Belle Moskowitz is remembered as “the most powerful woman in America” during her time for her legendary practices in the public relations industry. As a first-generation American, Moskowitz started her career in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and advocated for the protection of at-risk girls and oppressed factory workers. She lost her husband, Charles Israels, at a young age and was forced to support three children by herself.

She wore many professional hats during her lifetime. Her career titles ranged from social worker and legislative activist to labor relations expert and public relations director for the Port Authority. She even served as campaign manager for Al Smith in his 1928 run for president.

While working for Port Authority, Moskowitz was among the first to implement innovative tactics such as film, a new medium at the time. She even worked with Edward Bernays — known as the “father of public relations.”

Moskowitz opened her own public relations firm following her work on the Al Smith presidential campaign where she worked to reduce inequality through public affairs by writing articles and campaigning for the women’s suffrage movement.

Her social advocacy continued through her personal relationships when she married Henry Moskowitz, one of the founders of the NAACP, later in life.

Ida B. Wells

Some may remember Ida B. Wells-Barnett from history class as one of the founders of the NAACP, but did you know she led the anti-lynching movement in the United States during the 1880s? She was an African American journalist who investigated mass white violence and the lynching of Black men in the southern states after her friends were murdered.

Wells-Barnett’s brave reveal of an 1892 lynching resulted in locals burning down her press office, but this did not stop her from establishing the National Association of Colored Women to address issues pertaining to civil rights and women’s suffrage. This eventually led Wells-Barnett to help form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which still exists today to dismantle structural racism.

Wells-Barnett’s many books, articles and speeches had a profound impact on both journalism and the public relations industry thanks to her use of the press to highlight injustice and advance civil rights. Today, many organizations have named awards in Wells-Barnett’s honor, including the National Association of Black Journalists and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Martin Waymire celebrates these women, and many more, who broke through barriers to shape our industry today. We encourage you to use Women’s History Month to research the impact women had on your industry and consider how we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

Read more on these great women of PR here:

Becca “B” Wyne

Becca is a senior at Michigan State University majoring in Public Relations with a double minor in Sociology and Women & Gender Studies. They bring experience in diversity, equity and inclusion communications to the office.