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Those Before Us

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

March is filled with reflection and celebration for women around the globe. Empowering quotes and inspirational stories of powerful women overcoming adversity dominate social media feeds.

Women around the world take strides every day to break through glass ceilings and excel in their fields. Later this year, PRWeek will host its Hall of Femme to honor the superstar women in the public relations field.

The industry is heading in the right direction with studies and conversations on how to address gender inequality. However, it is important to reflect on who worked to get us to where we are now. Doris Fleischman and Dr. Debra Miller, APR, are two trailblazers who redefined what being a woman in PR looked like.

Doris Fleischman

A spitfire and a force to be reckoned with, Doris Fleischman has been called “the most important woman in public relations history” by American National Biography. She was married to Edward Bernays, who is commonly referred to as the “father of public relations.” Unheard of during her time, she chose to keep her last name upon marriage. Fleischman even garnered media attention for being the first woman to reserve a hotel room under her own name.

Fleischman attributed her most notable work as being with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When the organization held its first convention in the South, Fleischman was able to create a positive conversation surrounding it through her PR expertise.

Fleischman was an equal partner of Bernays’ agency, Edward L. Bernays, Counsel on Public Relations. She is credited for most of the strategic, imaginative and nitty-gritty work, whereas Bernays focused more on the scientific aspect of things (fun fact: he is Sigmund Freud’s nephew). Together, they were among the leaders who laid the foundation for the PR industry.

Dr. Debra Miller, APR

A more recent trailblazer, Dr. Debra Miller was PRSA’s first African-American president and one of the first women of color to join the organization. Her talent expands across academia, public affairs and corporate communications. She has served in roles at Fortune 100 companies, NASA, Clark Atlanta University and the Department of the Army, just to name a few. She is an advocate for mentorship, and according to PRSay, “Diverse students are inspired to excel at the highest levels of the profession due to her landmark accomplishments.”

In 2006, Miller was awarded PRSA’s Gold Anvil Award. PRSA explains, it “is the Society’s highest honor and is presented to the PR professional whose accomplishments have advanced and improved the profession.”

Only three women had received the award at that time, and none of color. Miller was the first, serving as an inspiration to women of color around the nation.

Upon receiving the accolade, Miller said, “This profession challenges each of us to be prepared to chance the unconventional; to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with change; to master the art of good storytelling; and to be trustworthy, passionate, forward-thinking visionaries."

Women like Fleischman and Miller forced the industry to value women’s contributions. Even as International Women’s Month comes to a close, we should never stop reminiscing on those who came before us.

Written by Olivia Lake, PRSA Liaison.


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