Women writing history: A celebration of firsts for Women’s History Month

April 5, 2022 9:11 pm

International Women’s Day is celebrated on only one day each year. Here at Collective Content, we recognise that trying to encapsulate an entire gender’s accomplishments, even just in one field, in 24 hours won’t happen. That’s why we launched our ‘Women Who Reshaped Copywriting’ series on Twitter, and ran it throughout Women’s History Month. You can view it by scrolling through our Twitter feed here. It turned out one month wasn’t enough! There are countless underappreciated women hidden in history’s pages.

So we also decided to shine a spotlight and celebrate other female writing pioneers who have left their fingerprints not just in copywriting, but in writing history. If we have overlooked someone you want to celebrate, please drop us a line on our socials: LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

Enheduanna – First accredited author – 23rd century BCE

We’re keen advocates for treating copywriting as storytelling, so it would be remiss of us not to include the first-ever recorded female author on a list of historical greats. From the city of Ur over 4,200 years ago, Enheduanna was the high priestess of Nanna and wrote several hymns revering deities of the Sumerian pantheon. With several more recovered works attributed to her, she is celebrated as the first named author in world history.

Murasaki Shikibu – First female novelist – 10th century AD 

While narrowly missing on the title for the first printed novel, Murasaki takes the title of the first female novelist with her three-part, 54-chapter novel The Tale of Genji. The novel is now considered a classic in Japanese literature, weaving a monogatari format with realism, a departure from the fantasy and folklore elements of previous, similar works.

Anne-Marguerite Petit du Noyer – First recorded female journalist – 1663-1719

Women were involved early in publication and printing in France. With both Charlotte Guillard and Yolande Bonhomme heralded as notable printers in Paris, Noyer also famously covered the Peace of Utrecht. Her reports on the negotiations were read all over Europe and were popularised by Noyer’s willingness to report on scandal and gossip, something often neglected by her contemporaries and which ignited the interest of her readers.

Mathilde C Weil – First American ‘Ad Woman’ and first female founder of an ad agency – late 19th century

A US-German immigrant, a woman and a recent widow, Weil certainly had the odds stacked against her. Nonetheless, in 1880, she established the first-ever female-founded ad agency in New York. Along with two female partners, Mary Compton and Meta Volkman, that the trio managed to create and run such a business four decades before women were even allowed to vote is little short of extraordinary.  

Erma Perham Proetz – First Woman to be added to the Advertising Hall of Fame 1891–1944

There is no small amount of contest and debate over who the first female copywriter was. Some scholars say the first would be from the time of Sappho and her contemporaries, as merchants hired minstrels, singers and travellers to speak of and advertise their businesses. Others argue that the first female copywriter would be sourced to the 20th century, when women started taking the literary world by storm.

We can’t weigh in on that debate, but we can celebrate Proetz as the first woman to be added to the Advertising Hall of Fame. Her ‘instrumental’ work for PET milk, an evaporated milk producer, did not rest simply in print, and soon was delivered over the airwaves. Speaking under the pseudonym ‘Mary Lee Taylor’, Proetz shared recipes developed in the test kitchen she established and offered listeners free booklets that are still sought today. The campaign was so successful it continued for over a decade after Proetz’s death.

Helen Lansdowne Resor – First woman to plan a national advertising campaign – 1886–1964 

Starting her career as a copywriter with J. Walter Thompson Company, Resor was the first woman to successfully write, and plan, a national advertising campaign. She went on to become the vice president of the company and was heavily involved in mentoring young women. She created a women’s-only editorial department and encouraged them to speak their minds. Resor actively acted as a conduit for other women to enter the heavily male-dominated field of advertising. A supporter of the suffrage movement and female charities – as well as the creator of the ‘Women must work to win the war’ campaign, which saw 3 million women join the workforce – Resor was a titan of female empowerment in advertising.

Of course, each of these women was simply the first in her accomplishments. The field of copywriting has grown massively over the last century and continues to do so daily.

“The day we don’t need a day will be a very good day” – a wonderful thought shared in our virtual office on International Woman’s Day. Until then, let’s celebrate and appreciate the groundbreaking steps made by the women above, and support the women around us taking their own.


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