Lucy Devine ’20

“Wise Women in the World of ‘Mad Men’: The Forgotten Story of Jean Wade Rindlaub and Early Female Advertising Executives”

Tell us about your thesis!

My thesis is primarily about a woman named Jean Wade Rindlaub who was an important figure in the advertising industry from the thirties through the sixties, but is rarely ever discussed in the literature on the industry or histories of women’s labor. She became a vice president at Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO–one of the biggest ad agencies in New York at the time) in 1945, was the Advertising Woman of the Year in 1951, and joined the board of directors at BBDO in 1954. The reason those dates are important is because they seem way earlier than one would think a woman would have been successful in advertising. After all, Peggy from Mad Men was a secretary until the mid-1960s. Interestingly, cultural portrayals of women in the ad industry differ from what was the reality. My thesis compares the real life successes of Jean Wade Rindlaub and the mostly negative cultural representations of female advertising executives, primarily in two romantic comedies from the time: Take a Letter Darling (1942) and Lover Come Back (1961). 

How did you choose your topic?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do original archival research at Schlesinger Library. I had been doing research there since freshman year and I always had the most fun on projects involving materials from Schlesinger. So, when looking for a topic, I immediately went to their website and searched through their Subject Guides. A lot of my previous projects had been about women and work, including a paper on 9 to 5 the movie and the organization that inspired it and another paper dealing with the magazine Working Woman, so I kind of had an idea where I wanted to look. When I stumbled upon the description of Rindlaub’s archives, I knew I had found something cool. I got into the archives soon after and just ran with it!

What were the biggest challenges?

I think one of the biggest challenges was keeping motivation high after finishing the first chapter and deciding what to write next. I was so interested in Rindlaub and her life, but I didn’t want to write a biography (that’s not the assignment), so I had to broaden my scope a bit, but I didn’t know how. Also, there’s a bit of a break after submitting the first draft chapter and it was really tempting to just stop thinking about it for a while. My adviser was amazing about helping me with both of those issues and by the time I was back on campus during winter break, I knew what I was going to write and I was ready to roll. 

Did you encounter any surprises along the way?

Luckily, I didn’t encounter any bad surprises, but there were some happy surprises! I was able to track down the woman who originally archived all of Rindlaub’s papers and meet with her. It was a really insightful meeting because she had seen every paper and advertisement in the archive so could speak to trends she saw and important things I just couldn’t miss. Also, she had been lucky enough to talk to some of Rindlaub’s family members and get a sense for who she was apart from her documents, so it was really cool to hear that. I also was surprised to find out that Lizabeth Cohen, the author of one of my main secondary sources, A Consumers’ Republic teaches on campus so I met with her to run some ideas by her and that was a very special experience. 

What did you find most rewarding about the process?

Hm… That’s a hard question. I think just the overall experience was so rewarding. I was so hesitant to declare Hist & Lit because I was so scared of writing a thesis. At the point of declaration, I think the longest paper I had ever written was 12 pages long, and I never really thought of myself as a “writer.” So, even completing the thesis is an accomplishment. I think it was super rewarding to even see that I could do something I never thought I would be able to do. Also, getting to work with and to know my adviser Lauren Brandt was just honestly a blessing (and I’m not even religious). 

What was your favorite thing about your thesis?

My favorite thing about my thesis is how many different types of primary sources I used to write it. I used Rindlaub’s archival papers, newspaper articles, books (obviously), a TV show, two romantic comedies (I can’t believe I was able to base half of my thesis on romcoms), press kits, motion picture codes, and print advertisements.

What advice would you give to juniors?

I think the biggest piece of advice I would give to juniors is to come back to campus early over winter break to write. I know that’s not super philosophical or inspirational, but coming back early gave me a chance to fully immerse myself into the project with no distractions (other classes, family, social obligations, etc.). That time is when I really fell in love with my thesis and enjoyed writing it most. Also, it meant that by the time classes started up again, I didn’t have that much more to write. Would recommend!

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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