Jean Wade Rindlaub: A feminine touch in a male-dominant industry

Monday, June 21, 2021

Before the fictional likes of Peggy Olson and Joan Harris in Mad Men, there was Jean Wade Rindlaub. She worked for BBDO for thirty-three years, rising to become the only woman member of the Board of Directors and vice president. Upon her retirement in 1963, Rindlaub stated she hoped she “helped open the door to a lot more women in the business.”

Born on February 9, 1904, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Helen Jean Wade was proficient in shorthand and could type fifty words a minute by the time she was eleven. In 1920, at the age of sixteen, Wade was hired as the secretary to the head of the Advertising Department at Armstrong Cork Company, a local flooring manufacturer. In addition to notetaking, she edited the company’s newsletter (the Armstrong Jobber), wrote retail copy and catalogs, and wrote several publicity articles on linoleum for trade and other journals. In these articles, Wade was able to bridge the gap between the masculine world of manufacturing and the feminine world of interiors. This skill was one she would further develop and perfect over the course of her career.

In 1930, Wade moved to New York City to marry Willard W. Rindlaub, a technical staff member at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Two weeks later, she began work at BBDO and became a copywriter. Rindlaub was responsible for trendsetting advertisements for Oneida Community Silver (including the 1944 “back home for keeps” promotion), DuPont, Betty Crocker cake mix, Campbell’s soup (including “soup on the rocks” theme line), and Chiquita bananas. Some of these advertisements are represented in “100 best copywriters” and “100 best advertisements,” as well as resulting in Rindlaub winning “advertising woman of the year” in 1951.

Jean Wade Rindlaub directing Junior Council session on Betty Crocker products.

One aspect that helped Rindlaub in crafting incredibly successful campaigns was her understanding of the consumer and her needs. She organized and directed BBDO’s Junior Council and Homemakers’ Council and pioneered many techniques of understanding women as customers and as people. The Junior Council, which consisted of 250 female employees aged 18 to 35 years old, utilized their personal experience to assess current products and explore the needs of young adult women, brides-to-be, and newlyweds. The Homemaker’s Council, which was comprised of 125 women aged 36 and older, was tasked with evaluating products and exploring the needs of housewives and young mothers. Both councils also helped find suitable names and packaging for products.

After World War II, General Mills became one of Rindlaub’s largest clients at BBDO. She conducted market research, collected cookbooks, culinary pamphlets, and many recipes. She founded BBDO’s first test kitchen to develop and test new recipes and products for General Mills and United Fruit. In addition, Rindlaub interviewed thousands of women to gauge consumer concerns and needs and then advised clients how to target women as consumers.

1949 advertisement for United Fruit, one Rindlaub was likely involved in creating.

In the BBDO collection, there are a few folders containing information about Rindlaub specifically. These folders include many of the speeches she delivered to women’s organizations across the country, photographs, and news releases. You can find more about her life in a recently published book, The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling of America.  A more extensive selection of her papers can be found at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.

Ashley Williams is the project archivist for the BBDO collection at the Hagley Museum and Library.