Although we may live in the same country as the women of 1920s, we didn’t live in the same world; women who smoked during those early years of the last century were labeled as sluts and whores. There was an American taboo against women smoking.

This presented a real problem to the American Tobacco Company; which hired Eddie Bernays to market cigarettes to women; it was a hard sell. The life of women was changing and Eddie Bernays understood how to take advantage of a social movement, he understood now to market smoking to ‘respectable’ women hence his Torches of Freedom campaign.

Eddie Bernays was born in Vienna Austria on November 22, 1891 and lived to be 103 years old. He called himself the father of public relation, of course, he was one of the sperm donors, there were many fathers; it is hard to blame just one man.

Eddie’s father was Ely Bernays, brother of Martha Bernay, the wife of Sigmund Freud and his mother was Freud’s sister, Anna. The Bernays family immigrated to New York in 1892. He received a degree from Cornell University in 1912. His first career choice was journalism; he married Doris E. Fleischman in 1922. Although Eddie’s parents were Jewish, he never considered himself a religious man and did not identify with the Jewish community.

It was said that, “When a person would first meet Eddie, it would not be long until Uncle Sigmund would be brought into the conversation.” He used his relationship with his Uncle to establish his own reputation; although he was a man of real influence in his own right. His books “Crystallizing Public Opinion“(1923) and “Propaganda” (1928) became landmark texts. Eddie argued in “Propaganda“, that ‘scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in society and the manipulation was for “our own good and the only way that democracy can work efficiently.” Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Nazi propaganda minister utilized Eddie’s theories to subvert democracy and used Eddie’s ideas in the deliberate campaign in the attack of the Jews of Germany. Proving Eddie wrong in that manipulation of society isn’t always for the best interest of its members.

George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company in the 1920s hired Eddie Bernays for an annual retainer of $25,000 to market Lucky Strike cigarettes to women. Women were smoking but usually behind closed doors in private. It is hard to believe but it was illegal in many places for women to smoke outside. In 1922, a woman was arrested for ‘daring’ to light a cigarette on the street in New York City! Smoking was a “risqué” act after all it was only “bad girls” that smoked.

This social norm had to be overcome, if American Tobacco hoped to increase sales. To develop a marketing plan, Eddie hired A.A. Brill, the psychologist to find out what would make “respectable” women smoke in public. Brill found that cigarettes were seen by women as something for men and a phallic symbol.

It was during this period women had achieved the power to vote, were taking job’s that had traditionally been filled by men. Women had moved into professions formerly considered only the male’s domain. Yes, this was the Jazz Age, Roaring 20s a time of enormous social change but still women faced discrimination.

The parameters of the campaign were established, which would link cigarettes and the new liberated woman. Brill explained; “The emancipation of women has suppressed many of their feminine desires. More women now do the same work as men. Cigarettes, which are equated with men, become ’Torches of Freedom’.”

Eddie created the “Torches of Freedom” campaign. Eddie’s secret was to associate the cigarette with the subliminal woman’s sexual desire with the application of conditioned reflex. To Eddie, feminism could be used as a marketing tool, which would entail the systematic re-engineering of the morals of women as a way of moving them out of the home and into the smoking in public.

Recently, in an interview originally done in 1998 was aired on C-Span, Larry Tye, author of ‘The Father of Spin: Edward L. Barnays and the Birth of Public Relations’, told the story of Eddie sending a group of debutants to march in the New York Easter Parade along 5th Avenue.

“On March 31, 1929, a woman by the name of Bertha Hunt stepped into the throng of pedestrians in the New York the Easter Parade, and created a sensation by lighting up a Lucky Strike cigarette. Hunt told the reporter from the New York Evening World that she “first got the idea for this campaign when a man with her in the street asked her to extinguish her cigarette as it embarrassed him. ‘I talked it over with my friends, and we decided it was high time something was done about the situation.’”

The press release stated that Bertha and her friends would be lighting “Torches of Freedom” “in the interests of equality of the sexes and to fight another sex taboo.” At the end of the day, Bertha and her friends told the press that she hoped they had “started something and that these Torches of Freedom, with no particular brand favored, will smash the discriminatory taboo on cigarettes for women and that our sex will go on breaking down all discriminations.’”What Miss Hunt did not tell the reporter is that she was the secretary of a man by the name of Eddie Bernays. The New York Times (1 April 1929) printed: “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom'”. She also didn’t tell the reporters that Mr. Bernays had received a handsome retainer from the American Tobacco Company to promote cigarette consumption among women. What billed itself as a feminist promotion of the emancipation of women was in reality a public relations ploy to open a new market for tobacco by getting women addicted to cigarettes.

The Torches of Freedom campaign was a classic instance of using sexual liberation as a form of control. It proposed addiction as a form of freedom. In this, it was an early version of the Virginia Slims, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” campaign, which made repeated reference to the Suffragette movement as a way of associating cigarettes with freedom.

Bertha said“…cigarettes…We hope that that we accomplished what we set out to kill a ridiculous taboo symbolic of more important sexual inequality” (and make some money using the feminist movement as a marketing tool).
So perhaps, we have not ‘come a long way’ after all.

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