Resor, Helen Lansdowne (1886-1964)

Published on .

Helen Lansdowne Resor was born Feb. 20, 1886 in Grayson, Ky. In 1890, her mother left her father and moved with her children to Covington, Ky., where she became a librarian and sold real estate to support her family. Her mother set an example for Helen of feminism and the need for self-sufficiency.

In 1903, Helen Lansdowne graduated from high school and took a job with the World Manufacturing Co., a local manufacturer of toilet preparations sold by mail. She next was hired as a bill auditor for Procter & Collier, an advertising agency in nearby Cincinnati that acted as the in-house shop for Procter & Gamble Co. A year later, she got a job writing retail ads for a Cincinnati newspaper, the Commercial Tribune, and in 1906 she took a copywriting job at Street Railways Advertising Co., which controlled most U.S. streetcar advertising.

In 1907, Stanley Resor of Procter & Collier asked Ms. Lansdowne to return to the agency as a copywriter. While at Procter & Collier, she wrote copy for Brenlin window shades, Red Cross shoes and Higgin all-metal screens.

In 1908, Mr. Resor opened a Cincinnati office for J. Walter Thompson Co. and hired Ms. Lansdowne, making her the agency's first female copywriter. In January 1911, she was promoted and moved to JWT's New York office, where, among other accounts, she worked on the introductory campaign for a new P&G product, Crisco vegetable shortening.

In 1916, a group headed by Mr. Resor bought the New York-based agency for $500,000, and he became president. On March 6, 1917, Ms. Lansdowne and Mr. Resor were married. Together, they ran the agency, Mr. Resor focusing on administration and client services and Ms. Resor on the preparation of ads; on key decisions and strategies, they collaborated.

Ms. Resor was the first woman to successfully plan and write national advertising, rather than just retail efforts. In particular, she is credited with creating a new style of "feature story" advertising that closely resembled its surrounding editorial copy in magazines, using illustrations and text that appealed to readers' emotions. Perhaps her greatest contribution to copywriting, however, was her conviction that "copy must be believable"—an idea that became a fundamental JWT tenet.

When the Woodbury facial soap account moved to JWT in 1910, Ms. Resor repositioned the product, which had long been advertised for ridding the skin of blemishes, as a beauty product. The ad used a painting of an attractive couple in evening attire accompanied by the headline "A skin you love to touch." Copy explained how using the product would increase the beauty of one's skin and offered a reproduction of the painting and a week's supply of the soap for 10›. Ad executive Albert Lasker later said the Woodbury ad, with its use of sex appeal, was one of three great landmarks in advertising history; the ad also was ranked 31st on Advertising Age's list of the top 100 campaigns of the 20th century.

For Pond's cold cream, Ms. Resor took endorsement advertising to a new level by persuading well-known and respected women, from socialites to European royalty, to back the product in advertising. The first ad, in 1924, offered an endorsement by Alva Belmont, a New York society leader and feminist. The ads also featured such figures as the Queen of Rumania, Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt and the Duchess de Richelieu.

Ms. Resor was a pioneer in using artists to work on advertising, hiring illustrator Norman Rockwell to work for JWT. She also improved the quality of photography used in advertising, signing photographer Edward Steichen to an exclusive contract in 1923.

In addition to her creative work, Ms. Resor was actively involved in mentoring young women in advertising, earning JWT a reputation as an agency where women had a chance to succeed. She set up a women's editorial department—separate from but equal to the men's copy groups—where she encouraged women to share their ideas freely.

During World War I, she created ads for the Red Cross and the YMCA. During World War II, Ms. Resor and the JWT creative department developed a campaign themed "Women must work to win the war," using car cards, posters, newspaper ads and radio spots to persuade 3 million women to take jobs in factories and civilian areas by the end of 1943.

Ms. Resor, who became a VP and director at JWT, was active at the agency until September 1958, when she fell in the office and injured her head; she left the agency entirely when her husband retired in February 1961.

Ms. Resor died on Jan. 2, 1964. She was posthumously inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame along with her husband in 1967. During the Resors' tenure, JWT grew from a handful of U.S. offices and fewer than 100 staff members to a worldwide staff of almost 7,000 with 57 offices in 23 countries and $360 million in billings.


Born in Grayson, Ky., on Feb. 20, 1886; became a copywriter for Procter & Collier, Cincinnati, 1907; became a copywriter for the new Cincinnati office of J. Walter Thompson Co., 1908; promoted and moved to JWT's New York office, 1911; married Stanley Resor, 1917; served as a VP of JWT until retirement; died Jan. 2, 1964; inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, 1967.

Most Popular
In this article: