If there’s one character in Mad Men that journalist Lynn Povich can relate to, it’s Peggy Olson, the secretary who is promoted to copywriter at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce just as the 1960s women’s movement is picking up steam. “There were a lot of us who were like Peggy,” Povich says. She started out as a secretary at Newsweek’s Paris bureau in 1965, before returning to New York City in 1967 to work at Newsweek’s headquarters. During the 25 years Povich worked at the magazine, she was a researcher and a reporter before being named Newsweek’s first female senior editor in 1975.
It wasn’t exactly an uneventful rise through the corporate ranks, though, as Povich details in The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace (PublicAffairs). This isn’t simply another account about a group of feisty women suing bad bosses, Povich hastens to tell Show Daily. “It’s also the story of women who were raised in the ’40s and ’50s and came of age in the ’60s,” she says, “and confronted all the things they were raised to believe, and had to reject them or overcome them.”
When Povich started working at Newsweek, there were two career tracks at the magazine (as was the case almost everywhere at the time). “Men were editors and reporters; women were secretaries,” Povich explains. “Women were hired to do the fact-checking for the articles the men wrote.” While Povich and her female colleagues were already unhappy with the status quo, Newsweek’s decision in 1970 to do a feature on the women’s movement added insult to injury. “They didn’t have any women writers; all the writers were men,” Povich recalled. “A man couldn’t very well write a story about the women’s movement.” On Monday, March 16, 1970, Newsweek hit newsstands with a cover story entitled, “Women in Revolt,” written by Helen Dudar, a reporter for the New York Post. It was the first time in the magazine’s history that a writer not on staff had written a cover story. That same day, 46 female Newsweek employees held a press conference to announce that they were suing the magazine for sex discrimination. “We knew publicity was the key,” Povich recalls. “We were good journalists. We knew if the story got picked up, it would totally embarrass the editors. And it did.” While Povich doesn’t know how that Newsweek issue sold, the story of 46 women in revolt made an international splash. And the rest, as they say, is history.