Ellen Wayland-Smith

 

On her book The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling Of America

Cover Interview of October 28, 2020

In a nutshell

The Angel in the Marketplace is a biography of Jean Wade Rindlaub, a mid-century adwoman widely recognized on Madison Avenue for her success in marketing household products to American housewives, from silverware to make-up, to cake mixes and bananas. I wrote the book to be a fun read on its own terms, each chapter detailing one of Rindlaub’s colorful ad campaigns to show how an “ideal” of American womanhood was constructed from the 1930s through 1960.

The reader gets to see how the birth of Hollywood cinema in the 1920s created a burgeoning cosmetics industry, and how Rindlaub appropriated the rags-to-riches Hollywood star story in order to market Hudnut’s Marvelous Makeup in the 1930s. Or how Rindlaub’s hokey, sentimental wartime “Back Home for Keeps” ads for Oneida silverware set the standard for mid-century ideals of American womanhood as bound to home and hearth—an ideal that helped fuel the postwar economic boom. Another chapter takes a deep dive into the campy allure of Chiquita Banana, and how Rindlaub’s use of this sultry Latina icon not only sold bananas, but also sugarcoated the impact of a CIA-led coup in Guatemala.

But the book is really a microhistory, and Rindlaub’s life and work a lens through which I examine how the ad industry’s appeal to gender roles helped consolidate what period supporters called the “American business system,” or free market orthodoxy, as political and economic gospel during the 1940s and 50s. I don’t use the term “gospel” by accident here. Efforts on the part of the advertising industry and their corporate clients to discredit New Deal “big government” economics aligned with conservative Christian appeals to individual responsibility and private morality. The book thus shows how free market faith, conservative gender roles, and a certain mainstream brand of Protestant Christianity all reinforced one another at midcentury, creating a potent politico-cultural ecosystem whose effects can still be felt today.

A key argument underpinning the book is that the triumph of the American “free market” system by 1960 was not a foregone conclusion. Two different models for the relationship between government and the economy had been vying for dominance ever since the emergence of corporate capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century. The two competing visions of economics weren’t just battling it out in some abstract sphere of economic theory. Rather, they took the form of deep-seated cultural battles between “big” and “small” government, between public and private womanhood, between two visions of Christian duty. Through Rindlaub’s career, I show how the free market camp’s appeal to the emotional value of “liberty” in American political discourse was reinforced by a sentimental, privatized vision of woman as presiding “angel” of the Christian home. This is really the larger story of the book.