Edward Bernays organized torches of freedom to encourage women to smoke in public

How the act of women smoking in public got legitimized?

Girls or women smoking in public is an usual sight in modern times. But it wasn’t similar 100 years ago. There was a movement instigated by a PR agency to legitimize the act of women smoking in public. Even today, many women consider cigarettes as a symbol of women emancipation. But do we really know who legitimized this act of girls and women smoking in public?


Before twentieth century, people used to consider smoking as a wrong habit for women. In addition, people used to perceive smoking as a disgraceful act for women belonging to higher rungs of the society. Artists and painters used to portray cigarettes as a prop popular among ‘prostitutes’ and evil characters. In 1908 New York City Board of Alderman did unanimously pass an ordinance preventing women from smoking in public. In addition, several women activist groups also initiated movements to legitimize the act of smoking for women. As a result, cigarettes gained a status of societal freedom and gender equality.

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Leading tobacco manufacturing companies attempted to legitimize the act of women smoking in public. Additionally, they funded films depicting smoking women. Sadly, this however was popular within the so called ‘discreditable women’ or women of disrepute. In 1928, president of American Tobacco Company, George Washington Hill realized the market potential of tobacco industry if they can legitimize smoking for women. For being a taboo women were bit confused with the style of smoking. Coupled with Edward Bernays, father of modern public relations; George Washington Hill intended to organize a public event to encourage the habit of smoking among women.

Warning: Cigarettes cause cancer.

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud coupled with advise from psychoanalyst, Abraham Brill initiated “Torches of Freedom”. Moreover Abraham Brill did coin the term to symbolize smoking as an act of women emancipation.

Torches of Freedom- The event

How Bernays came up with the idea for Torches of Freedom?

Bernays hired several women to participate in proposed Torches of Freedom. Edward Bernays selected almost all of the women for participating in Torches of Freedom. Moreover, he organized the event on Easter Sunday Parade of 1929. Even in twenty first century, people consider the event which legitimized the act of women smoking in public.Tobacco companies published the images of the event all across the globe. Furthermore women rights activists and reputed feminists also participated in the event.

Torches of Freedom legitimized the act of women smoking in public. Needless to say, it is still considered as a morally wrong event in the history of advertising and public relations.

PS: Adwartising do not support sale or promotion of cigarettes in any form. This article is just for general knowledge only.

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