The world’s most incredible spin-master
By The Editors

A true story: Sigmund Freud's nephew fought discrimination against women by their husbands in 1929; he organized an Easter Sunday protest to force husbands to allow women to smoke. His protest went viral overnight, and soon women could smoke just about any damn place they wanted.

The world’s most incredible spin-master


If you've never heard of Joseph Bernays, it's not his fault.

Bernays is one of the most famous PR guys ever. His big win: Getting women together with cigarettes.

Bernays' mother was Freud's sister and his father was the brother of Freud's wife. Is that crazy or what?

Some lives are bigger than life. This is one of them.

Edward Bernays, who died in 1995 at the age of 96, is often called “the father of public relations.”

Life magazine named him one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century.

His biography, by Larry Tye, is called The Father of Spin. And it’s not because of his expertise with laundry.

The BBC made a documentary about him called The Century of the Self.

He wrote several books about public relations himself. Wikipedia describes Bernays’ view of  “…the masses” as targets that are “irrational and subject to herd instinct” and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways.”

Bernays: ‘Cigarettes are torches of freedom to women…and cigarettes titillate the erogenous zone of the lips.’

The reference here to psychoanalysis, is also worthy of psychoanalysis, since Bernays’ double-uncle was Sigmund Freud.

Freud was his double-uncle?


Bernays’ mother was Freud’s sister and his father was the brother of Freud’s wife. Crazy, no?

But what does all this have to do with the history of women and cigarettes in the US?

Well, let’s just say it’s all a bit Freudian.

And you can hear Bernays proudly tell the whole story himself, right here. Watch for zingers like these:

  • “The president of the largest tobacco company called me in and told me they were losing half of their market, because men did not permit women to smoke either in public or even at home. ‘What can we do about breaking down that taboo?’ he asked.”
  • “I called up a psychoanalyst who was one of the great disciples of my uncle, Sigmund Freud, and I asked him what cigarettes meant to women, and he answered: ‘Cigarettes are torches of freedom to women. They want to smoke to dramatize man’s taboo against women by not permitting them to smoke.’ And then he added as an afterthought: ‘And cigarettes titillate the erogenous zone of the lips.'”
  • “What could I do with that information? I decided that there were two days of freedom in the United States. One was July 4th. The other day was freedom of the spirit Easter Sunday. And it occurred to me that any young debutante who was aware of the times and of herself as a woman being discriminated against would be delighted to walk in the Easter parade while smoking to dramatize the idea that cigarettes were indeed ‘torches of freedom’ and to validate that and to invalidate the taboo against women smoking.”