The name Anne Tolstoi Wallach may not immediately ring a bell today, but her story will be familiar to anyone who watches Mad Men, AMC’s popular drama series set in in the ruthlessly competitive world of New York advertising in the 1960’s. Wallach (no relation to Leo) was a real life ad woman in the age of ad men. She is also the author of the best-selling 1981 Women’s Work, a semi-autobiographical novel about a woman clawing her way to the top of the male-dominated Madison Avenue advertising business that she wrote at the age of 52. She received an $850,000.00 advance for Women’s Work, the equivalent of anywhere from $2-$4 million today, the highest advance for a first novel ever paid to a woman at that time.
The back cover of the 1982 Signet paperback edition of Women’s Work summarizes:
Domina Drexler’s scintillating ads fill the slick pages of America’s choicest magazines and the walls of her magnificent corner office are graced with the advertising industry’s most prestigious awards. But after more than a decade of dedication and creative triumphs, she’s still not a senior top-management executive. She aims to become one—with or without the help of the man she loves…
Women’s Work offers a fascinating view of the grit behind the glamour in the high-pressured world of advertising. It is a novel for every woman who wonders what success costs and what success is worth, and for every man who wonders what today’s women really want.
Wallach, a native New Yorker, attended Radcliffe and wrote for the Harvard Crimson. As a working mother, she had her children using vacation days, taking two weeks for her first son and three weeks for her second. It took Wallach 14 months of writing all day on weekends to write Women’s Work while she held down a full-time job as an advertising executive. According to a September 7, 1981 article in People Magazine:
Though she has long since skirted the barriers to women in her business, she admits her novel’s impetus “comes from my own battle to become a vice-president at an ad agency where I was head of a creative group. All the guys with the same job were VPs, and I wasn’t. When I started to fuss about it, somebody said, Tell her she is one. She won’t know the difference.’ “
For sure, the position of women in advertising and the workplace in general has improved some since the publication of Women’s Work, but if you consider the fact that women still make and average of 9 percent less than men, even when studies consider education level, job experience and years in the workforce, this advance is not quite large enough to declare, a la the famous 1968 Virginia Slims slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”