Marion Jean Lyon (1885-1940)

Also known as Jean Lyon; Jean Raven-Hill

Sector: Media (Advertising)

Marion Jean Lyon was born on 15th January 1885 in Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, one of six children of Andrew Lyon, a notary and Marion Lyon née Young.  Although professionally she went by her full name of Marion Jean, privately she was generally known as Jean. She left school already proficient in shorthand and typing and with a general understanding of business.   She started her career in Glasgow and then came to London, first working at the firm of Remington & Co before joining the advertising agency of Paul E Derrick.   With curly brown hair and dark eyes, a sharp mind, a charming manner and lots of energy, Jean was popular with clients and colleagues alike.  In 1910, aged 25, she took a new job as assistant to the advertising manager of Punch, Roy Somerville.  He suffered from poor health and limited mobility: Jean ‘had to act as his right arm and his legs’.  Between them, they transformed the magazine ‘from a completely ignored advertising medium selling at £25 a page to the Punch we know today’.

Marion Jean Lyon c.1926
from Notable Personalities, An Illustrated Who’s Who of Professional and Business Men and Women.

Somerville’s health deteriorated in 1921 and Jean was formally appointed as Assistant Advertising Manager.  When Somerville died in 1922, he left £1,000 to his ‘invaluable secretary’. Jean took over from him as the Advertising Manager, which was ‘one of the most important and highly paid [positions] in Fleet Street’ and the first time it had been held by a woman across all the Fleet Street publications. 

The Women’s Advertising Club of London (WACL)
Advertising was a fast-growing industry in the 1920s.  The British contingent who attended a major convention in the US in 1923 decided it was time to host an International Advertising Convention in the London.  It was planned as part of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in July 1924 and around 5,000 delegates were expected including a large number of women.  

At that point there was no formal membership organisation for women in advertising in Britain.  Before the First World War, Jean had, along with Ethel Wilson, been a founder member of the Advertising Association of Women but this morphed into the Efficiency Club in 1919.   Women were excluded from the Thirty Club, a London-based private dining club for advertising men.  So on 3rd September 1923, at the behest of three of the Convention organisers, nineteen women gathered together at the Hotel Cecil to form the Women’s Advertising Club of London, aimed at raising the profile of women in the industry and giving them a mutual support network.  Jean was elected as the first President.

Agreeing membership criteria, assessing applications and preparing for the Convention took up most of the meeting time in that first year.  Jean joined the Convention’s Executive Council and became a member of the permanent committee of what is now the Advertising Association.  On 13th July Jean welcomed over 400 advertising women from around the world to a lunch at the Savoy, where guest speakers included Lady Rhondda, a vocal supporter of women in business.  

Wider connections
This connection proved to be an important one.  Jean became involved in a number of Rhondda-led initiatives including the Women’s Provisional Club and the Business and University Committee.  In August 1926, she became a director of Time and Tide, ‘the only weekly review in the world edited and controlled solely by women’.  Soon afterwards, changes were made to the paper finish and the layout which made it more attractive for advertisers and in March 1927 the advertising space was more than doubled. Other board members were Cicely Hamilton and E.M. Delafield, who both counted Jean as a good friend.  

Jean was often held up as a role model for women in business, both for the position she held and the salary she was earning which Caroline Haslett described as one ‘a Cabinet Minister might envy’.  ‘When one recalls the fact that Punch is one of the premier vehicles for advertisement in the country and that Miss M.J. Lyon is manager of the advertising side of our greatest humorous paper, it is an occasion of considerable pride to women’, wrote the barrister Helena Normanton in 1930.  Jean was vocal about the opportunities a career in advertising could offer girls and was one of the few women to speak at the International Advertising Convention in Berlin in 1929.

Jean kept her Scottish accent and her wedding ceremony on 20th October 1923 was held at the Scottish Presbyterian church, St Columba, on Pont Street. Her husband was the artist and Punch cartoonist Leonard Raven-Hill (1867-1942), a widower, eighteen years her senior. There were only four other guests at the service. Jean made it clear that the couple was not expecting any presents, a move much appreciated by her cash-strapped journalist friends and a typically thoughtful gesture, though her fellow WACL members ignored her and presented her with a silver salver.  Raven-Hill designed the menu for the Savoy lunch in 1924 and they continued to work together until his retirement in 1935. 

Jean celebrated her 21-year anniversary at Punch by giving a dinner for all her assistants past and present, naming the courses in their honour. In the latter part of 1939, she became ill and died on 20th February 1940 in Bournemouth while convalescing after an operation. She was only 55 and the large turnout for her memorial service, held at the same church in which she had married, was a sign of the impact she had had across the worlds of journalism, literature and advertising.  Nearly twenty years later she was still remembered ‘with awe and discomfort, as one of the first women to blast their way into the advertising world and to rule over the clients as firmly as the Editor ruled over the contributors.’

Sources include:

Marion Jean Lyon papers – British Library ADD MS; WACL Archives – History of Advertising Trust

The Spectator 22/10/1922; Pall Mall Gazette 4/9/1923; Daily News 23/10/1922; Daily News 22/9/1923; Aberdeen Press and Journal 25/9/1923; Daily News 22/9/1923; Daily News 14/7/1924; The Vote 18/7/1924; Daily News 27/5/1927; International Suffrage Woman News 1/9/1933; Advertisers’ Weekly 29/2/1940; The Berwick Advertiser 14/3/1940; The Times 1/4/1942

‘Scottish Girls Who Got Out the Rut: New Careers for Women in the Business World’ by Caroline Haslett in The Sunday Post 28/8/1927; ‘The New Woman’s New Occupations’ by Helena Normanton in Portsmouth Evening News 3/2/1930

General Impressions by E.M. Delafield (1933); Life Errant by Cicely Hamilton (1935)

Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine by Catherine Clay (2018); Advertising, the Forgotten Years by Eric Field (1959) A History of Punch by R.G.G. Price (1957)

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