Cambridge, Mass. — Edward L. and Doris Fleischman Bernays have shared both a home and a business throughout their 57-year marriage. Mr. Bernays, who is the acknowledged dean of the public relations in America, made his wife his business partner when they were married in 1922. Mrs. Bernays worked with her husband and raised their two daughters.
Together they forged a whole new field as counselors on public relations, advising clients such as the US government, corporations, foundations, and nonprofit groups. A husband-wife business partnership is unusual even today. And in keeping with the times, Mrs. Bernays stayed in the background of the business, while Mr. Bernays took a lead. They knew in those beginning days that if Mrs. Bernays went out to call on certain clients, she would not be taken seriously. But that did not deter the couple from working together.
"I learned early never to make snap decisions," explains Mr. Bernays. "After calling on a client, I would always come home and talk with Doris."
Mrs. Bernays says it never really bothered her that she was often a silent partner.
"It didn't occur to me to do anything else," she says. But she pauses. "It may have bothered me subconsciously."
Mrs. Bernays worked in the first wave of the woman's rights movement from 1913 to 1918 and was once vice-president of the Lucy Stone League. She even used her birth name name until 1955 when, she says, "I finally got tired of explaining it to people" and switched to Bernays.
The couple is happy about the changes that have come in their daughters' generation. Anne Bernays is a novelist and married to Justin Kaplan, a Pulitzer prize winning author. Doris Held is a counselor and wife of Richard Held, head of the psychology department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mr. Bernays approves of the roles his sons-in-law take with their family.
"When I was younger, men never even looked in the nursery," he says. "Today our sons-in-law share parenthood and the housework."
Mrs. Bernays started her career as a feature writer for the New York Tribune, with the encouragement of Mr. Bernays, after she graduated from Barnard College in 1913. She left the Tribune after three years and was free-lancing when Mr. Bernays asked her to join him in the public relations field.
The Bernays are equally supportive of each other's place in their business.
"Doris had all the bright ideas," Mr. Bernays says, smiling at his wife, whom he has called his "24 hours a day partner."
"I had all the wild ideas," his wife answers. "All the innovative ideas were Eddie's."
Perhaps because of their own warm relationship, they were able to see solutions to their client's problems, which included everything from sagging sales to labor negotiations.
"So many of the problems had to do with just plain human relations," Mrs. Bernays says. Mr. Bernays tells of a store that was losing customers.
"There was a large concentration of Americans of Hungarian stock in that area ," Mr. Bernays recalls. "But the personnel manager only hired people of his denomination. None of the Hungarian people would get jobs." Once the Bernays pinpointed the problem, a change was made, and business went back up.
Although they have had a long marriage, the Bernays have no secret formula.
"One size doesn't fit all," Mrs. Bernays says. But she does have an idea of what makes a successful partnership.
"I think people need to decide from the start if they want the marriage to continue. So many people start out with the idea that it can't succeed."
Mr. Bernays adds: "What Doris says is true. If a couple wants to adjust to each other, they can. But there has to be an internal desire to maintain the relationship, not from outside the marriage."
The Bernays attribute part of their success to something they both have in common: a sense of humor.
"Levity leavens life," says Mr. Bernays. "But if you are not sometimes serious, there is no life."
Mrs. Bernays brightens and tells tis reporter to ask her about love.
"Love has been the big thing in my life," she says. "It actually interferes with what I want to do. But it's always been important, since I was a little child. I have never stopped loving."
Mr. Bernays is asked the same question. He thinks a minute and defers to his wife.
"You interpret it for me," he says.
"I think it's the same with him," she says after a moment. "But he doesn't let love interfere with his life. He is all business."