Betty Furness - overcoming stereotypes and marginalizing took time.
Betty Furness – overcoming stereotypes and marginalizing took time.

Meet The Press – Betty Furness – October 8, 1967 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Anyone growing up in the 1950s was well aware of Betty Furness. She was the one who spoke for Westinghouse. She demonstrated refrigerators on live TV – she delivered the words “You Can Be Sure If It’s Westinghouse” with conviction, and she was a household name.

So in May of 1967, when President Johnson appointed her as Special Assistant To Consumer Affairs, it was met with a certain degree of incredulity. Granted, Furness had been out of the Pitch business since 1960, and had been a strong advocate for Consumer protections. But there is that stigma; the stigma that dictates once you become known as something you are forever stuck with it. Furness had much resistance at first, even a few months in when this episode of Meet The Press was broadcast, Furness was deflecting the marginalizing questions; those questions which had connotations that she really wasn’t going to be taken seriously and what were consumer protections anyway. America already had glimpses into the dark side of rampant consumption via Ralph Nadar and his bombshell book Unsafe At Any Speed or Vance Packard‘s book The Waste Makers in 1960. We were slowly becoming aware that all was not rosy, and much was in fact lethal, about our society.

So when Betty Furness arrived at center stage she wasn’t taken seriously – certainly not by those whose lives depended on the products coming under scrutiny and those advertisers who controlled them. But Betty Furness was persistent. And within time, turned it around and fought for the consumer and became a much admired champion for consumer rights. Her tenure in Consumer Affairs continued until Johnson left office, where she went on to head the New York Consumer Protection Board.

But here she is; first 5 months into the new job and fielding a bevy of potentially odd questions from the panel of Meet The Press on October 8, 1967.

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