(Betty Freidan was central in the reshaping of American attitudes toward women's lives and rights. Through decades of social activism, she became one of society's most effective leaders)
She was born Betty Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois. Her dad owned a jewelry store; her mom had written for the society page of a daily newspaper, a career she gave up upon her marriage. The loss of her job affected her mom deeply, and she encouraged young Betty to pursue a career in journalism.
Betty went on to graduated from Smith College in 1942. She then went on to study psychology at the University of Berkeley in California. After her graduation, she received a research fellowship to study psychology at the university with Erik Erickson. And during this time, Betty became more politically active. After leaving Berkeley, she became a reporter for leftest and union publications.
She married Carl Friedan in 1947, and during the years that she raised their three children, she continued writing freelance. Then, after Carl had established his own advertising agency, the couple moved to the suburbs, and it was here where she first experienced what she would later call 'the feminine mystique.' Betty was a restless homemaker and soon began to wonder if other women felt the same way. Even though she continued with her freelance work, she was beginning to feel stifled in her domestic role.
In 1956, Betty put together a rather lengthy questionnaire and after her class reunion in 1957, she conducted this survey with college graduates focusing on their education, their subsequent experiences, and how satisfied they were with their lives. She obtained replies from about 200 women....each revealing a dissatisfaction with the lives. Betty discovered that, like herself, these women were trying to conform with the expectations of what a wife and mother SHOULD while they were harboring frustrated desires of wanting more from their lives. Hence, "The Feminine Mystique" was born, and Betty rose to national prominence. As a young woman coming into her own in the late 1960's, this book held great meaning for me. I had been raised in a small town where women did not go on for secondary education; they did not hold jobs and if they did, they were merely menial tasks...and we all were expected to be wed and become homemakers. I wanted more out of life, but to accomplish this meant moving from home and into the city. Betty's book had an enormous impact on me and many other women back then; it triggered a period of change that continues today.
In 1966, she co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), the first major organization devoted to women's rights that had been established since the 1920's. She and co-founder Pauli Murray, the first black female Episcopal priest, wrote its mission statement. Under Betty's leadership, NOW worked for political reforms to secure women's legal equality, and they were successful in achieving a number of important gains for women including employment discrimination on the basis of sex. As a result of NOW'S efforts, it was ruled that airlines could not fire female flight attendants because they married or reached the age of 35, nor could employment opportunities be advertised in categories such as male and female.
In 1970, after stepping down as NOW'S first president in 1969, Betty organized a nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality. The strike was successful beyond expections in broadening the feminist movement. In New York City alone, over 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue. The following year, she was among the feminist leaders who formed the National Women's Political Caucus, but during the next several years, she moved away from central leadership to concentrate on writing and teaching. She wrote a regular column for McCall's magazine and taught at several colleges and universities. In 1974, she had an audience with Pope Paul VI in which she urged the Catholic Church to come to terms with the 'full personhood of women.'
As the women's movement continued to grow, Betty stayed more in the background, but nonetheless remained an outspoken feminist leader for many years. In 1977, she participated in the National Conference for Women in Houston, Texas...calling for an end to division and a new coalition for women. In 1993, she released "The Fountain of Age" in which she began exploring the rights of the elderly.
Betty Freidan died of congestive heart failure in Washington, D. C. on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday.
"I never set out to write a book to change women's lives, to change history. It's like, "Who, me?" Yes, me. I did it. And I'm not that different from other women....Maybe my power and glory was that I could speak my truth as a woman and it was the truth of every woman."--Betty Freidan