Betty Friedan

Biographical notes:

Betty Friedan was born Bettye Goldstein on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, the daughter of Harry and Miriam (Horwitz) Goldstein. She attended Peoria public schools and graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1942. She continued her studies as a University fellow in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley (1943). In June 1947 she married Carl Friedan, an advertising executive; they had three children (Daniel, Jonathan, and Emily) and were divorced in May 1969.

Friedan was a labor and freelance journalist in the 1940s. In the 1950s she wrote articles for a variety of popular and women's magazines. The design of a reunion questionnaire for her Smith College 15th class reunion (1957) gave her insights into the lives of her contemporaries, and provided data for her first and best-known book, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. Her analysis of women's role and status fueled the controversy over women's proper place in society and had a dramatic impact on women in the United States and abroad. Friedan quickly became the leading advocate for change in the status of women and was inundated with requests to lecture and to write. She appeared frequently as a keynote speaker at conferences, and on radio and television.

Friedan's second book, It Changed My Life (1976), was a collection of her essays on the women's movement. The Second Stage (1981) suggested a new direction for women's activism toward embracing family, motherhood, sexuality, etc., and advocated working with men to restructure institutions. The Fountain of Age (1993) was the product of over a decade of research related to aging, how it affects men and women differently, and American society's attitudes toward age. Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family (1997) was the result of several symposia Friedan led in an attempt to reimagine public policy responses to unresolved women's issues. Friedan published an autobiography, My Life So Far, in 2000.

In 1966, Friedan helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW), a civil rights organization for women. She served as its first president (1966-1970). She was an organizer of the Women's Strike for Equality (1970), a convenor of the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC, 1971), an organizer and director of the First Women's Bank (New York), and vice-president of the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (NARAL, 1970-1973). In the late 1970s and 1980s Friedan was active in several Jewish organizations, primarily the American Jewish Congress. During the 1980s she was involved in local politics, both in New York City, and in Sag Harbor, New York, where she had a second home.

In addition to her active career as a lecturer, commentator, and author, Friedan taught classes at a variety of universities beginning in the 1970s. While her early classes focused on women's experiences and issues, by the 1990s she had broadened her focus and taught classes in management and leadership style at several business schools. She held research fellowships at Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Southern California (USC), and the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. She directed a think tank on new dimensions in feminist thought at USC (1987-1993), and her course on "Women, Men and Media" developed into an ongoing national media monitoring project supported by grants from the Gannett Foundation, the Times Mirror Foundation, and others.

Friedan served on advisory boards and boards of directors of a large number of organizations, including NOW LDEF and the Girl Scouts. She received honorary degrees from numerous universities and colleges. Friedan died on February 4, 2006, her 85th birthday, in Washington, D.C.

From the guide to the Papers of Betty Friedan, 1933-1985, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)


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