Barbara Ehrenreich was born Barbara Alexander on August 26, 1941, in Butte, Montana, to Benjamin Howes Alexander and Isabelle (Oxley) Alexander. She has one brother, Benjamin Jr., and one sister, Diane. Her parents subsequently divorced and remarried, her mother remarrying Duane Isely. Ehrenreich attended Reed College receiving her B.A. in chemistry in 1963 (declining the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship). In 1966 she married John H. Ehrenreich, whom she had met at a Vietnam War protest while in graduate school. The couple had two children, Rosa and Benjamin, and divorced in 1977. In 1983 Ehrenreich married labor organizer Gary Stevenson, divorcing him in 1993.
In 1968 she completed her Ph.D. in cell biology at Rockefeller University. Although completing her doctorate, Ehrenreich did not pursue a career in the field. She first became a program research analyst with the Bureau of the Budget in New York City (1968-1969) and the following year, a research analyst with the Health Policy Advisory Center (1969-1971), an advocacy organization dedicated to the provision of health care to low-income individuals and families. She also became involved with HealthRight (1969-1970), a women's health project based in New York (she continued as a member of the editorial committee for HealthRight until its final publication in 1979), effectively beginning her career as an activist and writer. It was during this time that Ehrenreich completed her first book, Long March, Short Spring: The Student Uprising at Home and Abroad (1969), co-authored with her husband John, which recounted the 1968 student movements in the United States, West Germany, Italy, France, and England. The couple's second book, The American Health Empire: Power, Profit, and Politics , was published in 1970. They later published the essay The Professional-Managerial Class (1977). From 1971 to 1974, Ehrenreich worked as an assistant professor at the State University of New York - Westbury, while pursuing research, writing, and lecturing. In 1972, Ehrenreich began co-teaching a course on women and health with Deirdre English. Gathering together their research for the course, the pair self-published their first pamphlet, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers , in 1973. Ehrenreich and English were unable to meet with the demand, and publication and distribution were taken over by the Feminist Press. This pamphlet was quickly followed by Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness (1973), also published by the Feminist Press. As the women's health movement blossomed, the pair continued amassing research in the field, and in an effort to expand upon the information in their first two pamphlets, began work on For Her Own Good: 150 Years of Experts' Advice to Women , published in 1978. Throughout the 1970s, Ehrenreich remained in demand as a speaker on women's health issues, regularly appearing at women's health conferences sponsored by local women's health centers, women's groups, universities, and the federal government.
While continuing her health activism, Ehrenreich also pursued her interests in feminism and democratic socialism. She had been an early member of the New American Movement, a New Left organization founded in 1971 after the disintegration of Students for a Democratic Society. Arguably, Ehrenreich's best known work for the New American Movement was on socialist feminism, and she regularly spoke on this topic and feminism in general at a number of conferences and public appearances. She continued her involvement with the organization until it merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (headed by Michael Harrington) to form the Democratic Socialists of America in 1982, when she was appointed as co-chair (she currently serves as honorary co-chair). In addition to the New American Movement and the Democratic Socialists of America, Ehrenreich served as a founding member, advisor, or board member for a number of other organizations including, but not limited to the National Women's Health Network, National Abortion Rights Action League, Women's Health Education Project (New York), National Self-Help Clearinghouse, Nationwide Women's Program of the American Friends Service Committee, Association for Union Democracy (New York), Network of East-West Women, Long Island Workers' Rights Center, National Organization for Women's Commission for Responsive Democracy, Boehm Foundation, Women's Committee of 100, National Writers Union, Progressive Media Project, Ground Zero, FAIR Advisory Committee on Women in the Media, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Center for Popular Economics, Campaign for America's Future, and Action for Women in Chile. She recently founded United Professionals and has been involved with the Working Group on Extreme Inequality.
In addition to her earlier work at the State University of New York - Westbury, Ehrenreich was employed or appointed by several other universities. Between 1979 and 1981, she served as an adjunct associate professor at New York University and as a distinguished visiting professor at both Sangamon State University and the University of Missouri at Columbia. She also served as Regents' Lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara (1989), Writer-in-Residence at Ohio State University at Athens (1992), Wayne Morse Chair at the University of Oregon at Eugene (1997), and Harper's/McLaughlin Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley (1998, 2000). Ehrenreich was also appointed as a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities (1981-1993), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1987), the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. (1990-) where she now serves as a trustee, and the Society of American Historians (1998).
While engaged in many pursuits, Ehrenreich continued to publish book reviews and social commentary throughout her life. Her book reviews have appeared in the American Film, Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Mirabella, Mother Jones, The Nation, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, Salon, TV Guide, Vogue, and the Washington Post . Essays, op-eds, and feature articles have appeared in Esquire, Harper's, In These Times, Lears, Life, Mother Jones, Ms., The Nation, New Republic, Newsday, New Statesman, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Progressive, Time, Wall Street Journal, Working Woman, and Z . In addition to those books previously mentioned, Ehrenreich published The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and Flight from Commitment (1983); Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex, with Elizabeth Hess and Gloria Jacobs (1986); The Mean Season: The Attack on the Welfare State, with Fred Block, Richard Cloward, and Francis Fox Piven (1987); Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class (1989); The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from an Age of Greed (1990); Kipper's Game (1993); The Snarling Citizen (1995); Blood Rites: Origin and History of the Passions of War (1997); Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (2001); Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (2003) edited with Arlie Russell Hochschild; Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005); Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (2007); and This Land is Their Land (2008). She has served on the editorial boards of Social Policy, Ms., Mother Jones, Seven Days, Lear's, The New Press, and Culturefront and as a contributing editor to Harper's .
Ehrenreich has received numerous honorary degrees, among them Doctor of Philosophy, Reed College (1987); Doctor of Philosophy, State University of New York - Westbury (1990); Doctor of Humanities, College of Wooster (1996); Doctor of Letters, La Trobe University (1996). She has also received a number of awards, including the National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting (1980); Ford Foundation Award for Humanistic Perspectives on Contemporary Society (1981); Long Island Women on the Job Award (1987); Long Island National Organization for Women, Women's Equity Award (1988); National Women's Political Caucus, Exceptional Merit Media Award (1993, 1996); National Headliner Award (1997); American Humanist Association, Humanist of the Year (1998); Sydney Hillman Foundation Award for Journalism (2000); Eugene V. Debs Award (2007); Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom Medal (2007); Metro New York Labor Communications Council Distiguished Labor Communicator Award (2007); American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (2007); and was a Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Women for a New Los Angeles honoree (2006).
From the guide to the Papers of Barbara Ehrenreich, (inclusive), (bulk), 1922-2007, 1963-2007, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
|creatorOf||Papers of Barbara Ehrenreich, (inclusive), (bulk), 1922-2007, 1963-2007||Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America|
|correspondedWith||Action for Women in Chile||corporateBody|
|correspondedWith||Allan David Heskin||person|
|associatedWith||Boston Women's Union||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Cambridge Women's Community Health Center||corporateBody|
|correspondedWith||Canadian Broadcasting Corporation||corporateBody|
|correspondedWith||Chicago Women's Liberation Union||corporateBody|
|correspondedWith||Frances Fox Piven||person|
|correspondedWith||Health Policy Advisory Center||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Isabelle (Oxley) Alexander Isely||person|
|associatedWith||Los Angeles Feminist Women's Health Collective||corporateBody|
|correspondedWith||New York Institute for the Humanities||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Philadelphia Women's Health Collective||corporateBody|
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