Betty Friedan and Feminism
Betty Friedan was a writer, activist, and feminist largely credited with ushering in the second wave of the women’s liberation movement in the U.S. with the 1963 publication of her book, The Feminine Mystique.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Aug. 27, 1970, issue of the Dallas Morning News (Texas)
Born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, Friedan was no stranger to the idea that a woman could want more from life than just being a wife and mother. Her own mother was a journalist who was forced to give up her job when she married. She impressed upon her young daughter that she did not have to settle for a similar fate and urged her to pursue a career in journalism. Friedan did so, graduating from Smith College in 1942 with honors. She then studied psychology at the University of California on a research grant.
She married Carl Friedan in 1947, but unlike her mother did not give up her work. While she was raising her three children she continued to work as a freelance writer. The family later moved to the suburbs, where Friedan experienced firsthand a feeling of dissatisfaction with domestic life.
Wondering the extent to which other women felt unfulfilled, Freidan sent a questionnaire to over 200 of her fellow Smith College graduates in 1957. The replies she received confirmed her sense of emptiness in a life devoted only to family. The women wrote of trying to conform to cultural expectations of woman as wife and mother while feeling a lack of fulfillment. Freidan wrote an article based on those responses, but was unable to get it published. She decided to explore the subject further, and the result was her groundbreaking work The Feminine Mystique. She began her book by describing what she called “the problem that has no name,” and went on to tell of women who went about their daily chores of domesticity while silently asking themselves, “is this it?”
The success of The Feminine Mystique placed Friedan at the forefront of the women’s liberation movement. In 1966, she helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW) and became its first president. Friedan was also one of the founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League and, later, the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan called for a Women’s Strike for Equality to be held on Aug. 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. Women across the country joined forces in marches, demonstrations, and speeches to honor the day.
Betty Friedan continued working for women’s rights for the rest of her life. She died of heart failure on Feb. 4, 2006, at her home in Washington, D.C.
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