Betty Friedan

 

Early life


Betty Friedan (February 4, 1921 – February 4, 2006) was an American writer, activist, and feminist.

A leading figure in the Women's Movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the "second wave" of American feminism in the 20th century. In 1966, Friedan founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women, which aimed to bring women "into the mainstream of American society now fully equal partnership with men".

In 1970, after stepping down as NOW's first president, Friedan organized the nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality on August 26, the 50th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote. The national strike was successful beyond expectations in broadening the feminist movement; the march led by Friedan in New York City alone attracted over 50,000 women and men. In 1971, Friedan joined other leading feminists to establish the National Women's Political Caucus. Friedan was also a strong supporter of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that passed the United States House of Representatives (by a vote of 354-24) and Senate (84-8) following intense pressure by women's groups led by NOW in the early 1970s. Following Congressional passage of the amendment Friedan advocated for ratification of the amendment in the states and supported other women's rights reforms. Friedan founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws but was later critical of the abortion-centered, politicized tactics of many liberal and radical feminists.

Regarded as an influential author and intellectual in the United States, Friedan remained active in politics and advocacy for the rest of her life, authoring six books. As early as the 1960s Friedan was critical of polarized and extreme factions of feminism that attacked groups such as men and homemakers. One of her later books, The Second Stage (1981), critiqued what Friedan saw as the extremist excesses of some feminists who could be broadly classified as gender feminists.

Friedan was born Bettye Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, to Harry and Miriam (Horwitz) Goldstein, whose Jewish families were from Russia and Hungary. Harry owned a jewelry store in Peoria, and Miriam wrote for the society page of a newspaper when Friedan's father fell ill. Her mother's new life outside the home seemed much more gratifying.

As a young girl, Friedan was active in Marxist and Jewish circles; she later wrote how she felt isolated from the community at times, and felt her "passion against injustice...originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism". She attended Peoria High School where she became involved in the school newspaper. When she was turned down for a column, she and six other friends launched a literary magazine called Tide. In this magazine, Friedan and her friends talked about home life as opposed to school life.

She attended the all-female Smith College in 1938. She won a scholarship prize in her first year for outstanding academic performance. In her second year, she became interested in poetry, and had many poems published in campus publications. In 1941, she became editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. The editorials became more political under her leadership, taking a strong anti-war stance and occasionally causing controversy. She graduated summa cum laude in 1942, majoring in psychology.

In 1943, she spent a year at the University of California, Berkeley having won a fellowship to undertake graduate work in psychology with Erik Erikson. She became more politically active, continuing to mix with Marxists (many of her friends were investigated by the FBI). Friedan claims in her memoirs that her boyfriend at the time pressured her into turning down a Ph.D fellowship for further study and abandoning her academic career.