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Home > Women's History Month > Part 1: Women's Rights Pioneers > Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan was born on February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois. Her given name at birth was Betty Naomi Goldstein. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1942. While she was young she was involved in some radical Jewish and Marxist circles.

She went to graduate school for a year University of California, Berkeley in psychology. After that she worked as a journalist for leftist and union publications.

In 1947 she married a theatre producer named Carl Friedman, but they left out the letter 'm' from their name after they got married. She had three children with her husband, one of them (Daniel Friedan) is a successful theoretical physicist. When she got pregnant with her second child, she was fired from her job in journalism presumably because she would take another maternity leave. In May 1969 she and her husband divorced.

In 1963 she published the book 'The Feminine Mystique'. The material for the book partially came from an article she wrote in 1958. The article was about a survey she conducted of graduates of Smith College concerning their education, experiences after college and their present situation. After she originally wrote the article she tried to get in published in a number of women's magazines but it was rejected. Consequently, she used the material for her book instead.

The book was very successful and helped to drive the second wave of feminism and the women's movement.

Betty Friedan went on to co-found NOW (National Organization for Women) and was its first president, from 1966 to 1970.

She later helped to found NARAL (originally known as National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) in 1969.

Other books that she wrote include The Second Stage, The Fountain of Age and It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement. She also wrote an autobiography in 2000 called 'Life so Far'.

She died on February 4, 2006 on her 85th birthday.

Quotes from Betty Friedan

'The problem that has no name - which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities - is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.'

'Nobody asked you, ''What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?'' but, ''Oh, you're a pretty little girl; you'll be a mommy like mommy,'' blah, blah, blah. Well, I knew one thing. I did not want to be a mommy like mommy. And I understood somehow my mother's frustration. And that it was no good not only for her, but for her children or her husband, that she didn't have a real use of her ability. '

'There were many parts of the accepted role of women at that time that were genuinely satisfying. Certainly little kids are, in raising them. Cooking can be okay. [As can] messing around with the decor of your house and so on and so forth. But for my generation and those that followed us, of educated women, you could be plenty busy as a housewife, mother, when your kids were little, but it's not enough. When [the] life span of America women is approaching eighty years, as ours was, having kids is not going to take it up. '

'A woman is handicapped by her sex, and handicaps society, either by slavishly copying the pattern of man's advance in the professions, or by refusing to compete with man at all.'

'Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffered Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night - she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question - ''Is this all?'' '

Other web sites about Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan Interview

Betty Friedan


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