Copyright © 2006 Henrietta W. Hay
Remembering Betty Friedan
February 17, 2006
In 1963 a major social change started its way through millions of women in America. Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique" was published. It asked the question, "Is it enough?"
Betty Friedan died last week on her 85th birthday. She changed the lives of millions of American women, including mine. Her book ignited the feminist movement, and she spent the rest of her life working in it.
Born in Peoria, Illinois, she was a high achieving Jewish outsider growing up in middle America. She graduated summa cum laude from Smith College. When she wrote "The Feminine Mystique" she was a suburban housewife and mother of three and was writing freelance articles for women's magazines.
The "Feminine Mystique" was published in 1963. The Times said, "It initiated the contemporary women's movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world." It had sold nearly 3 million copies by 2000 and has been translated into many languages.
These are the opening words in chapter 1. " . . The problem that has no name stirring in the minds of so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. It is far more important than anyone recognizes. It is the key to these other new and old problems which have been torturing women and their husbands and children, and puzzling their doctors and educators for years. It may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: "I want something more than my husband and my children and my home."
That was just the beginning. In 1966 several women, including Friedan and Gloria Steinem, were attending a meeting in Washington. They retired to Friedan's hotel room to relax and, of course, talked about women's issues. They decided to put their ideas into action, and the National Organization for Women was born. Betty Friedan was the first president. The local chapter started in a similar manner. In 1973 group of us were sitting around talking about women's problems and I just happened to have a copy of the NOW objectives. So a local chapter was born.
In 1969 Friedan founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as Pro-Choice America. With Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and others she started the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.
I never met her in person, or heard her speak, but I knew her. I actually cheered when in 1970 on television, I watched her stride down 5th Ave. in New York at the head of thousands of woman marching Women's Strike for Equality.
Betty Friedan spent her entire life fighting for the rights of human beings. She wanted women to be free to use their education, their brains, their abilities. She wanted women to have the same opportunities politically, socially and financially that men have. She wanted women to be free to choose their life styles, be it marriage and children or professional or non-professional work -- or both. She was short in stature but mighty in heart.
"The Feminine Mystique" started it. Her death will not end it.
So long, Betty.