Betty Friedan (1921 - 2006)
“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.”
According to her 2006 obituary in the New York Times, Betty Friedan will “forever be known as the suburban housewife who started a revolution with The Feminine Mystique. Rarely has a single book been responsible for such sweeping, tumultuous and continuing social transformation.” One of contemporary society’s most effective leaders, Friedan did more than advocate for women to seek fulfillment and careers outside the home. She pushed for a greater role for women in the political process, co-founding the National Organization for Women in 1966. She also fought for abortion rights, establishing the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969. And with Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and others, she helped form the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, “to make policy, not coffee,” she said.
An exceptional, outspoken and ambitious 1942 graduate of Smith College, Friedan won prestigious fellowships to train as a psychologist, but married and started a family before she could begin a career in the field. She supplemented her husband’s income writing freelance articles for women’s magazines. Friedan’s bestselling and world-changing book, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, originated from the findings of a survey she sent out to her Smith College classmates 15 years after their graduation. After extensive additional research, Friedan found that educated, middle class women like herself were deeply dissatisfied with lives that were devoted to ensuring the happiness and success of their husbands and children. Dispelling the myth of the happy homemaker, she called this marginalization of women and their lack of work/life balance “the problem that has no name.”
The book’s publication led to a significant public discussion of women’s roles and gender equality. Bolstered by her appearances on television and radio and her lectures around the country, Friedan almost singlehandedly reignited a feminist movement gone dormant since the suffrage struggles of the early 20th century. She paved the way for women in formerly male bastions of politics, medicine, the clergy and the military, influencing a great many aspects of modern life that seem routine today.
In 1970 on the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote, Friedan – President of NOW -- organized the Women’s Strike for Equality in cities around the country. Tens of thousands of women marched down New York City’s Fifth Avenue, demanding change, with Friedan in the lead.
Friedan received many awards recognizing her contributions.