Betty Friedan – Notable Women in History Series

Photo Courtesy: Brittanica

Betty Friedan is most known for her book, The Feminine Mystique, which explores the idea of women finding fulfillment outside the home. However, she also had a profound impact on women’s rights, working in favor of extending them in a variety of areas.

Bettye Naomi Goldstein, as she was originally known, was born February 4, 1921 in Peoria, Illinois. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in psychology, and later pursued a year of graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, before settling in New York City. She worked at a variety of jobs until 1947, when she married Carl Friedan, though they later divorced. During her time as a homemaker and caring for their 3 children, Betty began to wonder whether, like herself, other women in her position were also dissatisfied with their lives; whether they too felt unfulfilled. This prompted her to circulate a survey among fellow Smith graduates. The results, she found, were unsurprising.

Following the initial survey and based on its results, Friedan undertook an extensive series of studies on the topic of women in the home. She discussed her results with psychologists and other students of behavior. The culmination of these efforts, illuminated by her personal experiences, was her landmark book, The Feminine Mistique, which was published in 1963. The book gained popularity quickly, creating a social revolution dispelling the myth that being a homemaker was all that women wanted, and that it made them happy. Her book is largely credited with spurring second-wave feminism in the United States.

Beyond her work as an author, Friedan also worked as an activist for women’s rights. She pushed for women to have an increased role in the political process and she co-founded the National Organizatoin for Women. By establishing the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) she found for the right of women to abortions. Alongside other known activists, Friedan helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus.

In her later years, Friedan continued to publish feminist works, though more moderate than her first. Betty Friedan died in 2006 in Washington, DC. She will always be remembered for being a leading voice in the women’s movement of the 20th century.