In 1963, author Betty Naomi Goldstein Friedan's first book, The Feminine Mystique, launched the feminist movement, which eventually expanded the lifestyle choices for U.S. women. By the 1990s, she had also become a spokesperson for older and economically disadvantaged people and was recognized and honored by women outside the United States for her global leadership and influence on women's issues.
She was born Elizabeth Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois. Her father, Harry Goldstein, was a successful storeowner who emigrated from Russia. Her mother, Miriam Horowitz Goldstein, graduated from Bradley Polytechnic Institute and wrote society news as a Peoria newspaper journalist. Friedan entered Smith College in 1939, majored in psychology, and served as editor of the college newspaper. After graduating summa cum laude in 1942, she interviewed for the only type of job available to women journalists at the time: researcher for a major U.S. news magazine. But the position of researcher amounted to doing all the work while someone else received the byline, and Friedan was not interested in that. Instead, she wrote for a Greenwich Village news agency, covering the labor movement.
When WORLD WAR II ended, Friedan lost her job to a returning veteran. (Returning veterans were guaranteed their prewar jobs.) Friedan then thought of going to medical school, a choice very few women could pursue. But instead, she followed the traditional path, marrying returning veteran Carl Friedan in 1947 and starting a family. After her first child was born, she worked for another newspaper, but was fired when she became pregnant with her second child. She protested to the newspaper guild, as no one had ever questioned her ability to perform her job, but was told that losing her job was "her fault" because she was pregnant. At that time, the term sex discrimination did not exist.
While she was a mother and housewife living in suburban New York, Friedan wrote articles for women's magazines such as McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal on a freelance basis. Tapped by McCall's to report on the state of the alumnae of the Smith class of 1942 as they returned for their fifteenth reunion in 1957, Friedan visited the campus and was struck by the students' lack of interest in careers after graduation. This disinterest in intellectual pursuits contrasted greatly with Friedan's perception of her Smith classmates of the 1930s and 1940s.
"MEN WEREN'T REALLY THE ENEMY?THEY WERE FELLOW VICTIMS SUFFERING FROM AN OUTMODED MASCULINE MYSTIQUE THAT MADE THEM FEEL UNNECESSARILY INADEQUATE WHEN THERE WERE NO BEARS TO KILL."
Extensive research over the next several years brought Friedan to the conclusion that women's magazines were at fault because they defined women solely in relationship to their husbands and children. This had not always been the case; the magazines had evolved in the...