Betty Friedan Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Betty Friedan’s first book energized thousands of women and helped to initiate the feminist movement in the late 1960’s. Since that time, she has been a leader in the continuing struggle for women’s rights.

Early Life

Betty Naomi Goldstein was born on February 4, 1921, to jeweler Harry Goldstein and former journalist Miriam Horowitz Goldstein in Peoria, Illinois. She remembers the fact that her mother gave up a career in journalism to be a housewife. This, she believes, explains her mother’s enthusiastic encouragement of young Betty’s journalistic endeavors in high school, college, and beyond.

Betty graduated from Smith College in 1942, summa cum laude, and later did graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley. After college, she worked in New York City as a reporter for a labor press. It was wartime, and women were encouraged to fill jobs while the men were overseas as soldiers.

Once the war ended, however, women were expected to give up their jobs so that the returning veterans could find work. She lost her reporting position and had to find work as a researcher. This was a “woman’s job,” which involved doing the research and often much of the writing for articles that were then published under the male authors’ bylines.

In the postwar era, women were expected to return to their traditional domestic roles—to get married, settle down, and have children. Thus began a time when women were presented with idyllic visions of being happy housewives at home in the suburbs raising families and caring for their homes and husbands. Betty accepted this vision, married Carl Friedan in 1947, and had three children: David, Jonathan, and Emily. She had, however, kept her job, taking a year’s maternity leave after her first child’s birth. When she requested her second leave, however, she was fired.

Friedan now tried to live up to the ideals of the day, working very hard to find the feminine fulfillment her mother had never found in domestic life. Eventually moving to a house on Long Island, Friedan reared her family, but she also continued to write, contributing articles to several women’s magazines.

Life’s Work

A popular topic in the media began to be the notion that women’s education was not preparing them adequately for their roles as women. That is, women went to colleges where they received educations they would never be able to apply in careers, since their proper role as women was to be housewives. Too much education was making them discontent with this role in life. The focus was on the inappropriateness of women’s education, but Betty Friedan began to see that what was wrong was not the education but the role that limited the choices of educated women.

Based on a 1957 survey she had been asked to conduct among her fellow classmates from Smith College, Friedan wrote an article for McCall’s on this issue, but her work was rejected by the male editor as too unbelievable. She was then asked to write the same information for Ladies’ Home Journal. When the article went to print, however, it had been changed to say the very opposite of what Friedan had originally written. Redbook also considered and refused to do the story. Betty Friedan realized that she would have to write a book to get her ideas into print, because they threatened the very identity of women’s magazines.

In her first book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), Friedan coined this now-famous term to describe the prescribed female role of the post-World War II years. The book caused shock waves throughout the country, because thousands of American women identified immediately with her words. These women were to become part of the energy that would instigate the feminist movement beginning in the late 1960’s.

By 1966, Friedan, sensing that words were not enough, began putting her energies into organizing for women’s rights. In that year, she attended a conference in Washington, D.C., of all the state Commissions on the Status of Women. Because of the frustrations of these women delegates at their inability...

(The entire section is 1719 words.)

Betty Friedan Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Betty Friedan (free-DAHN) was born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921. Her father was a jeweler; her mother was a journalist who left her journalism career to marry. After graduating from Smith College in 1942, where her liberal arts curriculum included courses in sociology and psychology, she was for one year a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1947, she married the theatrical producer Carl Friedan and gave up full-time work as a journalist to care for their three children. During her marriage she wrote articles on so-called women’s subjects for magazines such as Redbook, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Harper’s. She became frustrated with covering noncritical issues, however, and troubled by the choices that were forced upon women and left them hovering guiltily between career and family. For more than twenty years Friedan was a suburban housewife before obtaining a divorce in 1969. Out of the conviction that neither she nor her peers were living up to their potential, she began in 1957 to write The Feminine Mystique, which appeared in 1963 and proved to be enormously influential, causing men and women alike to question the societal boundaries within which most women lived. Friedan addressed “the problem that had no name,” the fact that women were denied the right that men have to exist both professionally and in their families. The Feminine Mystique reignited the women’s movement, which had in the United States been almost dormant since the suffrage days of the 1920’s.

Friedan’s writing in her first book, though repetitive at times, is clear, focused, and strong in its attempt to awaken American society to its treatment of women. In no way did Friedan, as some critics charged, call for the destruction of the family or for sexual war against men. Rather, she...

(The entire section is 777 words.)

Betty Friedan Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A dominant theme of Betty Friedan’s life was her persistent endeavor to establish her own identity as a woman and feminist. Born Betty Naomi Goldstein in 1921, she started a writing career in New York after her graduation from Smith College in 1942 and graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley. From the outset she encountered experiences that drove home her standing as a woman in a male-dominated society. Employed by a labor newspaper during World War II, her job disappeared when the soldiers returned. She married Carl Friedan in 1947 and had three children. Trying to remain active professionally, she found work as a writer. When she became pregnant with her second child, she sought maternity leave and was fired instead. Plunging into the life of a suburban housewife, Friedan became restive at the shallowness of a housewife’s daily routine. She began to explore the situation of women such as herself in magazine articles, but the editors were unreceptive. Instead, she wrote The Feminine Mystique, which became a best-seller and made Friedan a famous leader of the women’s liberation movement.

For the next decade, she functioned as a spokeswoman for the cause of women’s rights. She founded the National Organization for Women in 1966 and organized the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. Her role as an activist slowed in the early 1970’s, and she became more of a teacher and writer throughout the remainder of the decade. In The Second Stage she argued that men and women needed to work more closely together, a position that impaired her standing as a feminist for some of her critics. By the early 1990’s, she was writing about growing older in The Fountain of Age, and she saw herself as going through the universal condition of men and women rather than simply as an older woman who was a feminist. At each stage of her life, Betty Friedan tried to explain her own situation in terms that tap into the lives and experiences of women generally, and she saw herself as the advocate of an inclusive and humanistic feminism. Her moderate posture made her controversial and much-criticized within the women’s movement that she did so much to create. Friedan published her memoir Life So Far in 2000, and died at her home in Washington, D.C. in 2006.

Betty Friedan Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Behm, Barbara. Betty Friedan: Speaking Out for Women’s Rights. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens, 1992. This book discusses Betty Friedan’s impact on the women’s movement and her views of women’s rights.

Carabillo, Toni, Judith Meuli, and June B. Csida. Feminist Chronicles, 1953-1993. Los Angeles: Women’s Graphic, 1993. Gives a thorough, detailed, year-by-year history of forty years of the women’s movement and documents the work of such leaders as Friedan as well as of lesser-known participants.

Chapman, Jenny. Politics, Feminism, and the Reformation of Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993. Looks...

(The entire section is 339 words.)

Betty Friedan Biography

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Betty Naomi Goldstein was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Peoria, Illinois. A sickly child, considered by some to be unattractive, she was a highly gifted young woman. Graduating first in her high school class, Goldstein traveled east to Smith College to major in psychology. During her college years, she distinguished herself as a journalist by serving as editor of the school paper. After graduating summa cum laude, she spent a year as a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, then secured work as a reporter in New York City. At age twenty-six, she married Carl Friedan and, a year later, had her first child. After giving birth, Friedan briefly returned to work but was fired...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

Betty Friedan Biography

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)
Betty Friedan Published by Gale Cengage

Betty Friedan was born in Peoria, Illinois, on February 4, 1921. Friedan showed early writing talent, which she developed throughout high...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Betty Friedan Biography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Betty Friedan spent the 1950’s struggling as a housewife with what she later termed “the problem that has no name.” As she stated in The Feminine Mystique, she, like women all over the country, “lay beside her husband at night . . . afraid to even ask of herself the silent question, ‘Is this all?’”

The Feminine Mystique evoked strong responses from both men and women and launched Friedan into public activism. In 1966, she founded and became the first president of NOW, the purpose of which was “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society . . . in truly equal partnership with men.” The organization went on to run...

(The entire section is 601 words.)