Gloria Steinem Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: A leading proponent of the twentieth century feminist movement, Steinem was also a founder of Ms. magazine. Her outspoken advocacy for women has made her a nationally known figure.

Early Life

Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934, to Ruth Nuneviller Steinem and Leo Steinem. Leo was a buyer and seller of antiques who traveled around the country with his family during the winter months. Their summers were spent at Ocean Beach Pier, an entertainment hall that Leo owned and managed at Clark Lake, Michigan. Before Gloria reached her teens, however, her parents separated and then divorced, and her older sister Sue went to college, leaving Gloria to take care of her mother, who was mentally ill with anxiety neurosis and agoraphobia. The two lived in the rundown little Toledo, Ohio, house in which Gloria’s mother had grown up.

Gloria spent her teen years in Toledo, trying to balance schoolwork, social life, dancing lessons, and taking care of her mother, who was kept reasonably calm but also disoriented by tranquilizing drugs. When Gloria was seventeen, with their house increasingly dilapidated and their furnace condemned, she was feeling desperate until the church next door offered to purchase the house. After a great deal of persuasion, her father agreed to care for Ruth for one year so that Gloria could finish high school in Washington, D.C., where her sister Sue was living.

The following year, 1952, she entered Smith College, while Sue cared for their mother. After being graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa majoring in government in 1956, she broke a college engagement and went to India on a year’s fellowship. Upon her return, unable to get a job as a writer, she spent two years working for the Independent Service for Information, a youth outreach organization that she later discovered was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Beginning in 1960, she worked in New York as a freelance writer and assistant for Help! magazine.

In 1964, she received national attention as a writer for the short-lived comedy television show That Was the Week That Was. She was still frustrated, however, because, although her interests were serious—politics, civil rights, the Vietnam War, world issues—she was limited because of her sex to writing about light topics such as fashion and celebrities. In 1968, however, she joined with Clay Felker in founding the magazine New York, becoming one of its writers and editors. Finally, she was able to write about political issues, and for that magazine she published articles about serious events in the country and the world.

Life’s Work

Gloria Steinem’s feminist consciousness began developing in 1969, when she realized that her concern with society’s disenfranchised groups stemmed from the fact that she too was part of an oppressed group: women. She began in that year to talk with women who had experienced abortions, as she had herself before her trip to India, and she became an advocate for legalized abortion, coining the phrase “reproductive freedom.”

In 1969, she won the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award for her article in New York entitled “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” one of the first serious journalistic reports on the new feminist movement. She marched in New York City’s Women’s Strike for Equality, a rally held in 1970 to celebrate fifty years of women’s right to vote. Her writing became more and more focused on feminist issues, and she began lecturing with Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a black feminist, about the new movement and its importance. She became part of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which had been founded in 1971 to try to involve women in politics and government.

In 1971, she became a cofounder, with Brenda Feigen, of the Women’s Action Alliance, an organization whose purpose was to develop educational programs geared toward women’s personal and economic equality. Members of the Alliance, meeting in Steinem’s apartment, came up with the idea of a feminist-oriented national magazine for women.

At first, the women were unable to obtain funding for their venture, but then Clay Felker offered to put out a first issue as a supplement to New York. It was a great success, and with additional articles, it was republished as the preview edition of Ms. magazine, in January of 1972. In the midst of a publicity trip, Steinem began receiving complaints that the magazine was not available at newsstands. Assuming that it had not been delivered, Steinem called the home office, only to find that the entire first issue, three hundred thousand copies, had sold out in eight days. It was clear that Steinem and her associates were offering something that American women desperately wanted. Ultimately, Warner Communications agreed to finance Ms. while...

(The entire section is 2017 words.)

Gloria Steinem Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gloria Steinem, founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, is one of the leading spokespersons for the feminist movement in the United States, and her witty, cogent, and vivid writing style exemplifies the vitality of the women’s movement. When she was eleven, her parents were divorced, and Steinem had to care for her mother, who apparently had a nervous breakdown. Steinem wrote of her mother in “Ruth’s Song,” in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, viewing her as a victim of a patriarchal society. Steinem graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College and pursued a career in journalism. Despite her popularity as a “feminist,” Steinem was never actually a member of any active group fighting for women’s rights.

Beginning in the 1960’s, while writing and editing for magazines and newspapers, Steinem traveled extensively, campaigning for civil rights. She also went “under cover” as a Playboy bunny to investigate the treatment and lifestyle of Hugh Hefner’s employees; his Playboy Clubs were nightclubs in which female employees dressed in bunny ears, leotards, and fuzzy tails to entertain male customers. Likewise, Steinem’s light-hearted look at the way life would change “If Men Could Menstruate” indicates her ability to poke fun at cultural stereotypes. However, she also raises questions about patriarchal religions, traditional marriage, and negative images of women.

Although Steinem never joined an active women’s rights group, she was accepted readily as a spokesperson for women’s liberation because her relatively conservative views were palatable to the mainstream media. Her article in New York magazine entitled “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” and her money-raising talents caused the popular press to embrace her as a “voice of reason” in the women’s rights debate. McCall’s named her “Woman of the Year” in 1971. Steinem’s activism is humane, altruistic, and focused on inclusion, as she urges radical feminists to welcome more conservative,...

(The entire section is 839 words.)

Gloria Steinem Biography

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

Early Life

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Gloria Steinem spent much of her youth caring for her mentally ill mother. She graduated magna cum laude from Smith College in 1956, then received a Chester Bowles Asia fellowship to study in India, where she joined a radical humanist group and traveled to poverty-stricken areas in the southern part of the country.

The 1960’s

Soon after returning to the United States, Steinem moved to New York and worked as a freelance journalist, writing funny photo captions for Help and penning more serious articles such as “The Moral Disarmament of Betty Co Ed,” which explored the birth control pill and its effect on college women, for Esquire in 1962. An exposé on the exploitation and degrading job conditions of women working as Playboy bunnies ran in May and June of 1963 in Show.

By 1965, Steinem was earning thirty thousand dollars a year as a freelance writer and lecturer. In the late 1960’s, when New York magazine was founded, Steinem became a contributing editor and political columnist. In 1968, she wrote a distinctively leftist biweekly column for the magazine focusing on feminist issues, antiwar efforts, black power, poverty, welfare, and student movements. She also was popular on the lecture circuit, speaking on feminist issues. She also negotiated a successful television interview series and wrote film scripts.

Later Life

Steinem won the Penny-Missouri Award for the article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,”...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Gloria Steinem Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brown, Spencer. “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.” Sewanee Review 92 (Fall, 1984). Praises Steinem’s courage in speaking out against genital mutilation of girls in Arab and African countries yet dismisses her portrayal of women as more decent than men.

Cohen, Marcia. The Sisterhood: The True Story of the Women Who Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Offers a look at the lives of Betty Friedan and other feminists, including Germaine Greer, Susan Brownmiller, and Gloria Steinem, and their positions and struggles in the women’s rights movement.

Fritz, Leah. “Rebel with a...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Gloria Steinem Biography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Journalist Gloria Steinem first made her mark in 1963, with an exposé based on her one-month undercover assignment as a Playboy “bunny.” She joined Betty Friedan and others in organizing the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970 and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Although her focus has always been women’s rights, Steinem’s activism extends to work with United Farm Workers, environmental issues, various liberal political campaigns, and antiwar protests.

Repeatedly named one of the twenty-five most influential women in the United States, Steinem defines feminism as “equality for all females—a transformation of society.” In the 1970’s, Steinem was aligned...

(The entire section is 416 words.)