Friedan, Betty

Betty Friedan (1921- ) launched the second wave of the American women's movement in 1963 with her book The Feminine Mystique, which revealed the isolation and dissatisfaction many middle class women felt in their roles as housewives. Friedan was a founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and served as its president. She lobbied for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, calling for equal protection for men and women under the Constitution. The ERA was not passed. In 1971, she helped found the National Women's Political Caucus.

Biographical Highlights

Betty Friedan launched the twentieth-century American women's movement in 1963 with her book the Feminine Mystique . In it, she sheds light on the isolation and dissatisfaction many middle class women felt in their roles as housewives. Friedan wanted to work with men to redefine traditional gender roles. Her writings prompted much controversy and debate and inspired many women to take an active role in demanding equality. She is often cited as the founder of the "second wave" of the women's movement, providing women with the resources to demand and seek change.

Historic Roots

Betty Naomi Goldstein was born 4 February 1921 in Peoria, Illinois, the first child of Harry Goldstein and Miriam Horwitz Goldstein. Her father, the owner of a fine jewelry shop, was eighteen years older than her mother, who left her position as the society editor of the local newspaper when she married. Betty plunged into her high school studies after an unsuccessful attempt to join a sorority; her father tried to add balance to her life by allowing her to borrow only five books from the library at one time. Betty saw this as a punishment. She began a literary magazine called The Tide with two other boys in her class and graduated as class valedictorian in 1938.

Betty continued her education at Smith College, where she wrote editorials for the school paper the SCAN and was inducted as a Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to graduate summa cum laude with a psychology degree in 1942 and won a fellowship in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. In her first year at Berkeley she fell in love with a man who encouraged her not to accept a larger fellowship that would have provided her the opportunity to obtain her doctorate; he said it would break them apart. The relationship ended and Betty moved to New York and worked for local newspapers.

On 12 June 1947, Betty married Carl Friedan seven months after their first date. Their marriage was described by friends as "stormy"; the couple often fought. Betty Friedan continued to work full time at the newspaper after the birth of her first son in October 1948; when a second son was born in November 1952 she was fired from her position at the UE News because she took a second maternity leave. Friedan worked from home writing freelance articles, mostly for women's magazines. She gave birth to her last child and only daughter on 23 May 1956.

Friedan's research on the lives of women began in 1957 at the fifteen-year reunion of her class at Smith. Friedan developed a questionnaire that delved into her classmates' lives. She discovered that her peers were not using their education to pursue professional careers; they were predominately housewives. This survey and its results prompted Friedan to write The Feminine Mystique .

The Feminine Mystique highlighted the dissatisfaction and loneliness many white, middle-class, educated women felt in their roles as housewives and mothers. Friedan described her book as an investigation of a "problem that had no name" and that, therefore, was neither talked about nor resolved. In 1963, when The Feminine Mystique was published it was considered controversial; it went on to become a bestseller. Friedan was forced into the limelight with speaking engagements and appearances on television and radio. She authored five more books, each of which made a significant impact. The Second Stage, written in 1981, assessed the progression and status of the women's movement and, in 1993, Friedan wrote The Foundation of Age, which addressed the psychology of the aging process and society's treatment of elderly people. Friedan continues her work today, concentrating on political reform, teaching, and writing.


The women's movement in the United States began in 1848 with the first women's convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the driving force behind this movement. The "first wave" of the women's movement was dedicated to obtaining suffrage, or the legal right for women to vote (Eisenburg and Ruthersdotter 1998). The movement slowed after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

The Feminine Mystique is cited as a critical factor in the "second wave" of the women's movement. It launched a campaign for women to redefine their roles in society. The "second wave" of the women's movement began in the 1960s and continued through the 1970s; it was concerned with women's equality, birth control rights, and abortion laws. The "second wave" of the women's movement was beset with tensions between two competing ideologies. Friedan belonged to the older generation of the "second wave" and felt that focusing on abortion issues could harm the image of the movement. Many younger women, including Gloria Steinem, felt that abortion issues were central and needed exposure.

Friedan quickly became a leader in the women's movement. In 1966, she was a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Friedan campaigned with NOW for women's issues as its president from 1966-1970. Friedan wrote the credo "To take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men." NOW campaigned for legislation to make childcare costs for working parents fully tax deductible, to establish federally assisted childcare centers, to promote enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prohibited employer discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin), and to employ more women in policy-making positions.

On 20 August 1970, the fiftieth anniversary of the day women obtained the right to vote, Friedan organized and led a strike in New York City and many other major cities across the country. The strike aimed to bring attention to the current issues women were facing in society. Friedan went on to support and lobby for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which called for equal protection for men and women under the United States Constitution. The amendment was not passed. In 1971, she helped found the National Women's Political Caucus along with Bella Alzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Gloria Steinem.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Friedan has dedicated her life to seeking social justice for women, donating her time and energy to establish national organizations that provide a platform for women's issues. Her extensive writings and speaking engagements draw attention to issues faced by women; she has organized marches, rallies, and letter-writing campaigns to bring attention to the plight of women in American society. Friedan's efforts have encouraged women across the country to seek equality in their jobs and in their roles at home and in families; she has worked with both men and women to create an establishment in which women and men share the responsibility for the home and children. Friedan has worked aggressively to change how women are viewed in society and has worked with legislators to increase the representation of women in political offices. As a visiting professor and speaker across the nation, Betty Friedan continues to teach women and men about the importance of women's issues in creating and sustaining a civil society.

Key Related Ideas

Betty Friedan's efforts epitomize several key concepts related to philanthropy. Her life and work demonstrate how women have used the nonprofit sector as an alternative source of power and social influence ; they show how individuals can organize in voluntary associations to promote advocacy and seek political accountability ; and they suggest how activities in the voluntary sector can help to protect minority populations and to voice previously unheard opinions .

Other key ideas: Equal opportunity in education; Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); feminism; the women's movement; women's suffrage .

Important People Related to the Topic

Betty Friedan is a contemporary woman who began to fight for women's equality in the 1960s and continues to promote women's issues through her speaking engagements and her writing. Some of her colleagues in the same cause are:

Bella Abzug (1920-1998): A labor lawyer in New York City, Abzug went on to the House of Representatives and helped pass legislation that gave the public greater access to government records. In 1971, she co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus. She worked to end sex discrimination and improve the status of women.

Kathryn (Kay) Clarenbach (1920-1994): Clarenbach was a leader in the women's movement in Wisconsin credited for getting the Wisconsin legislature to revise laws on sexual assault, divorce, and marital property. In 1966, she established the National Women's Organization and served as chair of its board. In 1979, she was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Women's Network.

Catherine East (1916-1996): A supporter of the National Organization for Women who worked behind the scenes to help establish the organization. She chose to support NOW behind the scenes in order to protect her job at the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Catherine was able to take a leading role in the women's movement and served in a senior staff position on every presidential advisory committee for women from 1962-1977.

Pauli Murray (1910-1985): In 1965, Murray became the first black person to be awarded a Doctor of Judicial Science degree from Yale Law School. Devoted to civil rights, she worked to overcome segregation and racial discrimination. Using the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause, she worked with the NAACP to fight discrimination. In 1961, she served on the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

Gloria Steinem (1934- ): A graduate of Smith College, Steinem became a journalist, author, and political activist. She founded Ms. Magazine and, as a major leader in the

twentieth-century women's movement, she works to bridge the gap between white and black women.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) began in 1881 as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. In 1921, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae merged with the Southern Association of Collegiate Women, forming the AAUW. Today, the 100,000-member organization continues to advocate for women and girls, stressing education and equality. For more information, visit .

National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 with Friedan as a co-founder. NOW continues "to take action" to bring about equality for women. With 500,000 members, NOW has grown into the largest organization of feminist activists. For more information, visit .

The National Women's Political Caucus was founded to increase the number of women in all facets of political life. This organization relies heavily on its grassroots membership, which is spread over thirty-eight states. Members have direct input into policy decisions through local and regional representatives. A main objective is increasing the number of women in elected and appointed offices, regardless of political affiliation, who support reproductive choice. For more information, visit .

Related Web Sites

Britannica Online's Web site contains links to a number of articles summarizing Friedan's life and work, at One link takes users to an audio excerpt of "Beyond Identity," a speech she delivered at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., 19 January 1997. Information on the National Organization of Women, woman suffrage, Equal Rights Amendment, and the National Women's Political Caucus can also be accessed using the site's search engine..

PBS Online Web siteprovides information about the television program "The First Measured Century," which featured a segment on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique , at . The site also contains a link to a Friedan interview, at .

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. "Women's Movement: Prologue to a Social Movement." Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Hennessee, Judith. Betty Friedan . New York: Random House, 1999.

Mandle, Joan. Women and Social Change in America . Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Book Company, 1979. ISBN: 0916622118.

McClements, Nancy. "1998 Quilt: 150 Years of Women in Wisconsin, Kathryn Clarenbach, 1920=1994." Wisconsin Women Library Workers. .

Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Champions of Human Rights: Eleven U.S. Leaders of the Twentieth Century. North Carolina: McFarland, 1991. ISBN: 0899506143.

Rountree, Cathleen. On Women Turning 70: Honoring the Voices of Wisdom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. ISBN: 1578064875.

Wilkie, Paul. "Mother Superior of Women's Lib," In Interviews with Betty Friedan, edited by Janann Sherman, 7-25. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. ISBN: 1578064805.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Indiana University at Bloomington. It is offered by Learning To Give and Indiana University at Bloomington.