With her book The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan (1921-2006) broke new ground by exploring the idea of women finding personal fulfillment outside of their traditional roles. She also helped advance the women’s rights movement as one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She advocated for an increased role for women in the political process and is remembered as a pioneer of feminism and the women’s rights movements.
A bright student, Betty Friedan excelled at Smith College, graduating in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree. Although she received a fellowship to study at the University of California, she chose instead to go to New York to work as a reporter. Friedan got married in 1947 and had three children. She returned to work after her first child was born, but lost her job when she was pregnant with her second, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Friedan then stayed home to care for her family. But she was restless as a homemaker and began to wonder if other women felt the same way. To answer this question, Friedan surveyed other graduates of Smith College. The results of this research formed the basis of The Feminine Mystique. The book became a sensation—creating a social revolution by dispelling the myth that all women wanted to be happy homemakers. Friedan encouraged women to seek new opportunities for themselves.
As an icon in the women’s rights movement, Betty Friedan did more than write about confining gender stereotypes—she became a force for change. She co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, serving as its first president. Friedan also fought for abortion rights by establishing the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) in 1969. She wanted women to have a greater role in the political process. With such other leading feminists as Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, Friedan helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.
In 1982, Betty Friedan published The Second Stage, which sought to help women wrestling with the demands of work and home. It seemed to be a more moderate feminist position than her earlier work. While in her seventies, Friedan explored the later stages of a woman’s life in The Fountain of Age (1993).
Betty Friedan died of heart failure on February 4, 2006, in Washington, D.C. She is remembered as one of the leading voices of the feminist and women’s rights movement of the twentieth century. And the work that she started is still being carried today by the three organizations she helped establish.
Biography courtesy of BIO.com