Category:
'Cause I'm a Woman
Difficulty Level:
Extreme

In Recognition of Those who Participated in the Struggles that Brought Attention to Discrimination Against Women

What landmark publication was published in 1963 that addressed discrimination against women in American society, and who was the author?
  

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Historical Notes

In February 1963, Bettye Naomi Goldstein Friedan published the book, The Feminine Mystique.  It quickly became a best seller, and was a catalyst in changing attitudes about the role of women in American society.  It was a catalyst for the then-burgeoning movement for women’s equality, and led to the establishment of the National Organization for Women, an organization formed to lobby for the civil rights of women; she became its first president. It also led to increased numbers of women standing for election to public office, becoming heads of corporations and institutions of higher education; the elimination of blatant sex discrimination without the risk of protest and legal action.

Friedan was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1921, to a prosperous Jewish immigrant family.  During her childhood, Peoria was a conservative and racially segregated small industrial city, where covert and overt forms of anti- Semitism occurred. At a young age, she experienced prejudice and discrimination, and the sting of being an “outsider” because she was Jewish.  She liked to read, and was a high achiever. She was also rebellious.

Friedan enrolled in prestigious Smith College in 1938, as one of its few Jewish students, and majored in psychology.  At Smith, some professors challenged the students to examine the social injustices of the day, including the economic and social advantages they experienced.  She edited the Smith College Weekly, redesigning it so that it was no longer a vehicle for gossip and society news, but rather a tool for strong editorials that challenged Smith’s privileged students to look differently at the world around them.
Friedan attended the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a training center for activists, and she enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. She moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 1944, and worked as a reporter, earning a reputation for writing stories on class, race and women’s issues, including corporate discrimination and the problems of Black women workers. In the postwar years, Friedan started a freelance magazine writing career.

The Feminine Mystique began as a questionnaire in 1957, by Friedan and two friends in response to a request to prepare a questionnaire for their Smith College classmates prior to the 15th reunion. Open-ended questions were asked on “such topics as decision-making in the family, hours of housework, feelings about being a mother, number of books read in a year, interests outside the home and agreement, or not, with a husband's politics.” Two hundred women responded. Friedan used the survey results to write an article for publication in a leading women’s magazine. The article was not accepted for publication—by any magazine. Convinced she was on the verge of something important, she expanded the article into a book, on which she worked for five years.

The book was published in 1963, with an initial print run of 2,000 copies.  In short order, sales of the book exploded, as Friedan had struck the very core of a societal nerve; in fact, encapsulating a critical issue of an era with easy language. The book became the touchstone for a second wave of women’s rights activism. By the year 2000, The Feminine Mystique had sold more than 3 million copies, and it has been translated into many foreign languages. It is regarded as one of the most influential non-fiction books of the 20th Century. In 2013, to celebrate its centennial, the U.S. Department of Labor created a list of over 100 Books that Shaped Work in America, which included The Feminine Mystique. The Department of Labor later chose The Feminine Mystique as one of its top ten books from that list.

Betty Friedan married Carl Friedan, an actor, producer and later advertising executive, in 1947. They had three children.  She died in 1986 at the age of 85.