(1921–2006) Dubbed the “mother” of the modern women’s movement, Betty Friedan was an American feminist writer, activist, and complicated force to be reckoned with. A leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, she spent five years conducting interviews with women across the country, charting white, middle-class women’s metamorphosis from the independent, career-minded New Woman of the 1920s and 1930s to the housewives of the postwar era who were expected to find total fulfillment as wives and mothers.
Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique hit a nerve, becoming an instant best-seller that continues to be regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century, often credited with sparking the “second wave “of American feminism.
In 1966, Friedan co-founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which aimed to bring women into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men.
In 1970, after stepping down as NOW's first president, Friedan organized the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality on August 26, the 50th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote. The national strike was successful beyond expectations in broadening the feminist movement; the march led by Friedan in New York City alone attracted over 50,000 people.
In 1971, Friedan joined other leading feminists to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus. Friedan was also a strong supporter of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution that passed the United States House of Representatives (by a vote of 35 - 24) and Senate (84 - 8) following intense pressure by women’s groups led by NOW in the early 1970s. Following Congressional passage of the amendment, Friedan advocated for ratification of the amendment in the states and supported other women’s rights reforms.
As more diverse voices emerged within the women’s movement, Friedan not only struggled to retain her leadership but was criticized by other feminists for focusing on issues facing primarily white, middle-class, educated, heterosexual women. Radical feminists also blasted Friedan for referring to lesbian women in the movement as the “lavender menace,” and for Friedan’s willingness to cooperate with men. Ever politically expedient, Friedan believed the only hope for change was by retaining the movement’s mainstream ties and veneer. This alienated her from younger, radical, and visionary feminists who were increasingly becoming the vanguard of the movement. Friedan nonetheless remained a visible, ardent, and important advocate for women’s rights.
Sag Harbor Jewish Cemetery (AKA Independent Jewish Cemetery)
NY-114, Sag Harbor, NY 11963