The Influence of Betty Friedan's Work on Her Life and on the Lives of Women in Cold War America

Essay, 2004

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Betty Friedan’s Life before 1963

3. Her “New” Life and the Impact of Her Book in the 1960’s

4. The Influence of Her Works on Women in Cold War America



1 Introduction

This paper will deal with Betty Friedan, a famous woman activist in the 1960’s, her achievements, and her influence on women in that time. Several statements of Betty Friedan in this paper are based on her famous book The Feminine Mystique, which I will use as primary literature.

The first part of the paper will deal with Betty Friedan’s life before she became a famous author with The Feminine Mystique. It will focus mainly on her student life and her private life. The second part will deal with her life, as she calls it, “new” life, after she published the book. This part will discuss her increasing activities in the women’s movement and the changes that took place in her private life. Furthermore, direct changes in politics, laws and society will be examined. Part three of the paper will look in more general terms at the differences that Betty Friedan’s works brought to women in cold war America. A main aspect will be the new passed laws that helped to improve women’s situation. But this part will also refer to negative influences and criticism that arose in that time and was partly blamed on Betty Friedan’s activism. The paper will end with Betty Friedan’s “second stage” statements in which she makes suggestions for the next step that must be taken by women and men, that is, by society.

2 Betty Friedan’s Life before 1963

Betty Friedan was born into a Jewish family, as Bettye Naomi Goldstein on February 4th 1921, in Peoria, Illinois. Her father owned a jewelry store and her mother gave up her writing career as a social reporter to raise a family. There was not much to be found about her school life, but she felt “a freak for having brains” and often experienced being an outsider. This feeling changed when she entered Smith College, one of the rare women colleges, where she studied psychology. There she gained a position as editor-in-chief for the student newspaper in 1941. For the first time she could link her interest in journalism to political activism. As Daniel Horowith notes, “...she helped organize college building and grounds workers into a union. Under her leadership, the student paper took on the student government for holding closed meetings, fought successfully to challenge the administration’s rights to control what the newspaper printed, campaigned for the relaxation of restrictions on student social life, censured social clubs for their secrecy, and published critiques of professors teaching.”[1] In 1942 she graduated with a summa cum laude, but turned away from a career in fear of ending as a spinster. When she left college she dropped the “e” from her first name. It is believed that this marks a turning point in her awareness of herself. She did not want to be a girl from Peoria any longer, but an individual woman, a writer. In 1947 she married Carl Friedan, a returned veteran, and in the following eight years gave birth to three children. From 1948 to 1956 she worked as a labour journalist, writing for the Federal Press and for the Union paper UE News. With her articles and labour union activities she supported African Americans, workers, and especially working women. In 1952 she wrote a pamphlet for UE News called UE Fights for Women Workers. Almost everything Friedan published until 1952 appeared under the name Betty Goldstein, although she had married. This changed when she emerged as a writer for women’s magazines in 1955. There her articles were published under the name Betty Friedan. This change signalled a shift from “an employee for a union paper who wrote highly political articles on the working class to a free-lance writer for mass circulation magazines who concentrated on the suburban middle class in more muted tones.”[2] In her articles she often critiqued suburban life and middle class conformity. She represented aspects of this in an unpublished article called “Was Their Education UnAmerican?” which was a precursor of The Feminine Mystique. For this article she interviewed her Smith classmates at their tenth reunion.[3] For herself she wanted to be a good mother, but this should not interfere with what she regarded as her “real life.” To pursue her career, she hired “a really good mother-substitute—a housekeeper-nurse”[4] in order to solve the problem of child-care when being at work. Friedan always tried to combine family life and her career plans and thought that her work outside the home would support her family situation. She often experienced at first hand how difficult it was in those days to combine marriage, motherhood and a career. Friedan said that she realized something was wrong in American women’s life when she “sensed it first as a question mark in my own life, as a wife and mother of three small children, half-guilty, and therefore half-heartedly, almost in spite of myself, using my abilities and education in work that took me away from home.”[5]

Around 1950 the Friedans moved into an apartment complex in Parkway Village in Queens. There she edited, The Parkway Villager for two years, beginning in 1952, and also led a protest and rent strike to protect the community from greedy bankers.

In 1957 she moved into an eleven-room Victorian house nearby Grandview.

At this point I want to interrupt in her biography and give a short analysis of the impact she already had on women and society before publishing her famous book.

When Friedan started her college time in 1938, at 17, she soon found connections to other women who might have been in the same “finding my own identity” - situation as herself. She worked for the local student newspaper and as editor-in-chief had much more power and influence than other students. She achieved more freedom and rights for the newspaper as well as for the students’ social lives. She even attacked and might have changed the teaching methods of some professors. Friedan showed great ambition not only in her own education, she graduated with a summa cum laude, but also in the social life of the campus and the rights of her classmates. After college she worked as a labour journalist, again fighting for other people’s rights. She supported workers, women, and Afro-Americans. As Horowith describes ist, Friedan also fought against reactionary forces that, “she believed, were working secretly to undermine progressive social advances. As early as 1943, she pictured efforts by business, coordinated by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), to develop plans that would enhance profits, diminish the power of unions, reverse the New Deal, and allow businesses to operate as they pleased.”[6] Also during the time when she wrote for the UE News she fought for women by publishing a pamphlet that gave women support in their fight for rights as workers.

Her impact and influence might have been less radical and “loud” when switching over to writing for women magazines. Although she critiqued suburban life and the role women take on in society, she did so in more muted tones. In this way she probably reached more middle class women than in her earlier efforts. Only few women were politically active or had any interest in political issues, but a lot more women read “women’s magazines,” because that was what “woman” was supposed to do: get herself informed about new ways to clean the house, to raise a family, to find fulfillment in her daily duties. But although Friedan fought so much for other women, she herself experienced at first hand what it meant to be a woman and to grow up as a woman in the 1940’s and 50’s. It took her some time and struggle to find her own way and to find a purpose in life that was worth living.

Betty Friedan makes several statements about her own life in The Feminine Mystique. Some of them are interesting in order to to get a more profound look into her feelings and struggles.

I had come at seventeen from a Midwestern town, an unsure girl; the wide horizons of the world and the life of the mind had been opened to me. I had begun to know who I was and what I wanted to do. I could not go back now. [...] But now that the time had come to make my own future, to take the deciding step, I suddenly did not know what I wanted to be.[7]


[1] Daniel, Horowitz “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labour Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America“ (20.01.2003), IASLonline.


[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Betty, Friedan The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963),7.

[6] Daniel, Horowitz “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labour Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America“ (20.01.2003), IASLonline. URL:

[7] Betty, Friedan The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963), 62.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Influence of Betty Friedan's Work on Her Life and on the Lives of Women in Cold War America
Martin Luther University  (Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Twentieth -Century American Women's History
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
379 KB
Influence, Betty, Friedan, Work, Life, Lives, Women, Cold, America, Twentieth, American, Women’s, History
Quote paper
Annett Oswald (Author), 2004, The Influence of Betty Friedan's Work on Her Life and on the Lives of Women in Cold War America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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