Feminist Icon Betty Friedan Dies on Her Birthday
By Mark Coultan, New York
February 6, 2006

THE first print run of Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Feminine Mystique was just 3000 copies. But there was something in it that touched the lives of millions.

The book, which went on to sell 600,000 in hardback and 2 million in paperback, sparked a social movement that has profoundly changed society.

Friedan, who died on Saturday, connected with women's deep frustration at being confined to the roles of wife and mother, which she described as "the problem that has no name".

"The fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease."

Betty Naomi Goldstein was born in Peoria, Illinois. Her father ran a jeweller's shop. Her mother, who had been the women's page editor of the Peoria paper, she said, did everything a woman was supposed to do golf, tennis, bridge, mah-jong and shopping.

When people asked Friedan why she started the women's movement, she replied that she could not remember any early instance of sexual discrimination, but she was very aware of the waste of her mother's talents.

She said her mother "dominated her husband and made her children's life slightly miserable". She called her mother's frustration an "impotent rage" -- a woman with too much power inside the house and not enough outside it.

Friedan became aware of discrimination when she was refused entry to a high school sorority because she was a Jew.

She graduated from the private women's liberal arts Smith College in 1942, then went to the University of California, Berkeley, for a year before leaving to work as a journalist for left and union publications.

She had a number of jobs until 1947, when she married Carl Friedan. (They divorced in 1969.)

In 1952 she was fired from a union publication because she became pregnant with her second child.

In 1957, at the 15th reunion of her Smith College classmates, she circulated a questionnaire. The answers suggested that, as Friedan herself felt, there was something missing in their lives.

She tried to sell a story based on the survey. For the first time in her life she had an article turned down four times. "Whatever I wrote was heretical. It offended the editors of the women's magazines," she said.

She did more research and the result was the landmark book, The Feminine Mystique.

It was immediately controversial and immediately successful. With the birth control pill now available, giving women more control over their lives, it was a book for its time.

Friedan became a leader in the proto-feminist movement. In 1966 she co-founded the National Organisation for Women, a civil rights group dedicated to achieving equal opportunity for women. It campaigned for child care, abortion rights and greater representation of women in government.

She was wary of equating feminism with lesbianism, and later admitted she was uncomfortable about homosexuality.

But she always believed that the feminist movement had to be mainstream, and once said: "Nobody ever burned a bra. I mean, I would have known about it, and nobody ever burned a bra."

Her last book was The Fountain of Age, which tackled society's attitudes to ageing.

Friedan died at her Washington home of congestive heart failure on her 85th birthday.