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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER BETTY FRIEDAN
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Founder of the women's liberation movement


One of the most-discussed nonfiction works published in 1978 was The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by astrophysicist Michael H. Hart. He writes: "My criterion was neither fame nor talent nor nobility of character, but actual personal influence on the course of human history and on the everyday lives of individuals." Seven native-born Americans were included in the 100, and when People magazine requested Hart to expand his list of Americans to 25, the first name he added was that of Betty Friedan, who, he said, "through women's liberation, has already had a greater impact than most presidents."

The book that did most to trigger the women's movement was Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), a brilliant analysis of the postwar "back to the home" movement, when women were led to believe that they could find fulfillment only through childbearing and housework. That myth, said Friedan, resulted in a sense of emptiness and loss of identity for millions of American women. Her book became an international best-seller, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

But The Feminine Mystique was only the first of many contributions that Friedan has made to the women's movement. In 1966 she founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), which today has more than 70,000 members and is by far the most effective feminist group in the world. She has written a second book, It Changed My Life, made countless appearances on radio and television, and become one of the most sought-after lecturers in the country. Despite her public image as a hard core activist, Betty Friedan at 58 is a charming, decidedly feminine woman who enjoys wearing makeup and colorful dresses. In an interview at her brightly decorated apartment high above Lincoln Center, she reveals that these two aspects of her personality are not at all contradictory.

"The women's movement had to come. It was an evolutionary thing," she says, in robust, throaty, rapid-fire bursts of speech interspersed with long pauses. "If I had not articulated these ideas in 1963, by '66 somebody else would have. I think that it's good that I did, because what I had to say somehow got to the essence of it, which is the personhood of woman, and not what later obscured it, with a woman-against-man kind of thing."

It was largely through the lobbying efforts of NOW that the U.S. Senate last October approved a three-year extension of the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendm............
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