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Correction to This Article
Because of incorrect information from the Associated Press, a photo caption with the Feb. 5 obituary of Betty Friedan misidentified several people. The photo is reprinted here with a corrected caption.
Betty Friedan, 1921-2006

Voice of Feminism's 'Second Wave'

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan speaks regarding a national women's strike on Aug. 26, 1966. (AP)

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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Betty Friedan, the writer, thinker and activist who almost single-handedly revived feminism with her 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique," died of congestive heart failure yesterday, her 85th birthday, at her home in Washington.

Her insights into what she described as the soul-draining frustrations felt by educated, stay-at-home women in the 1950s, "the problem that has no name," startled a society that expected women to be happy with marriage and children. Her book became an instant and controversial bestseller, and Friedan became the leading spokeswoman for a revitalized women's movement.

One of the most recognized names and faces of the late 20th century, Friedan pushed for equal pay, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, maternity leave, child-care centers for working parents, legal abortion and many other topics considered radical in the 1960s and 1970s.

Impatient that the federal government, in implementing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, did not appear to be taking equal pay for women seriously, she helped found in 1966 the National Organization for Women, the largest and most effective organization in the women's movement, and served as its first president. She led the 500,000-person Women's Strike for Equality in New York in 1970, on the 50th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.

She was a founder of the National Women's Political Caucus in the 1970s and of the abortion rights organization now known as NARAL-Pro Choice America. She was an organizer and director of the First Women's Bank and Trust.

"Many of us think of her as one of the mothers of the modern women's movement," said Kim Gandy, NOW president. "She played a very pivotal, very critical role in launching the second wave of the modern women's movement."

"She was a giant in the 20th century for women and most significantly was a catalyst for change in the American culture," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "She defined the problem, and then she had the courage to do something about it."

Friedan's was a voice that was loud, insistent and sometimes divisive. She split with NOW in the 1970s after she came to believe that the organization focused too many resources on lesbian issues and that too many feminists hated men. Her 1981 book "The Second Stage" prompted some feminists to denounce her as reactionary.

Her 2000 memoir, "Life So Far," said that her husband, Carl, beat her during their marriage. He strenuously objected, and Friedan amended the declaration to say that both of them fought physically during their marriage, which ended in divorce in 1969. He died in December.

She turned to other issues, focusing on ageism, family issues and economic empowerment. "It isn't that I have stopped being a feminist, but women as a special separate interest group are not my concern anymore," she said in 1993.

Friedan's cousin, Emily Bazelon, said: "Her feminism was an aspect of her humanism, and she really cared about the economic well-being of families and of all people," Bazelon said yesterday.

Bettye Goldstein was born Feb. 4, 1921, in Peoria, Ill., the Jewish daughter of an immigrant jeweler and a mother who quit her job as an editor of the local newspaper's women's pages to become a homemaker. She skipped second grade and was a high school valedictorian, then moved 1,000 miles east to attend Smith College. She edited the college newspaper and graduated summa cum laude in 1942.


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