Betty Friedan was born Elizabeth Naomi Goldstein on Feb. 4, 1921, oldest child of a jeweler and a newspaper writer. Her father, Harry Goldstein, had emigrated from Russia as a teen and made his way to Peoria, where he peddled buttons from a street corner stand. He did well enough to open his jewelry store.
Her mother, Miriam Horowitz Goldstein, was the daughter of Peoria’s first public health commissioner. She graduated from Bradley Polytechnic Institute and wrote society news for a local newspaper. She quit work when she married. Betty said her mother was unhappy about that, and that unhappiness formed part of the background to The Feminine Mystique.
Betty, sister Amy and brother Harry were raised in a house on Farmington Road that looked out upon Bradley Park and was just a few blocks from what would become Bradley University. After graduating from high school, she left Peoria for Smith College, eventually settling in New York. In 1947 Betty married Carl Friedan, a theatrical producer; they divorced in 1969. Their children are Daniel, Emily and Jonathan Friedan.
Throughout her life Betty maintained strong Peoria friendships, often coming home to visit. While here, her brother said she “tested her thoughts on her friends of a lifetime – about a dozen or so bright and articulate men and women. These gatherings and the thoughts and responses expressed undoubtedly impacted her thinking as she was working on a book or a lecture.”
Prominent among those friends were Bob Easton and John and Harriet Parkhurst, lifelong Peorians. When Mrs. Parkhurst died in 1996, Betty spoke at her funeral. She said Harriet “made me proud to be from Peoria.”
Brother Harry remained in the city most of his adult life, then moved to California. He said he’d always known his sister had “marched to a tune that others had not yet heard.”
Harry Goldstein’s Note to Son Rodney
On Aug. 31, 2011, Harry Goldstein e-mailed the following note to his son, Rodney Goldstein, about Betty Friedan, Harry’s sister. It was written in response to a request from Rodney (Harry calls him Ricky), who apparently was planning to write something.
I’ll try to answer your request as follows.
All her life my “big” sister Betty marched to a tune that others had not yet herd. Often she was way out front, a lonely place to be. Yet she thrived in the arena, sometimes bloodied by lesser souls, but never daunted nor defeated in her passionate zeal to make a positive difference. Betty had an off the charts I.Q. She was brilliant and endowed with effective communicative skills, boundless energy, perseverance, passion, and yes, often agitating volatility – she did not suffer fools well.
These were the burrs under her saddle which combined to ignite her inner flame and resulted in her making our world a better place for women – and men. Almost every poll has placed her as one of the most important women of the 20th century.
What did she give up as she trod that most uncommon path of genius? I sort of asked her that once or twice in her later years –
“What would you have done different, Betty, if you had your life to do over?”
Her answer – “Nothing!! All my life I’ve pretty much done what I wanted to do, and what I felt I had to do. I’ve won some, lost some, but loved it all! I’ve always given my best, never flinched, never quit even in the sometime face of strong opposition. I may not have fared well in popularity contests, but all told, I like to think I’ve made a difference.”
Don’t know if this is any help, Ricky. Changing the course of societal history, as Betty did, apparently doesn’t leave much time for the kind of discontent that we more ordinary humans sometime suffer. Perhaps that level of genius is its own reward, and in a sense seems to override all else.
I’d like to see your finished product.
Betty and Dr. Robert S. Easton, Peoria Pediatrician, at a class reunion.