Hometown Tribute History

What would become the Betty Friedan Hometown Tribute had its genesis in 2005, when Dorothy Sinclair, a former Peoria City Councilwoman, and Diane Brown, whose husband is a Universalist-Unitarian minister, met for lunch. Reflecting upon a recent article in the Peoria Times Observer suggesting that a local street be named after the mother of feminism, the two women decided to organize an appropriate tribute – something beyond a street sign.

Over the next two years, several other women and at least one man met to contemplate the possibilities and how to pay for them. They toyed with the idea of funding a Women’s Studies chair at Bradley University or hosting an annual conference focusing on Betty. When the YWCA announced it would launch a major fund drive to expand the Lakeview building, Dorothy suggested seeing if the two groups might work together, rather than compete, to raise money.

The Tribute Committee, headed at the time by civic activist Fran Kepler, decided the most appropriate way to honor Betty Friedan in her hometown would be to help fund the child care center at the rebuilt Y. It would be named after Betty, and a monument in front of the building would pay further tribute. As Kepler explained to a newspaper reporter, The Feminine Mystique wasn’t just about women – it was about the need to help families if women were to have options outside the home. “She talked about day care and career planning and resume writing – all kinds of support. That’s when the light bulb went off.”

Eventually the Tribute Committee raised $100,000 for the child care center and sculpture. On two occasions, local actress Cheri Bieber portrayed Betty in public performances to raise money and interest. Both the monument and day care center were dedicated on September 30, 2010. What was then a happy story became a sad one a year later when the YWCA, lacking funds to pay the mortgage, closed the Lakeview building and the child care center.  That took the group back to its original goal – how best to honor Betty Friedan in her hometown.  The answer? Through education. Through this website. 

The Tribute Committee is grateful to the Peoria Area Community Foundation and its Women’s Fund for the seed money provided for this website, to the donors to the Tribute effort and to the volunteers who have stayed with it. But mostly it is grateful to Betty Friedan for the revolution she launched. “Did I change your life?” she was fond of asking. Here in her hometown, future generations will answer “yes” – but first they must know her story.