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In Memoriam: Betty Friedan, Class of 1942

The Smith College community joins people near and far in celebrating the life and legacy of pioneering feminist Betty Friedan, who died Saturday, February 4, at the age of 85.

When I talk to prospective students today, I often note that Smith develops within its students the capacity to be independent thinkers and trailblazers, and to make a difference throughout the rest of their lives, in their communities and in the world. There are few people who have had as much impact as Friedan.

Young women today would hardly recognize the world that Freidan entered after graduating from Smith summa cum laude in 1942. In her groundbreaking work The Feminine Mystique, Friedan examined the life of the typical college-aged woman in the 1950s, whose future promised limited career options and focused primarily on traditional family life and domesticity. With her book, Friedan ignited the women’s movement, which asked for, demanded, so much more. More than 3 million copies and counting, The Feminine Mystique has made a lasting mark around the globe.

Friedan was instrumental in founding the National Organization for Women, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws -- now known as Naral Pro-Choice America -- and the National Women’s Political Caucus. But, she did not rest there. Her work continued. At the commencement ceremony for 670 members of the Class of 1981, Friedan spoke about the “next stage” of the women’s movement, a time when coming to terms with family would be critical. She believed men should be allies, not enemies.

Throughout her life, Friedan came to be well recognized as an American icon and a leading thinker of the 20th century.

And although it is impossible to see the future and to know how the women who graduate from Smith today will change the world, at least they can ask the question that Friedan urged women everywhere to ask: "A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, 'Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children.”

--President Carol T. Christ

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