Tribute to an Activist’s Legacy

by Scott Rogers

The Lakeview YWCA is set to rename its child care center after a Peoria native—who also happens to be one of the most influential women of the 20th century.

Betty Friedan “permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world,” said The New York Times in her 2006 obituary. In 1963, Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, which many consider to be the foundation of the feminist movement, and she was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women, serving as the organization’s first president. 

The idea to honor Friedan was first brought forth by a local group of women who were dismayed at the lack of a memorial for Friedan in her hometown. In an effort to change that, they contacted the local YWCA, offering to raise $100,000 to move forward with the renaming of its child care center. The YWCA and its executive director, Pam Schubach, agreed that the renaming would be an appropriate way to salute Friedan, who urged women to break away from what she considered to be the stifling nature of the traditional domestic homemaker.

The ceremonial unveiling of the newly renamed child care center will be held on September 30th, followed by an educational program on Friedan’s life. Schubach hopes the renaming will help stir up local interest in Friedan while also providing a history lesson for today’s women. “Women have forgotten that there was a lot of advocacy that had to happen so that could they have the privileges they’ve got now,” she noted.

The Activist
Betty Friedan was born Elizabeth Naomi Goldstein on February 4, 1921 in Proctor Hospital, the oldest of three children. Her father, Harry Goldstein, had immigrated to the U.S. from Russia, marrying Peoria native Miriam Horowitz Goldstein. She had graduated from Bradley Polytechnic Institute and wrote society news for a Peoria paper until she quit, at her husband’s insistence, to become a full-time housewife. It’s believed to be Friedan’s mother who inspired her daughter to advocate for the causes she triumphed later in life.

In 1938, Friedan graduated from Peoria High School as one of six valedictorians. She made the most of her high school years, writing a column for the school newspaper while founding and editing a literary magazine and acting in school plays. After graduating, she attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Friedan spent the rest of her life advocating for women’s rights, at times taking stances that were controversial. “Betty was a part of changing the way that the world looked at women and equal rights,” said Schubach.

A Lasting Impact
Friedan left behind a rich legacy, one that has gained her widespread acknowledgement. She can frequently be found on top-100 lists of the most influential women of all time, and in 2006, The Atlantic magazine listed her at No. 77 on its Top 100 Americans of All Time list—one of just nine women included.

As with any memorial, the goal is to preserve the memories of the past while influencing the actions of the future, whether that be to further women’s rights or simply to stand up for something one believes in. “We don’t want folks to forget,” said Schubach, “that we stand on the shoulders of people like Betty.” iBi

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