Beyond her youth in Peoria, Friedan’s (then Goldstein) development as a labor radical emerged from her years at Smith College where she was a top student, college-wide and within the psychology department, and editor of the student newspaper.
These designations gave Friedan a very public, if at times unpopular, position on campus to espouse her views on anti-fascism, social justice, and labor.
Concurrently, Friedan was industriously building a career as a freelance writer for major national publications.
Through her examination of the Cold War, atomic America, and suburbia, Horowitz argues that Friedan combined her experiences and “articulated middle-class women’s discontents as profoundly sociological, something that sprang from the specifics of their situation in America and that could be remedied by changes in family and work” (196).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Friedan continued to hope for a labor movement that would unite individuals beyond politics and feminism to fight for democracy and social humanity, continuing to believe as she did during her years in Popular Front activism that “a coalition inspired by the labor movement held out promise for a better America” (255).
As a biography, Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique reveals as much America’s social and political climate as it does about Friedan’s life.
Specifically, her often controversial editorials revealed Friedan’s belief that “almost every issue—at Smith, in the nation, and abroad—involved the struggle for democracy, freedom, and social justice” (76). at Berkeley and renouncing a coveted fellowship that would have seen her through the duration of the program, Friedan relocated to New York City to begin her nine year career as a Popular Front labor journalist.
As evidenced further by other prodigious contributions to the literary publications at Smith, her coursework, and indeed, Horowitz argues, the professors with whom she worked as an undergraduate, illustrate how her commitment to “anti-fascism was becoming the bridge to her commitment to labor unions that would in turn flower into a passion for women’s issues” during her self-proclaimed formative years (49). Between 19 at the Federated Press, Friedan “wrote articles that revealed not only her ability to capture a dramatic moment but also showed considerable continuity with the ideology she had developed at Smith and Berkeley” (106) by portraying class and race struggle via precise, concrete examples rather than abstract principle.
In particular, of course, is the role of Mc Carthyism and its implications for gender.
As Horowitz suggests, compulsory domesticity for all women, including those with higher education and career aspirations, was a main consequence of 1950s Mc Carthyism.