How The Feminine Mystique Played in Peoria : Who is Betty Friedan?

  • Gwen Jordan University of Illinois Springfield


Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking work, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, was not celebrated in her hometown of Peoria, Illinois, until its fiftieth anniversary. This article explores why many of Friedan’s Peoria contemporaries – white, educated, married, middle- and upper-middle-class women, like the women featured in her book – rejected her thesis that their lives as women without careers in the paid labor force were dissatisfying and unfulfilling. It uses evidence from interviews with Peoria women from this cohort to discern how they found fulfillment and satisfaction as professional volunteers. It is part of the revisionist effort of women’s post-World War II history to demonstrate the broad diversity of women and widen awareness of the breadth of their activities. It draws on civil society scholarship to interpret the import of their civic service. It argues that these professional volunteers are among the women that The Feminine Mystique mischaracterizes and that their contributions to producing a civil society have been undervalued.