Cover image for Betty Friedan : her life
Betty Friedan : her life
Hennessee, Judith Adler.
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First edition.
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New York : Random House, [1999]

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xvii, 330 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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HQ1413 .F455 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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There is no one in the women's movement more renowned or pervasive in her presence, more long-lasting--or more contentious--than Betty Friedan.        But what sort of person is she, really? Judith Hennessee, a wonderfully penetrating writer who lived through many of the events recounted in this book, has dug deep and come up with a story of a woman of many paradoxes, a woman who survived disastrous moments and who continues to this day to lead, to find new energies and crusades.   Before feminism, she focused her activism on fighting for the cause of labor unions against big business.     She wanted to be an actress.     Her female friends notwithstanding, she was known as the feminist who didn't like women.     A champion of the family, she had a lusty and violent marriage.     Her husband, Carl, was the first to realize that The Feminine Mystique would be a success--but it was the book and his wife's fame that precipitated the breakup of their marriage. NOW, the first feminist organization she founded, was never meant to be all-inclusive. Friedan envisioned it as a group that would be able to work things out with those in power.  Even though she was a founder of three of the most important organizations of the women's movement--NOW, NWPC, NARAL--two of them shunted her aside.  She continually confronted Gloria Steinem, her arch-rival, over the movement's direction. Betty Friedanis a book whose candor some will find objectionable, but most will come away with a new appreciation of a memorable woman whose rich life is here riotously revealed.    "Her insecurities were as great as her achievements," Judith Hennessee writes in her Introduction, "and her flaws cost her her leadership. But the movement she ushered in is immense, worldwide; it has permeated our lives; it is intrinsic to the public debate, and its issues have to be addressed. What she did for women outweighs the rest."

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Most libraries have patrons who will be interested in one or more of these books--a wide-ranging survey of what science is learning about women's bodies and minds; biographies of two of the most important (and controversial) definers of second-stage feminism; and a year in the life of three women too young to remember women's lib. Hales is a medical journalist who has written books about depression and other forms of mental illness and about high-risk pregnancies. Here, she summarizes the results to date of research on gender, devoting full chapters in part 1 to animal behavior studies, anthropology, genetics and endocrinology, and clinical medicine. Part 2 examines women's life stages from menarche through menopause, and part 3 assesses gender aspects of women's brains, emotions, psychiatric vulnerability, sexuality, and spirituality. Although some of those areas are potentially controversial, Hales' straightforward discussions of research and conflicting theories allow readers to draw their own conclusions while learning a good deal of relatively new information. Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer both wrote seminal feminist works, and both have alienated past colleagues, in part, at least, because they've bad-mouthed so many of them. And Greer is angry about Wallace's biography: she objects to literary biography, especially of living authors, and she responded to publication of this one by calling Wallace "a dung beetle" and "flesh-eating bacteria." The reaction seems excessive: although Wallace certainly criticizes Greer and traces elements of her character to her dysfunctional family (as Greer herself has done), the biographer, who lives in Greer's native Australia, gives her subject full credit for the life-changing shock of recognition many women felt when they read The Female Eunuch. Hennessee had a more collaborative relationship with Friedan. When another author's planned biography fell through, Friedan met with Hennessee several times, and the author also interviewed members of Friedan's family and dozens of past and present friends and colleagues. Briefly stated, Hennessee's "fix" on Friedan is that she is "a woman of profound contradictions," committed to lofty goals but often prickly, dogmatic, even vengeful regarding those who disagreed with her or valued her less highly than she felt she deserved. Readers will not always like Betty Friedan in this involving narrative, but they can hardly fail to marvel at what she has accomplished over the years. The women Roth met and talked with over the course of a year are two generations younger than Friedan: a single, 29-year-old Hollywood film producer; a San Francisco ad exec who's 31 and divorced just long enough to be getting used to it; and a single, 33-year-old New Yorker who handles publicity for rock bands. From one vernal equinox to the next, Roth's informants let her in on their lives: interesting but not always satisfying jobs; family and friends; love interests of one degree of seriousness or another. These are the women who are said to be hearing their biological clocks, and all three do wonder whether marriage and kids are in their future. But they're also involved in other aspects of their lives and seem to have learned an essential truth: being alone has its own joys. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Published in 1963, Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was a bestselling analysis of the oppression of middle-class women that helped ignite the women's liberation movement. In this unauthorized biography, Hennessee reveals how Friedan's difficult early life contributed to her theories and how the book's success influenced much of the rest of her life. Born in 1921 to an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Peoria, Ill., Friedan was highly intelligent, but her childhood and teen years were marred by anti-Semitism and sexism. While attending Smith College and UC-Berkeley, Friedan flirted with political radicalism and labor organizing before marrying, becoming a mother and starting a career as a journalist and later an author. The success of The Feminine Mystique made Friedan the country's most prominent spokesperson for women's rights, a role that was bolstered by her involvement in founding the National Organization for Women in 1966. However, as the women's movement grew, Friedan's position was contested, and confrontations with other leaders grew more frequent. While never shying away from what she presents as Friedan's faultsÄher rages, excessive drinking, vindictiveness and hostility toward lesbians and women of different class and racial backgroundsÄHennessee remains sympathetic to a fault, often presenting historical material uncritically from Friedan's point of view. This tight focus precludes a more comprehensive look at the period. (Karla Jay's recent Tales of the Lavender Menace is more successful in this regard.) Hennessee's prose is often clumsy, her marshaling of detail lax and her approach to her subject so fawning that the book feels insubstantial. Friedan and the women's movement deserve better. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hennessee takes an unsentimental look at the author of The Feminine Mystique and founder of NOW. In the second book in a year to be published on Friedan (after Daniel Horowitz's Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique, Univ. of Massachusetts, 1998), Hennessee draws on personal interviews and on Friedan's papers, housed at Radcliffe. Throughout, Hennessee can't seem to decide whether her subject deserves damnation or praise but seems to settle mostly on the former. There are pages and pages of unflattering anecdotes about Friedan and her temper, sometimes leaving the reader wondering whether their point is to marginalize her place in history. Indeed, says Hennessee, the threat of marginalization is what most motivated Friedan once the movement was taken over by younger and more radical women. The more she felt sidelined, the louder she roared. Recommended only for large collections with interest in Friedan.ÄRoseanne Castellino, Arthur D. Little, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Coming on the heels of Daniel Horowitz's biography Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique (CH, Mar'99), Hennessee offers readers a sympathetic though not uncritical portrait of a major feminist. Friedan's contradictory personality is effectively captured; Hennessee shows Friedan's sincere passion for women's rights, as well as her short temper and imperious treatment of women secretaries and assistants. Hennessee treats Friedan's formative and early adult years quickly in order to concentrate on the years after the amazing success of The Feminine Mystique (1963) and the founding in 1966 of the National Organization for Women (NOW). In contrast to Horowitz's focus on Friedan's radical feminist past, Hennessee concentrates on her role in the contemporary movement and describes in detail Friedan's many quarrels with other leaders, most notably Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem. In the 35 years since she became a celebrity, Friedan has sought to become "The Voice of Women." Although she has not succeeded in this ambitious aim, her pioneering role in the women's movement is indisputably secure. Hennessee's biography offers readers Friedan, warts and all, in an accessible manner. Recommended for all levels. J. Sochen Northeastern Illinois University



Chapter One Roots Betty's school friends remember the delights of growing up in Peoria: the parties in her big redbrick house on Farmington Road; the kissing games; dancing to records played on the Victrola, on the black-and-white-tiled floor of the sunroom. Betty remembers being eternally uneasy amid the fun. She was always the outsider, the girl who was not pretty, when looks were everything; who was brilliant, when female intelligence was not valued; a child of intense passions and ambitions, when frivolity was the order of the day. She was a Jew in a world of WASPs; an immigrant's daughter surrounded by old-line families that had always "belonged." Smug and comfortable, with the conservatism of inland places, Peoria sheltered and molded her; it also irritated and angered her, providing her with something to react against, the way the oyster creates the pearl.     The city owed its life to the Illinois River, which curved around it and connected it to the Mississippi, to Chicago and New Orleans and the world beyond. Visited by the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673, the site became a trading post named for the Peoria Indians, and then a colonial village, with carpenter, blacksmith, cobbler, and trading shops lining its narrow streets. It also had a windmill, a winepress, and an underground wine vault. During the Civil War it had a strong pro-slavery contingent, but it fought on the side of the Union; the house of a wealthy merchant provided a station on the Underground Railroad. Its character was set in the 1850s, when a wave of German immigrants arrived, sober, industrious, respectable, and dull. They built Peoria into a manufacturing center and a rail and shipping terminal, processing grain and meat and manufacturing farm machinery. In the mid-twenties, Caterpillar became the main employer. But most of all, Peoria was known for its distilleries. It was a Sinclair Lewis city saved from drabness by whiskey and by the business of corruption that grew around it. Downtown Peoria was wide open and had a reputation for wildness--gambling in taverns, gang wars, prostitution, and cops on the take. People who wanted to have a good time went to Peoria.     The river also brought vaudeville, from which came the line "Will it play in Peoria?" Around the circuit of cities--Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City--Peoria was a byword for provincialism. All the great performers came--Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor--and late at night the men would play cards with a local poker group, the Knights of the Round Table, one of whose members was Harry M. Goldstein, Betty's father.     Harry Goldstein was a classic immigrant success story. Born in 1882 in Russia, he had come to St. Louis with his impoverished family when he was about six. At thirteen he went off, on his own, to Peoria and began peddling collar buttons from a street-corner stand. (Adolph Zukor, the future Hollywood movie mogul, peddled furs on another Peoria street corner.) Harry moved on to diamonds and became active in the Jewish community; he was one of three men who organized the Peoria chapter of the Young Men's Hebrew Association in 1904. By 1908 he was the owner of a store, the Goldstein Jewelry Company ("the Tiffany of Peoria," Betty would call it), at 211 South Adams, one of the main downtown shopping streets. He was prosperous enough to put Ben, his youngest brother, through college and law school. Harry was a widower. After a brief marriage, his first wife had died of leukemia. He lived at the Jefferson Hotel, a four-hundred-room Victorian palace with luxury apartments on the upper floors, where most of Peoria's important social events were held.     So he was a man of substance when he fell in love with Miriam Horwitz, the daughter of Dr. Sandor Horwitz, another self-made man. Horwitz was born in Hungary in 1867, into a family of rabbis. After his parents died in 1873, he was shuttled back and forth among various poor relations, none of whom could afford to keep him but all of whom reverenced learning; they saw to it that he went to school. He paid for his education by peddling and giving Hebrew lessons. In the 1880s, during the great migration of Eastern European Jews, he came to America, put himself through medical school, married (1897), and became a police surgeon and medical examiner in Peoria. He also had a private practice. Miriam, an only child, was born on February 13, 1898.     Miriam's parents objected to the match. The age gap was too large--she was almost eighteen years younger than Harry--and he was a widower. Although he was very well read, he had no formal education and spoke with an accent. Miriam had attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, a combination high school and junior college, and graduated with an associate's degree in Literature. (She had badly wanted to go to Smith, but her parents had refused to send her.) Despite his drawbacks, Harry had a lot to recommend him. He was genial and sociable, a family man; he was also prominent and respected. "She married him because he was established," said Helene Szold, an old friend of Miriam's. It is likely that the Horwitzes would have wanted a professional man for their daughter, one who would carry her another step up the ladder. They sent her out of town to break up the romance, but Miriam was strong-willed and she prevailed. She and Harry were married on February 3, 1920.     Betty was born on February 4, 1921, the year after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, giving women the vote. It was an auspicious time, the beginning of the postwar wave of optimism when all things seemed possible. Warren G. Harding was about to move into the White House, inaugurating the wild spree of the twenties that would spiral to dizzying heights of prosperity, and Harry would spiral with it. The Goldsteins named their child Bettye Naomi, the final "e" being a fancification of the day. When their second child was born a year and a half later, they named her Amye. Like so many fashionable things, the "e" did not wear well, and both girls later dropped it. Harry Junior arrived in 1926, completing the family.     Life was a struggle at first. Betty was a sickly child. She had bow legs and had to wear iron braces for three years. Bronchitis afflicted her every winter, as did various lung problems that later developed into asthma. She could hardly see out of one eye and had to wear glasses. Her teeth had to be straightened. She was well aware of her disabilities. "All in all," she wrote dryly, "I have not been well endowed physically, neither with health nor with beauty."     When she was three the family moved to a large three-story redbrick house at 105 Farmington Road. Farmington Road was then just a country road on the western edge of Peoria, but it was on the West Bluff, the best part of town. The river, vital to Peoria's economic life, also carved its social geography. As the city grew (it took up nine square miles and had a population of almost 100,000 when Betty was born) and laborers crowded in, the wealthy merchants moved away from the downtown area near the river and up to the bluff, where their mansions overlooked the water, commanding a scenic view of the Illinois River Valley.     The house sat on top of a hill across from Bradley Park. It was designed for entertaining, spacious enough for Miriam's luncheons and elegant afternoon bridge parties and for twenty or so of Betty's friends to play records and dance. A Steinway baby grand sat in a corner of the formal living room, and there was a game table for cards and jigsaw puzzles, with poker chips and a backgammon set under the raised top--Harry and Miriam loved cards and gambling. Across the center hall, rich cream-colored drapes hung at the dining room windows and a dark carved-wood rectangular table seated twelve. Its chairs were upholstered in the kind of heavy blue plush that made bare legs itch in the summer. At Miriam's end of the table, under the blue-and-rose Oriental carpet, was a buzzer that summoned a maid from the kitchen. Betty and Amy shared one of the four bedrooms. Betty spent hours at the window, looking across the front lawn at the trees and the stars and dreaming of what her life would be when she grew up.     Every Eden has a serpent; for the Goldsteins, it was anti-Semitism. It was as pervasive as the air, some of it the kind that was not recognized as such. Harry and Miriam were strivers who had arrived at an impasse. Harry's business friends in the chamber of commerce never saw him socially; after sundown, he might as well not have existed. The symbol of success, the Peoria Country Club, was restricted. All over America such walls were an inalienable fact, preserving and protecting, maintained by such heroes of business and industry as Henry Ford and William Randolph Hearst. In Peoria, Jews kept to themselves. "It was like blacks," said Betty's friend Robert McCord. "There was no integration." The poison spread; the Goldsteins, assimilated but not accepted, had their own secret squirmings. Betty noticed that her mother seemed ashamed of her father's accent. She herself thought less of him for allowing that superior attitude. Amy, too, felt ashamed: "I grew up feeling a mixture--he was very warm and affectionate and sentimental--loving him and soaking up affection, but also having this secret embarrassment."     Betty had a privileged childhood, cherished by her parents and cushioned by servants. The Goldsteins employed a nursemaid, a cook, and a butler-chauffeur. (Years later, at parties in Betty's apartment in New York, radical feminists would look askance as a black maid, wearing a white apron, passed hors d'oeuvres.) The family rose at seven. Betty and Amy had a race to get dressed, and walked in Bradley Park with their father before breakfast. They had their own sandpile to play in and made up games and poems. After their afternoon nap, their nurse took them back to the park; after supper, their parents took them for a drive. The girls united against Harry Junior, whom Betty regarded as a pest. Remembering a photograph Miriam had taken of them, Amy said, "Betty was so cute. She had straight dark brown hair with bangs and sort of turning up in front of each ear ... and she had her arms around my waist. Our mother always dressed us in identical clothes ... we had high ivory-colored leather shoes and high socks and these little pink dresses." In another picture, taken a few years later, Betty is unsmiling, serious, with huge dark eyes and a petulant mouth. Even then, she seemed to have an unchildlike sense of herself and her dignity.     Harry and Miriam placed a high value on appearances. For Harry, who had all the insecurities of an immigrant, it was important to live well and dress well, to make a good impression. Miriam had social aspirations and a sense of herself as a personage. She was strikingly attractive, petite, with brown eyes and dark hair, poised and gracious. Proud of the figure she cut, she spent hours at her bath and dressing table, which was covered with powders and lipsticks and pots of rouge, before an afternoon bridge party. "Our mother always looked as if she had just stepped out of Bergdorf's window," Amy said. "People turned around in the streets. She felt she was a fashion leader. She prided herself that people were imitating her, and this was very important to her."     To the outside world, the Goldsteins seemed to be a lovely family, but behind the walls of 105 Farmington Road lay a tangle of jealousies and rivalries. Betty and her mother were a genetic match, two controlling personalities, but Miriam dominated Betty, and Betty resented it. They clashed constantly over Betty's careless grooming and the messiness of her room. Harry Junior said, "She's been sloppy since she was a little girl. She would say, `Boy, when I grow up I'm going to be rich so I can hire somebody to clean my room and make my bed.' Mother was finicky; girls were supposed to keep their room neat. Betty wouldn't do it. She was so brilliant, she wasn't interested in the ordinary things we were interested in." Betty developed a very jaundiced view of Miriam and her discontents. She noticed the pleasure her mother took in running her numerous charity organizations, how she basked in praise, and how her attacks of colitis suddenly disappeared when she was managing the store.     It was not until she wrote The Feminine Mystique that Betty realized how hobbled her mother had been and how the family had borne the brunt of her frustrations, and not until long after that was she able to come to terms with the guilt and sorrow of their lifelong quarrel. As a child, she had the insight, not the understanding, but that was enough--she had no intention of following in her mother's footsteps. She would be more than a wife and mother. She wanted her life to mean something, and she also "want[ed] success and fame."     Miriam was, in fact, perfect. She was even good at sports and driving. She was the gold standard against which Betty measured herself, only to discover she was made of a lesser metal. Perfect grooming was never her priority, and she was not naturally inclined to ladyhood. As a young girl she was awkward and ill-coordinated, and her mother was critical of her. At heart, Betty didn't really care about appearances or the social imperatives that ruled Miriam's life, the silent pacts that kept things running smoothly. She was moralistic, like her father, who was always reading lessons into movies. In the intolerant purity of adolescence, she judged Miriam harshly, being particularly disdainful of "the hypocrisies and phoninesses about my mother. She was so unctuous on the telephone--`my dear sweet darling'--when you knew that the next thing she would say is `that bitch.'" As an adult, Betty traced her own abruptness on the telephone to her reaction to her mother. "As a result, I virtually say `you bitch' on the phone. Everybody screams at me for my telephone manner because I'm so brusque."     Miriam's accomplishments left little room for her less polished daughter and only served to make Betty insecure in her femininity. Throughout her life she lacked the sexual confidence to compete with other women, especially those who were beautiful and socially at ease. The only way to win was to make her own rules, refuse to accept others' standards. And so she renounced all the qualities that made Miriam a paragon and took the opposite tack. If she was the sore thumb, she made certain to stick out. According to Harry Junior, Miriam thought Betty deliberately made herself look like a frump, knowing it would pain her mother. What would Miriam's friends think, seeing those awful newspaper photos of Betty, the ugly duckling who refused to become a swan? Where Miriam was diplomatic, Betty was blunt; where Miriam was gracious, Betty could barely accept a compliment. She became gratuitously rude and bullying, saying whatever awful thing came into her head. In her unhappy moments she regretted her reaction deeply, berating herself for rejecting her mother's values, for taking pride in her careless housekeeping, and for her clumsiness at sports and driving. On the other hand, Betty's behavior also got her what she wanted. Few people could cope with it.     As a child she was extremely intolerant of frustration and had a formidable temper, inherited from her father. "She was a fearsome person," Harry Junior said. "She could rattle the windows. She was strong-willed, had wide swings of emotions, and she could scream--she had a volatile personality." There were a few violent episodes. Once she threw a book at Amy, who had to have stitches in her head. When she was five she hit a little boy over the head with a hoe. She lost patience with her best friend, Betty Ottenheimer (Otty), for being dull-witted, and yanked out some of her hair.     Harry Senior adored her. She was the firstborn, and he treated her like a son, reveling in her brightness. She had the premier position, the sense of entitlement. (Harry Junior was his mother's favorite.) Betty's father kept the childhood poems she wrote in a safe. When she was about six years old, Miriam took her and Amy to Bradley College to have their IQs tested. Betty's score was 180. Afterward, Miriam told them that Betty was a genius and that Amy was very artistic.     Betty gloried in her extraordinary intelligence, but her natural superiority created rifts in the family. The lines were drawn at the dinner table. Like Joseph P. Kennedy, another ambitious father, Harry believed in challenging his children at meals and encouraging them to express themselves. He would pose math problems, which Betty solved in an instant, and discuss the political issues of the day. Betty always spoke up. Amy remembered, "If there was a serious discussion at dinnertime, they would always direct it toward Betty; the things that were directed toward me would be the frivolous things."     The dinner table also shaped Betty's social conscience. "Our parents believed strongly in education and had a sense of civic responsibility," Harry Junior said. "It was our environment. We grew up with that. You knew you had to take care of fellow Jews; no one else wanted them. When Hitler was rampant, there were strong discussions. Grandfather came almost every night. [Dr. Horwitz's wife, Bertha, had died of leukemia in 1928.] If there was a communicable disease or other medical problem, we discussed it. It was a lively dinner table."     But Betty's brains took her only so far. Beyond the dining room table, in the really important things--beauty, physical grace, and social flair--Amy surpassed her. Betty complained sorrowfully that she was not allowed to have a bicycle, but when Amy was old enough, she got one. Something similar happened with the car. Illinois had no license requirements; most of Betty's friends started driving when they were fourteen, but Miriam was too nervous to allow Betty that privilege. Even when she was sixteen her parents refused permission; but Amy, who had carefully watched others shift the gears, just got in and drove off one day, and that was that. Betty was determined to learn. The summer before her senior year in high school, when her parents were away, she persuaded the daughter of one of Miriam's friends to take her out for two weeks and mastered the clutch. Her mother finally let her have the car.     All of these skirmishes might have remained minor had it not been for a more serious rivalry between the sisters. For a girl growing up nothing mattered more, nothing contributed more to her self-esteem, than being pretty. As with health, the less one has of it, the more important it becomes. Betty had the attention and delight of the most important man in her life, but her father encouraged her mind, not her femininity. The way the girls were treated at the dinner table reinforced the distinction. In the Goldstein family, Amy was the pretty one.     Both girls had Bette Davis eyes--"bedroom eyes," with drooping upper eyelids--but Amy, who had naturally curly hair, resembled her mother. Betty took after her father. She had the Goldstein nose, long and prominent. (So did Harry Junior, but what looked good on a boy did not necessarily suit a girl. He was handsome, with a slim, athletic build.) And Amy, like Miriam, was endowed with the graces Betty lacked. In dancing school, Amy shone; Betty, who felt stiff, awkward, and shy, hated it. Amy was a natural flirt; Betty had no feminine wiles and scorned Amy for using them. Amy instinctively understood and followed the social rules. Betty, the rebel, could not and would not. "She was so straight, she didn't know the meaning of the word `politic,'" Harry Junior said. One part of her loved feminine things--when she was older she wore ruffles and dainty sandals--but the rest of her was at war with the whole concept of the feminine. Her mother urged her to bob her nose. Nose jobs were becoming fashionable then, as part of the assimilation process. (Everyone had the same cute little button nose, however inappropriate to the rest of the face; aesthetic rhinoplasty was in its infancy.) Betty refused. In an obscure way, she may have been rebelling against her mother, but the promptings of her own nature were paramount. She would never deign to hide her imperfections. Her attitude was and would forever remain: This is how I am. Take me as I am. * * * Betty was eight when the Depression began. Harry Senior, who owned a luxury business, was hard hit. People were no longer spending their money on silver punch bowls and Spode china. Some of the Goldsteins' friends took the easy way out: they declared bankruptcy and put everything in their wives' names. But Harry was an honorable man; he worried about his employees, the people who depended on him, and he kept the store going. He even helped the two elderly sisters of his first wife. On Sundays Amy drove him to visit them, much to Miriam's annoyance. Mortgages and debts began to pile up. The Goldsteins were never poor, but the old careless ways were over. Betty would awaken in the night and hear her parents arguing about money. She blamed her mother. Miriam's love of expensive things and Harry's inability to pay for them led her to the gambling rooms of downtown Peoria, where she suffered heavy losses. The dinner table became their battlefield. Amy said, "My father, provoked by my mother, would become very angry, his face would redden, he would bang his fist down on the table, rise and storm out of the room." (Betty would use the same tactic in her epic battles in the women's movement, nonplussing weaker souls.) Betty, who was as extravagant as Miriam, came to believe that her own attitude, her discomfort with money matters and her reluctance to discuss them with men, grew out of these confrontations. Her response, as it had been to Amy, to so many painful things, was contempt--contempt for her father, because he allowed Miriam to treat him as if it were all his fault.     To make matters worse, with this turn in their fortunes Harry Senior became ill with heart trouble and hypertension and had to go to Florida during the winter. Miriam bloomed, her discontent gone. Betty noticed the change. At night when she said her prayers ("Now I lay me down to sleep" and the Shma Yisrael), she prayed for "a boy to like me best" and "a work of my own to do" when she grew up. "I didn't want to be discounted like my mother was until she took over the business," she wrote. * * * When Betty was six she went to the Whittier School, across the street from Bradley College, about four blocks from her house. Miles ahead of everyone else, she was skipped half a grade. In the fourth grade her mother intervened to have her skipped the other half--Miriam didn't want her to be in a February graduating class. All the "dummies" ended up in the February class--the slow learners, the children who were left back.     In the new grade Betty met her crowd, the friends she would stay with for the eight years of grade school and junior high: Anne Strehlow, Marian Sweney, Marian Lackland, Nancy Phalen, Marian Stein (Steiny), Jimmy McBrian, and the Easton boys, Bobby and Billy. (Bobby was Betty's favorite; she thought of him as her first beau.) They were the children of Peoria's leading citizens--the merchants and bankers, the doctors and lawyers, the owners of clothing stores and heating oil companies. They went to dancing school together at Miss Coleman's (who was delicately referred to as "a maiden lady"), where they wore white gloves and learned ballroom dancing and comportment. In the fifth grade Miss Coleman held an assembly, and Betty wore her first long party dress, a green taffeta trimmed with rosebuds. Her date, Jimmy McBrian, sent her a corsage. When the children reached the eighth grade, many of the wealthier parents hired a small ballroom in the Jefferson Hotel and threw lavish birthday parties.     Betty was the undisputed leader, full of mischievous ideas. She had a flair for gathering people and inventing clubs, as later in her life she would create national organizations. One of her first successes was the Baddy Baddy Club, whose purpose was to stir up a little excitement and madden her teachers. (Another purpose, as with all clubs, was to keep people out. Whoever didn't belong was labeled a Goodie Goodie.) After getting permission for the members to meet in the hall, she waved her arms and said in her gravelly voice (even then it was gravelly), "There's nothing bad enough," and proceeded to remedy the situation. At her signal in class they created an uproar: they dropped books in the middle of recitations, erupted in coughing fits, and refused to be monitors. When the principal threatened to expel them, Betty formed a spin-off, the Gummy Gummy Club: its members merely chewed thick wads of gum. She got a C in conduct.     After school the group convened in Betty's attic for their favorite game, Dress-up, choosing their characters--movie stars, spies, princesses--from the collection of Miriam's discarded evening dresses. Books were her food and drink. She read Little Women, The Secret Garden , stories of English families having adventures, The Little Colonel , the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series. During the hour or so it took to gobble each one down, she was transported. Dress-up evolved into Mystery. The girls invented secret codes and dastardly plots and sneaked around spying on their neighbors.     Soon they graduated from dress-up to kissing games, and Betty started another club, the JFF--Just for Fun. This one included boys. Every Friday night they played post office and truth and consequences. Spin-the-bottle was considered tacky. The action was discreet: a hug and a kiss in the closet.     For eighth and ninth grades they went to Roosevelt Junior High School. At her mother's urging (Miriam steered her life), Betty started to write for the school paper, The Reflector . Miriam couldn't wait to get Betty into writing--to take up her own abandoned career, as it were. Before her marriage, Miriam had been society editor on a local paper, but she left when she became pregnant. It was unseemly for pregnant women of her class to work; besides, Harry had insisted. Betty became society editor and book reviewer, much to her mother's pleasure. She also persuaded Miriam to let her drop the despised dancing and take acting, which she loved, at Mrs. Morrill's Children's Theatre at Bradley. In her last year of junior high her life was a social whirl, filled with friends. At parties, they drank champagne and thought they were terribly sophisticated.     And then quite suddenly it ended, like a game of musical chairs. She, who had been the ringleader and chief instigator, the one who generated all the excitement, was suddenly alone, abandoned by her friends. The creator of clubs was not chosen for the most exclusive club of all--the high school sorority. She was desolate. She was at the age of sexual awakening, but unlike the other girls, she hadn't begun to date. The year of loneliness that followed was the lowest point of her life. She blamed it primarily on anti-Semitism.     High school sororities were illegal in Illinois, but they flourished anyway, dominating social life. Their members threw the big Christmas and spring dances and the smaller weekend parties; they had barbecues and movie dates. There were three sororities and three fraternities, varying in wealth and social and intellectual importance. Jews, who made up only two or three percent of the students, were not entirely excluded; a handful of them pledged for the lesser and least social of the groups.     Anti-Semitism had not touched Betty so directly until now. Among her immediate friends it hadn't existed. Marian Sweney, who later married into one of Peoria's Jewish families, said, "When Betty wrote her first book, we read about her ostracism and the prejudice. We were so surprised. There never was anything like that in high school, I thought." Yet anti-Semitism had always undermined Betty in a subtle way, eroding her sense of security. Truly to belong meant being like Harriet Vance, a classmate who came from old money and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution--but that was a fantasy.     Anti-Semitism was not Betty's only difficulty. Because of overcrowding, Central High had instituted a double-shift system. Until a new high school was completed during her sophomore year, Betty was in the "afternoon" shift, from 9:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., while her friends were in the "morning" shift, from 8:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. But the scheduling difference could have been overcome. The boy-girl problem--the sexual sorting out--could not.     Having skipped a grade, Betty was a year younger than her friends. She believed herself to be broad-minded and more mature mentally than they, but she lagged behind them in physical development. Howard Heller, her cousin and classmate, said, "Betty tried to be one of the girls and couldn't. When she tried to smoke she was laughed at. She couldn't quite be a joiner. Classmates could be very cruel; they didn't understand her." Indeed, she was above all that. Generally speaking, she didn't think much of the other girls, either. All they ever did was gossip and talk about boys and getting married, she wrote in a high school paper.     Harry Junior thought the problem was looks. "When Betty was in high school she was ugly and had no boyfriends. She was popular and well-liked--fellows liked her. But if a girl didn't get invited to a dance, she felt ostracized." Amy thought the problem was social know-how. "If you wanted to have a date," Amy said, "you hid your brains. You couldn't be smarter than the boys."     But the problem, really, was everything . Betty overwhelmed people. She had a bossy streak, and she talked so much no one could get a word in. The idea of hiding her brains, or at least not featuring them so prominently--of deferring to boys--did not occur to her. She was a girl who not only read newspaper editorials but had strong opinions about them. Her friend Robert McCord said, "She always made it clear how she felt about things and was not a shrinking violet. Betty was always a very intense and focused person. And wanting to take a position--she liked to talk about things and debate. She was always on the cutting edge of things."     To some extent, this year of exclusion was self-imposed. Certainly she dramatized it. Her loneliness was very real, but Betty seemed to be in the grip of some Romantic fantasy. It was all very Byronic--she was the outcast, lonely, isolated, and friendless, the misunderstood artist, too sensitive for the smug bourgeois society to which she belonged. She neglected to call two of her old stalwarts, Otty and Steiny, deciding that they probably didn't want to see her anyway. She went for long walks in the park and spent hours mooning around an old abandoned cemetery near her house, reading poetry and crying. At night she knelt at her window and gazed into the darkness of Bradley Park, at the clean snow, the bare branches, and communed with her sorrow.     One afternoon, as she was walking home from school, laden with books, a group of laughing teenagers drove by, piled carelessly into a jalopy. She would have given anything to be with them, going to Hunt's, the local hangout, two blocks down the hill from her house. "Hunt's was our life," Marian Sweney said. "Hamburgers, milkshakes. We knew the curbies; we got out of our cars and car-hopped." The sight of the carful of friends, a vision of all that she yearned for, triggered something in her, and she made a promise to herself: "They may not like me now, but they're going to look up to me." It was a serious vow, not an I'll-show-you fit of pique--a motto for her future. She had made a choice. The popularity contest was over; she had lost, but she had seen a way around defeat.     Betty's traumatic year on the sidelines was not entirely spent with an empty dance card. Mrs. Morrill's Children's Theatre offered pleasure, escape, and the solace of being someone else. The comfort wasn't in the roles so much--hers were always small parts--as in the ambience. She enjoyed the camaraderie, the casual intimacy of the theatre, and the wickedness, too; it wasn't as straight-arrow as the rest of society. Being in the theatre was like being in a club. "I adored being in plays," she later told an interviewer. "I guess I was always a ham. I think that if in those days there had been actresses like Barbra Streisand, you know ... [but] the idea of beauty then was Betty Grable. If you weren't blond and pert, how could you think of yourself as an actress? ... Once I got to college I didn't even continue doing plays, because it was so ingrained in me that you had to be pretty to be an actress." Betty's favorite movie stars were Myrna Loy, Norma Shearer, and Bette Davis, actresses of substance who played roles in which women were more than wives and mothers. Predictably, she loathed Shirley Temple.     During the summer, Betty went to camp. Although she was inept at any sport that required serious coordination, she loved hiking, canoe trips, and nature. Occasionally, Otty's mother took her and Amy and Otty to the North Shore Country Club, a drive of about seventeen miles from downtown on a little two-lane road. North Shore was considered the Jewish country club; anyone could join. It was smaller than the elegant Peoria Country Club, and its golf course had only nine holes. Jews were also members of Peoria's third club, the Mt. Hawley, where one's money and dedication to golf overcame the unfortunate circumstances of one's religion.     In her junior year Betty was back on the morning shift with her friends, and the crisis was over. Her social life still left a great deal to be desired, but she had come to some decisions about herself and the way the world worked. Rather than rely on a few intimate friends who might let her down, she would have many superficial friendships. And instead of pursuing popularity, she would make her mark in school activities. And perhaps, success might lead to popularity.     Central High exemplified the golden age of American public schools, with courses ranging from Latin and physics to driver safety. It offered a staggering number of extracurricular activities, and Betty plunged in. According to a partial listing in her yearbook, Crest , she was on the staff of Opinion (the school newspaper) and Tide (its magazine), and a member of Charvice (the honor society), the Junior National Honor Society, the French Club, the Cue Club, Quill and Scroll (the honor society for writers), the Social Science Club, and Jusendra (the drama club). She also participated in debates.     In all that she did she reaped honors. In Jusendra, she directed plays and also landed the part of Mrs. Rochester, the madwoman in the attic, in Jane Eyre . The highlight of her acting career, it was only a two-minute walk-on, but Betty made it memorable. She crossed the stage emitting a hideously insane laugh, scaring the audience so much that they applauded her as she exited. She won a drama award on the strength of her performance.     For Opinion , she and John (Parky) Parkhurst wrote a column, "Cabbages and Kings," about everything and nothing, and turned the paper's back page into a miscellany of utter silliness and serious editorializing on school issues. Betty also wrote book reviews and poetry, including limericks: "There was once a dumb girl called Doreen. / She hadn't a thought in her bean. / She was such a dunce / That she only smiled once. / And now she's a cinema queen."     Betty's greatest success was neither on the stage nor in the newspaper. The triumph of her senior year was the founding of Tide , Central High's first literary magazine. Tide set the pattern for many of Betty's future endeavors. It had its own raison , as all her projects would, but it also filled a void in her life. Tide brought her respect, even from people who might not have liked her; it was important, and it made her important; it was a group effort; it required creativity and hard work; and it resulted in close friendships with boys.     Betty started Tide with two girls, Evelyn Shemas and Dorothy Stimpson, editors of the senior yearbook, after her book reviews in Opinion were replaced with a letters-to-the-editor column. Opinion was largely a glorified gossip column and an endless stream of social notes; the same names, those belonging to the sorority-fraternity crowd, appeared again and again. Betty wanted to write a literary column, but the powers that be told her no one would be interested. Angry, she decided that if the school wouldn't provide a place for good writing and ideas, she would do it herself.     One of the girls' first decisions was to recruit two boys--Douglas Palmer, a new arrival at school, who had been the editor of his New Jersey school paper; and Paul Jordan, who had been Betty's partner in chemistry lab. As she characterized them, the girls were "outspoken," Paul was "conservative," and Doug was "radical." She labeled herself "unpredictable." Everyone told them it couldn't be done, but they knew better.     Tide was sixteen pages of stories and poems, Reader's Digest -size. They put it together from scratch, soliciting and editing manuscripts, negotiating with a printer, and, for publicity, writing and performing in a radio program that dramatized the story of the magazine's creation. Their main problem was raising fifty dollars to print each issue. Advertising was out of the question--it was too undignified for such a high literary endeavor. Harry Senior saved the day by suggesting that they ask local businessmen to be sponsors--and agreeing to be one of them. The magazine was an instant success. At ten cents a copy, the first printing sold out, and they had to reorder.     Betty was thrilled. Tide was "the biggest thing in my life, an idea in my head and Doug's and Paul's made concrete," she wrote. The presence of the two other girls had somehow slipped below the horizon of her consciousness. This penchant for consigning female co-workers to oblivion would persist throughout her life and cause her a great deal of trouble later. In this case, the girls who co-founded Tide were not there for the special rewards Betty received.     After meetings at Paul's house, she stayed to talk. The boys teased her, and she loved it. At other times, she and Doug talked for hours on all the great subjects--life and death, love and ambition, God and the universe. She had a crush on him, but he and Paul both had girlfriends. When they graduated, he sent her a letter of praise and friendship, intense in its sincerity, saying that he had never known a girl more brilliant, prophesying that she would never be happy, and paying her what for him must have been the highest compliment: he enjoyed her company so much he wished she were a boy.     They published four issues of Tide . There was a fifth issue in their heads, composed of pieces they had been forbidden to print, all questioning the status quo. Judging from them, it is clear that Betty's politics were already formed and that she had the makings of a muckraker. One piece was on "social diseases," another on fraternities and sororities, a third on labor relations. The fourth, "Education for the Masses," which Betty wrote, was a diatribe against the "pompous pretensions" of high school education and how the people it shapes are not taught to think, only to memorize, leaving them fit for nothing but "the numbing influence of advertising, radio and movies." They were afraid of being expelled if they published the issue. * * * Betty was not entirely satisfied with her accomplishments. She had really wanted to play the lead in Jane Eyre , not the character part, and it was galling to have come in only second in a speech contest. It was hard for her to accept anything less than first place. She was aware, however, that hers was a driven personality, that she would always be discontented and nothing would ever be enough.     At graduation, on June 9, 1938, she was one of six valedictorians. In a spoof of the class, an anonymous author imagined where they would all be twenty years hence: Doug Palmer would be "the new international dictator. He just gave the people of America, Europe and Asia 24 hours to get out.... Bettye Goldstein got her wish, too. I guess that book she wrote is pretty popular--`How to Be Popular and Why Bother'--it's all in verse, too."     In the fall Betty and Harriet Vance, also a valedictorian, took the train to Springfield, Massachusetts, and from there to Northampton and Smith College. Betty had also been admitted to Radcliffe, Stanford, and the University of Chicago; she was leaning toward Radcliffe, but there was no question of where she would go. Smith was the school that Miriam had longed for and talked about for years. Amy would follow her sister there two years later. Betty was more than ready to leave. Once on the train, she turned her back on Peoria. Copyright © 1999 Judith Hennessee. All rights reserved.