Betty Friedan, the outspoken advocate for women's rights who died Feb. 3 in her Washington, D.C., home, was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Institute for Women and Work at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations from 1998 until her death at the age of 85.
The author of "The Feminine Mystique," the 1963 book that galvanized generations of women to seek more meaningful working lives, Friedan was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women in 1966.
When she began her Cornell association, President Hunter Rawlings said of her: "Betty Friedan redefined the place of American women in society."
Francine Moccio, director of the Institute for Women and Work and a colleague and friend of Friedan's who attended her funeral service in New York City Feb. 6, observed: "Betty's underlying burning desire was to right wrongs where they existed, redress inequalities, challenge oppressive authority and change the world for the better -- a tall order for a short woman (she was only 5 feet tall) who is now and will always remain larger than life."
Moccio also maintained that a visit Friedan made to Cornell in the early 1970s led to the university offering one of the first women's studies courses in the United States.
In an exclusive interview published in the Dec. 1, 1998, issue of the Cornell Chronicle, Friedan credited the women's movement with playing a transformative role in American society and stated: "I feel very lucky and almost awed to have been part of it. If we look back -- although who has time? -- we have to realize that we have changed the way women look at themselves and the way society looks at women, and that's been all to the good. Women's lives are no longer defined solely by marriage and children. These may be important to them, but they may only be part of the picture. Women now have choices."
She also said it gratified her to see women working in every profession and legislation in place prohibiting gender discrimination in the workplace. But she maintained more was needed at the policy level to allow men and women to manage work and raising families.
At the school's Institute for Women and Work, Friedan was director of "New Paradigm: Women, Men, Work, Family and Public Policy." In that role she developed a series of seminars and symposiums on critical workplace issues, in Washington, D.C., New York City and Bellagio, Italy, with support from a $1 million Ford Foundation grant. "She worked on her vision of transforming feminist ideals and strategies into addressing broader societal issues for both women and men, especially workplace rights and universal child care," said Moccio.
Friedan also was a guest lecturer in the course "The New Paradigm: The Changing American Workplace and Family Life," which she co-taught with Moccio at the ILR School's Cornell in Washington program. The course gave students an interdisciplinary look at such issues as the gender gap in wages and such workplace trends as privatization and downsizing.