Betty Naomi Goldstein Friedan was born on February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois.
While young, she was active in Marxist and radical Jewish circles. She attended Smith College, where she edited a campus newspaper and graduated with top honors in 1942.
After graduation, she spent a year at Berkeley doing graduate work in psychology, but declined a scholarship for further study, and left Berkeley to work as a journalist for leftist and union publications. She married Carl Friedan in 1947, a marriage that would last 20 years. In 1952, she was fired from UE News when she was pregnant with her second child, and for the next decade her life would shift to the role of full-time homemaker.
For her 15th college reunion, she conducted a survey of Smith College graduates, which focused on their education, their subsequent experiences, and the satisfaction with their present lives. Her article on the survey, which lamented the lost potential of her classmates and present-day women college students, was submitted to women's magazines in 1958, but editors rejected it or wanted it rewritten to a less feminist point of view. Refusing this recasting of her work, she withdrew the article and worked on expanding it into a book.
That book, published in 1963, was The Feminine Mystique. It depicted the roles of women in industrial societies, in particular the ful-time homemaker role, which Friedan saw as stifling. The book became a feminist bestseller. Friedan was invited to academic positions. Friedan's other books include The Second Stage, which she wrote under a less radical position, It Changed My Life, and The Fountain of Age.
Friedan cofounded the U.S. National Organization for Women and was its first president (1966-70). She is counted as one of the most influential feminists of the late 20th century.
Friedan died of congestive heart failure in Washington on February 5, 2006. She was 85.