Betty Friedan and the Making of "The Feminine Mystique": The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminismby Daniel Horowitz
Drawing on an impressive body of new research - including Friedan's own papers - Horowitz traces the development of Friedan's feminist outlook from her childhood in Peoria, Illinois, through her wartime years at Smith College and Berkeley, to her decade-long career as a writer for two of the period's most radical labor journals, the Federated Press and the United… See more details below
Drawing on an impressive body of new research - including Friedan's own papers - Horowitz traces the development of Friedan's feminist outlook from her childhood in Peoria, Illinois, through her wartime years at Smith College and Berkeley, to her decade-long career as a writer for two of the period's most radical labor journals, the Federated Press and the United Electrical Workers' UE News. He further shows that even after she married and began to raise a family, Friedan continued during the 1950s to write and work on behalf of a wide range of progressive social causes. By resituating Friedan within a broader cultural context, and by offering a fresh reading of The Feminine Mystique against that background, Horowitz not only overturns conventional ideas about "second-wave" feminism but also reveals long submerged links to its past.
WQ: The Wilson Quarterly
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Bettye Goldstein's childhood, youth, and adolescence in Peoria powerfully influenced her adult life. The social and personal dynamics of the Goldstein household shaped her sense of herself as a daughter, sister, Jew, intellect, and woman. The challenges she faced in school sharpened her eye, intensified her interest in books, honed her writing, and started to awaken her awareness of herself as a woman. The backdrop of her adolescence--a series of events in Peoria, the nation, and Europe--highlighted issues of union organizing, anti-Semitism, and anti-fascism on which she would draw later when she fully engaged with politics.
Born February 4, 1921, in Peoria's Proctor Hospital, Bettye Naomi Goldstein spent the first seventeen-and-a-half years of her life in Illinois's second largest city. During the 1920s, the city's population boomed, growing from 76,121 in 1920 to 104,969 ten years later. Located on the Illinois River, one hundred and seventy miles southwest of Chicago, Peoria was a transportation and manufacturing center, with its railroad stations and port connecting Chicago with the Mississippi River and eventually with the Gulf of Mexico. The local factories processed meat and produced cordage, washing machines, barrels, and agricultural machinery. Distilleries turned corn grown on midwestern farms into liquor, making the city the nation's largest producer of spirits. Whatever boost to the local economy came with the end of Prohibition in 1933 was tempered by the dramatic drop in sales experienced in the 1930s by Caterpillar Tractor Company, the farm equipmentmanufacturer whose world headquarters were in Peoria.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Peoria had a varied population and an unsavory reputation. Among its inhabitants were Germans whose ancestors began to arrive in significant numbers in the 1840s, enough Jews to support two synagogues with several hundred families in each, and a sufficient number of Roman Catholics to sponsor one cathedral and more than half-a-dozen churches. Many of the city's inhabitants had moved off midwestern farms to find jobs in the city. African Americans accounted for about 3 percent of the population. In many ways, Peoria was a southern city, one where racial segregation and racism ruled. Although it had a varied cultural life, in these years Peoria was known as a raw and wide-open town. A corrupt political boss controlled a machine that, profiting from organized gambling and prostitution, thwarted any attempt to clean up local government. During World War II, Billy Rose wrote a popular song, "I Wish't I Was in Peoria," that pictured it as a backward, frontier town. "Except for Brooklyn," a reporter later noted, "no community in the United States has been slandered so elaborately as Peoria." Comedians had "vulgarized" the Illinois city, the reporter observed, "as the symbol of the rube and the boob," making its name "the companion word for `hayseed.'" In 1978 Friedan recalled that admitting she was from Peoria "used to embarrass" her. "It was a vaudeville joke," she remarked, "the epitome of the hick town."
Bettye's father, Harry Goldstein (1881-1943), had immigrated to the United States from near Kiev, and as an adult spoke English with an accent. He arrived in Peoria in his teens, soon earning a living by selling collar buttons from a street-corner stand. Over time, like many Jewish merchants of his generation, he was quite successful, rising to run Goldstein Jewelry Company, a store that sold gems, silver, and china. In 1918, with boastful aspiration it advertised itself as the "Finest Jewelry Store in the Middle West," and a family member later described it as "the Tiffany's of Peoria."
Bettye's mother, Miriam Horwitz Goldstein (1898-1988), eighteen years younger than her husband, was the daughter of immigrants from Hungary. Her father had come to St. Louis as a young rabbinical student and went on to graduate from medical school. He eventually settled in Peoria, where, after returning from World War I, he served as the city's public health commissioner. Bettye's mother graduated from Peoria's Bradley College. The earlier arrival and success of Bettye's maternal grandparents meant that her mother was from a higher social position than her father. When Bettye's parents married shortly after the end of World War I, her mother was writing for the society page of a Peoria newspaper, a position Harry Goldstein insisted his wife quit so she could run the household. She raised a family that eventually included Bettye and her two younger siblings, Amy and Harry Jr. She participated in community affairs and helped her husband at the store during busy seasons. Although the family's relative affluence enabled Miriam Goldstein to have considerable leisure, her frequent absence from the store, which separated her from the locus of money and power, weakened her authority in the family.
When Bettye was growing up, the Goldsteins lived in a section of the city known as the Bluffs. From there, a contemporary guidebook noted, "residential Peoria commands a view of the clustered business district, the serrated line of mills and factories along the curving river, and, far beyond the industrial suburbs, the checkered farm fields." The family occupied a well-appointed, comfortable, eight-room house on Farmington Road, not far from Bradley College. The Goldstein house was not in one of the fanciest sections of the Bluffs, though one such area, complete with enormous Victorian mansions, was about ten blocks away. At the time, their house was suitable for a middle-class family with more aspirations than resources. It was fully detached from neighboring houses, but there was only enough room between houses to allow a car to pass to the garage in the back yard. The brick exterior of the residence was more solid and plain than graceful or decorative, with porches its most prominent feature. When Bettye was still in grade school, her parents came close to purchasing a larger and fancier residence, something the Depression prevented them from doing. What the house on Farmington Road lacked in grandeur or land was offset by its location overlooking Bradley Park, an area of more than three hundred acres that included a pavilion, a bandstand, a pergola, playgrounds, a lake, an ice skating rink, tennis courts, and Japanese gardens.
The Goldsteins experienced both the privileges and tensions of Jews whose relative prosperity in the 1920s was shaken by the Depression of the next decade. The family belonged to the financially troubled North Shore Country Club, but as Jews could not join the more restrictive, prestigious, and financially healthy Peoria Country Club. In the 1920s, a maid cleaned the house, a nurse took care of the children when they were young, and on special occasions a man served as chauffeur and butler. During the summers, Miriam Goldstein took the children north to Wisconsin or Minnesota for vacations while her husband stayed behind to work at the store. One spring she took Bettye to Chicago to see plays. At home in Peoria, as the maid waited on the table, Bettye's father orchestrated dinner conversations. He made it clear that he expected the children, but especially Bettye, to respond thoughtfully to his challenging inquiries about politics or the latest among the many books he had read. "The serious questions about what was going on in the world would always be directed at Betty and the frivolous ones at me," her sister Amy later recalled with a jealousy that from her childhood on marked her relationship with her sister. Amy hated the way Bettye "dripped with hostility toward what she called `my feminine wiles.'"
The family belonged to Anshai Emeth Temple, a Reform congregation founded in the 1850s by German Jews, some of whom made fortunes in manufacturing, distilling, and retailing. Bettye's grandfather, mother, and father were active in the temple. A week before her confirmation in the ninth grade, Bettye told the rabbi that she did not believe in God; he responded by asking her to keep her news secret until after the ceremony. Her father admired Robert G. Ingersoll, the nationally famous agnostic who lived much of his adult life in Peoria. The decisions of Bettye's parents to go against traditional Jewish practices by naming their son after his father, by celebrating Christmas, and by joining a Reform temple rather than a less assimilationist synagogue were unusual for an immigrant like Harry Goldstein. These preferences stemmed from the skepticism of Bettye's father and the social aspirations of her mother, something underscored by her writing for the society page of the local newspaper. The family's choices about its identity also reflected the increasing secularization and acculturation of American Jews, especially outside major cities. Young Bettye's confession to her rabbi, not at all atypical for someone her age, nonetheless testified to her rebelliousness and her identity as a Jew in a cultural rather than a religious sense.
Despite social pretense and aspirations, life in the Goldstein household was tumultuous. Bettye herself was given to angry outbursts, at times acting out violently. She hit a boy on the head with a hoe and tore a patch of hair from the head of a girl. Another time, a book she threw at her sister hit its target with such force that Amy had to have stitches. In 1938, a high school friend told Bettye that she was "capable of burning jealousy and strong dislikes." "Betty chased me, threw a book," Harry Jr. remembered. "She was screaming and she scared the hell out of me! Betty was volatile; she had a short fuse and could get wild when she lost her temper." Moreover, Bettye was not the only person in the house given to angry outbursts. She recalled being offended by the "phoniness" that stemmed from the contradiction between her mother's charming, even unctuous public manner and her anger in private. After Miriam Goldstein got off the phone with a friend she had just called "my dear sweet darling," she would then label her "that bitch." Mother and daughter fought, principally over whether Bettye would give in to the demands of her well-dressed, handsome, refined, and charming mother that she pay attention to her grooming and clean up her room as well. "When I grow up," Bettye stated emphatically, in a way that revealed her sense of class aspirations and entitlement, "I'm going to be rich so I can hire somebody to clean the room."
More protracted and serious fights between Bettye's mother and father focused most often on money, as Miriam Goldstein's yearning for a fashionable life outran her husband's ability to provide for it during the Depression. With jewelry store sales adversely affected by the dramatic economic downturn, the family had to lay off the maid and the chauffeur/butler. Unable to stop buying on credit, Miriam Goldstein hid the bills she ran up and then compounded the debt by gambling secretly and unsuccessfully. When she told her husband what she had done, the ensuing battles "shook our house at night," recalls Friedan. Young Goldstein claimed her parents' arguments provided her initial knowledge of how the economy worked. The word Depression reminded her of how she awakened at night to her parents' bitter arguments over money. Burdened by debts, her father nonetheless hoped that an improved economy would bring more customers into the store. Bettye was more realistic. She knew his dreams would be undermined by expenses, some of them unavoidable. For example, his heart condition required that he travel during the winter to a warmer climate.
Her mother's temper bothered and confused young Bettye. To outside observers, Miriam Goldstein led a charmed life. People found her attractive and well dressed. They "turned around to look at her in the street," her daughter Amy remarked. Someone who prided herself on her grooming, Miriam Goldstein "was a fashion leader and people imitated her." She engaged in the round of activities typical of a person of her position: she taught Sunday school at the temple; participated in two Jewish women's groups, Sisterhood and Hadassah; volunteered for the local Community Chest; and had the leisure to play bridge, mah-jongg, and golf, as well as ride horseback. Yet Bettye puzzled over why a woman who was so fortunate was also so angry. Nothing Bettye could do satisfied her.
In contrast with how Miriam Goldstein viewed Amy, whom she considered pretty, she felt Bettye was her unattractive daughter. As a young girl, Bettye's adorable face, with large brown eyes that peered out from heavy lids, and her short "roundly filled little frame" would have made her attractive to a more loving mother. Yet Miriam Goldstein focused on the prominence of her daughter's nose, increasingly apparent during adolescence, which demonstrated that Bettye had inherited what she considered one of her husband's worst features. Although peers considered her appealing as a teenager, a reporter later noted that Bettye "wasn't an attractive girl--her long nose had already drawn the crude comments of the boys in school." Miriam belittled Bettye's appearance and ridiculed the way she dressed. If only her daughter was less unkempt, Miriam insisted, she would be more attractive. Hoping to launch her daughter as a lady, Miriam believed it was improper for her to appear, as a biographer commented, "trudging up Main Street Hill, lopsided and clumsily burdened" by the books she carried home from the library. Bettye felt her mother's constant criticism undermined her own sense of confidence.
The social differences that divided her parents intensified their fights and placed young Bettye in a difficult position. Miriam Goldstein's immigrant husband, who lacked formal education, embarrassed her, something she made clear as she ordered him around. He let loose his temper, especially when his wife tried to discuss her financial troubles with him. Although eventually she came to see her father in more problematic light, Bettye apparently sided with her father, partly because he expressed so much pride in her. She remembered the pleasure of early morning walks with her father through the park. She recalled the geniality of someone who loved his family and earned the respect of people in the community. Friedan later noted that her father conveyed to her "the dreams that circumstances did not let him realize himself."
Over time Friedan came to understand the relationship between her mother's situation and her own interest in women's issues. Her own feminism, she wrote in 1981, "somehow began in my mother's discontent" over being forced to quit her job when she married. Her mother's anger at her economic dependence on her husband, Friedan remarked with retrospective insight shaped by therapy and the women's movement, taught her that she had to earn her own living. Elsewhere, she talked about how she eventually saw her mother as someone with "a typical female disorder," characterized by "impotent rage," who often demeaned her husband because she had too much power inside the household and too little outside. Her mother's turn from professional career to housewife and mother forced her to channel her frustrations into an emphasis on her children's success. Once Bettye was in junior high school, Mrs. Goldstein pressured her into fulfilling her own unrealized ambitions, especially in journalism. Meanwhile, her mother's gastrointestinal disorder, colitis, made it necessary for her to stay in bed for extended periods of time, experiencing great pain that only abated when her husband's heart disease and, later, death made it necessary for her to run the store.
From the outset, medical problems plagued young Bettye. Unhealthy as an infant, neither her parents nor her doctors thought she would live very long. Even though she confounded their expectations, health problems continued. During the first winters of her life, she battled respiratory illness. For three years as a very young child, she wore braces to straighten her legs. When her teeth came in badly, she had braces on them as well. At age eleven, she began to use eyeglasses. These experiences made her feel that fate meant she was both unhealthy and unattractive. The writer Amy Stone wrote in 1976 that Goldstein "grew up with the triple burden of being intelligent, unattractive and Jewish."
There were, however, moments of social pleasure. As a child, Bettye participated with friends in a round of games and parties. They dressed up in their mothers' clothes and then pretended they were movie stars, royalty, or socialites. They acted as detectives who solved mysteries by exploring forbidden places and leaving secret messages. They joined the Girl Scouts. As a teenager, she attended dancing school with boys and girls, and played kissing games called Post Office or Hide-in-the-Dark. She and her friends went to roller-skating, movie, and dance parties. They played golf and bridge. In the summers they picnicked, swam, and played tennis at the country club. At overnight camp, she went horseback riding and canoeing.
Yet Bettye recalled her sense of herself during her childhood as odd, terribly unhappy, and painfully alone. She would sit in a cemetery for hours, crying and composing poems as she daydreamed about having a boyfriend and being an actress. "Those were ... such ... painful ... painful years," she remarked in 1970, pausing for emphasis. On the rare occasions that she dated, the boys she went out with were ones she could never develop an interest in. Like her, they were marginal, "rejects, misfits." So, when members of the congregation were saying the S'chma, a particularly important invocation, she would silently pray that a boy would come along who would like her.
To battle the sense of isolation she felt, Bettye Goldstein performed in school plays, gave public speeches, experienced nature, wrote for the school paper, composed poems, and read books--especially fantasy novels that told of the adventures of children in England. Indeed, she was such a voracious reader that her friends called her "Bookworm." She was, a high school friend remembered, a "hard-working, brainy, free-thinker and fledgling writer." Another friend mentioned how Bettye "could talk your leg off on any subject." She impressed her younger brother as "the most brilliant person I've known in my life," someone whose brain, upon examination after her death, would be "bigger than Lenin's." The fact that she preferred reading books to playing with dolls worried her parents. "Five books at a time is enough!" her father insisted. "It doesn't look nice for a girl to be so bookish." Thinking something was wrong, her parents took Bettye to a therapist. Despite the reassurance they received, her father limited the number of books Bettye could borrow from the library at any one time in order to encourage her to develop more facets of her personality Precocious, she skipped a grade in elementary school. Successful as a student, she would graduate as one of the high school valedictorians. Inspired by the accomplishments of the French Nobel laureate Marie Curie, she dreamed of pursuing a career in science. Yet one teacher told her she could not fully realize her ambition, cautioning her to plan on being a lab technician, nurse, or receptionist. When Bettye led her friends in the Baddy Baddy Club in acting out by chewing gum loudly or coughing violently, the principal took her aside. "You've got a talent for leadership, Betty, but why do you use it to do harm? I hope you find a way to use it wisely."
"When you're a Jewish girl who grows up on the right side of the tracks in the Midwest, you're marginal," Friedan commented much later. "You're IN, but you're not, and you grow up an observer." Cut off from the greater number of poor Jews, the members of her family were also excluded from the groups to which their social position and ownership of a fancy store gave them some access. Referring to the common phenomenon of five o'clock friends, Mr. Goldstein told Bettye that socially prominent Christians would simply not talk to him after business hours. Her experience as a Jew in Peoria intensified her sense of herself as an observer, a writer, and someone passionately committed to fighting to improve social conditions. Thus, she noted in 1976 that her "passion against injustice ... originated from my feelings of the injustice of anti-Semitism."
Her adolescent trials came to a head in her sophomore year, when her female peers marked her marginality by turning down her bid for membership in a sorority at Peoria High School because she was a Jew. Until adolescence, social groupings had been fluid; as often happens, in their teen years her peers became more exclusive, but in this instance their action involved an animus against Jews. Their decision, she later wrote, was part of a pattern of "covert anti-Semitism" in Peoria. Even her mother, she remarked in 1988, was a Jewish anti-Semite. Here Friedan referred to the way some parents told their children not to be too Jewish or not to dwell on evidence of anti-Semitism, something that made it impossible for mother to explain to daughter why the sorority rejected her. This rejection was painful for Bettye, keeping her away from the social world her peers enjoyed. "Believe me," she later remarked, "I would have rather been eating hamburgers at the burger place with the other boys and girls than reading poetry and looking at tombstones." For the first time she was made acutely aware of what it meant to be subject to exclusion as a Jew.
The pleasure she took in writing poetry and reading books was not sufficient compensation for the lack of close relationships with siblings or friends. The shifting tides of friendship groups, the rejection by the sorority, and the fact that older boys paid attention to her female peers, but not to her, upset young Bettye. In 1938, with a seventeen-year-old's flair for the dramatic, she labeled her condition "an inferiority complex" that made her feel like "a social outcast [who] plumbed the depths of misery." She worried that because she was not sexy, she would never marry. Like some other girls in her situation, at times she hid her brightness, hoping that would make her more popular.
Rejection and exclusion because she was a Jew presented a teen-age Bettye with a confusing situation. As a member of an assimilating, midwestern Jewish family, she had learned not to be too Jewish, to have some sense of the problematic and even embarrassing nature of her identity as a Jew, and to confine her Jewishness to home and the temple. "You didn't talk about it," her sister later remarked about anti-Semitism. "You had to act as if it didn't bother you and since nobody was there to say there was something wrong with these other people, you thought: `There's something wrong with me because they don't want me.'" The sorority's rejection of Bettye stripped away the social pretense of assimilation even as it underscored the contradictions between her social privilege as someone from a well-to-do family and the limits her identity as a Jew imposed.
In her two last years of high school, the isolation and sense of rejection eased considerably as Bettye, determined to be accepted, became more outgoing and lively. She held court among friends gathered at her home. She won a prize for a school essay on how the Constitution protected democracy. She recited Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at a Memorial Day celebration, after which U.S. Representative Everett Dirksen patted her on the head. She worked on the high school newspaper, one of the few activities that pleased her mother. She wrote book reviews and had her own feature under the heading "Cabbages and Kings." When the student editors turned down Goldstein's plans for a column, she and several friends launched a literary magazine they named Tide. As a senior, she won an award for acting as the madwoman in a high school production of Jane Eyre. "She was locked up and kept out of sight upstairs in the manor for all but one memorable scene when she appeared, [and] laughed maniacally," a high school friend later noted. Friedan herself evoked the image of the mad woman writer in the attic as representative of the conditions under which she wrote The Feminine Mystique. As two literary critics point out, Jane Eyre focuses on "confinement" and "rage even to madness," with its heroine becoming "the emblem of a passionate, barely disguised rebelliousness."
Bettye's years in high school came at a time when Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal triumphed and then stalled, fascism was surging in Europe, and social conflict made a marked appearance in Peoria. Pushed to the left by populist challenges, in the spring and summer of 1935, just before Goldstein's sophomore year in high school, Roosevelt offered the second New Deal. The results were impressive. The National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining, the Social Security Act lay the ground for modern America's social welfare system, the Works Progress Administration placed relief workers on the federal payroll, and tax legislation contained what conservatives called "soak-the-rich" provisions. In late 1936 and early 1937, rank-and-file workers in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) led the effort for union recognition. In 1937, unions called almost five thousand strikes, gaining victories in the vast proportion of them. Yet, after Roosevelt's triumph in the 1936 election and throughout most of Goldstein's junior and senior years in high school, the New Deal seemed over, cut short by FDR's attempt to pack the Supreme Court and by the recession of 1937-38. As Alan Brinkley has shown, what ensued was a rethinking of the meaning of liberalism. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, New Dealers moved in a more conservative direction--they were less hostile to corporations and more skeptical of government capacity to reshape capitalism. Events abroad were also disturbing. In the spring of Bettye's sophomore year, Italy completed the annexation of Ethiopia, and the Spanish Civil War broke out the following summer. In the fall of her junior year, Hitler and Mussolini formed the Berlin-Rome axis, and in the spring of her senior year Hitler annexed Austria.
At the same time Father Charles Coughlin, the Detroit-based radio priest, intensified his virulent anti-Semitism. Between 1933 and 1939, writes the historian Leonard Dinnerstein, "an explosion of unprecedented antisemitic fervor" permeated cities and towns across the nation. Respectable community leaders, fundamentalist Protestants, Roman Catholics stirred by Father Coughlin, and native-born fascists insisted the United States was a Christian nation. Many of them envisioned a worldwide Jewish conspiracy--sometimes of bankers and at others of Communists--that was responsible for America's economic crisis. In response, Dinnerstein has written, many American Jews turned on their heritage, tried to hide their immigrant origins, and "suffered silently or bewailed their fate."
Studies of anti-Semitism in the 1930s in Indianapolis and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, urban areas larger but in many ways comparable to Peoria, underscore the pervasiveness of attacks on Jews. In Minneapolis, anti-Semites, especially active between 1936 and 1938, tried to organize boycotts against Jewish businesses; painted swastikas on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues; and attacked Jewish youths. Protestant ministers and members of organized hate groups drew connections between radicalism, Communism, Jews, the CIO, and the New Deal. The Christian Front and Father Coughlin had a local following, especially among low- and moderate-income Roman Catholics, Lutherans, blue-collar workers, and the unemployed. As a result of all of this, the entire Jewish community felt threatened. The situation in Indianapolis seemed less ominous, though the author of an authoritative study has stated that "the difference between anti-Semitism in Minneapolis and in Indianapolis was a matter of degree." Leaders of the Jewish community in the Indiana capital used a number of strategies to counter the rise of anti-Semitism, including efforts to disassociate Jews from radical politics. They hoped this would cut the links anti-Semites made between Bolshevism and Jews. Though it is hard to determine the extent of anti-Semitism in Peoria, some things are sure. The Ku Klux Klan was active in the city in the 1920s. In the interwar years, Peoria was in the orbit of Chicago, a city where a number of important anti-Semitic organizations had their headquarters. Moreover, Peoria had an explosive mixture of people that had produced vicious outbursts in other urban centers: Jewish merchants, as well as Protestants who had migrated from farms and small towns, German-Americans, and Catholics.
Peoria also had a history of conflict between workers and corporations, which erupted with considerable force during Goldstein's last two years in high school. Reactionaries in the city made the absurd claim that there were fifteen thousand Communists. In the summer between Bettye's junior and senior years, the Peoria Journal-Transcript discharged three members of the Newspaper Guild and then reinstated two of them a month later. Industrial conflict was especially dramatic in April 1937, which was the spring of her senior year. Organizers from the national offices of the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) mobilized workers. Corporations responded by shutting down their operations and encouraging workers sympathetic to the corporate position to form company unions.
Conflict between corporations and workers commanded the attention of politically active high school students. For example, the unpublished issue of Tide contained an article on unions which Goldstein and her co-editors feared reactionary businessmen would have opposed. In Goldstein's junior year, a student writer described the sit-down strikes at General Motors factories in the Midwest as a struggle between property rights and human rights. Two weeks later, with the strike settled, another student wrote sympathetically of the CIO's activism. One of Goldstein's fellow students picked as the nation's most noteworthy news event the story of an April 1937 strike at the local Caterpillar factory. It was a dramatic moment: a two-day strike, a mass meeting of over five thousand workers, and an agreement between the CIO and company officials. "The C.I.O.," a student noted in an article right next to a column Goldstein wrote, "had demanded recognition and got it." A week later, another student had a hard time deciding which of two events was more important: the Supreme Court's validation of the Wagner Act, or the denunciation by the Canadian premier of the arrival of the CIO in his country as an invasion of "foreign agitators and the chaos created by them in the United States."
Students in Goldstein's circle were well aware of national and international affairs, which the high school newspaper regularly tracked. In Bettye's junior year, the editors made clear their opposition to the fascist takeover of Spain. In the winter of her senior year, between the time when the United States reaffirmed its neutrality and Nazi Germany annexed Austria, she and her peers listened to a debate between an anti-war retired Marine officer and a corporal who was sympathetic to American intervention. The ensuing editorial in the school newspaper, for which Bettye wrote features, warned that war was not so far away that it could be ignored. "Now is the time to THINK about it," the author stated, "before it becomes necessary to DO something about it." A month later, two students debated the issue of America entering the war in the pages of Tide. One of Bettye's best friends argued against a referendum on the war. In contrast, another student supported a national vote, in order to "save America from war profiteers and from the `inevitable war' that may cost millions of lives and billions of dollars." Politically conscious students at Peoria High School also paid attention to right-wing movements in the United States. In April 1938 a student writing in Tide warned of the danger of the anti-Semitism and false nationalism of the Black Legion, the Ku Klux Klan, and especially the German-American Bund.
It is likely that in the conversations Goldstein's father directed, her family discussed current affairs, including the rights of unions to organize and the rise of Nazi anti-Semitism. Goldstein's high school writings, composed with wit, style, and imagination, reveal her as an adolescent with a wide range of interests, whose awareness of contemporary issues was greater than her commitment to engaging them fully or passionately. The adolescent nature of her concerns is illustrated by her fascination with the social drama of high school life. She displayed a keen eye for the rituals, fads, and codes that defined student life. Writing of her vacation in her junior year, she captured "the glamour of a Christmas Eve spent dancing in the midst of lovely beings clad in silks and satins and velvets, in formal black and white." She wrote lyrically of students enjoying themselves as they participated in winter sports. She evoked the intense feelings students experienced while working on a school play.
In a series of articles she wrote with a classmate, Goldstein revealed an interest in high school politics typical of student journalists. Writing self-consciously, she and John Parkhurst portrayed themselves as trouble makers on issues concerning students' social lives. They called on students to participate more fully in school affairs. They pressed their peers to reform student politics unless they wished to give in to "a too thoughtless acceptance of the luxury of self-government." They urged the school to recognize the "fledgling orator or the harassed editor" as much as it did the football hero. Reflecting their commitment to traditional values, they asked those who wanted to uphold the school's reputation to criticize students guilty of "an appalling lack of good taste and good breeding" when they misbehaved in a school theater audience.
Despite her preoccupation with school life, Bettye's eyes were also on momentous local, national, and international events. She was aware of the Spanish Civil War. In a paper she wrote in her senior year, she gave evidence of her awareness of the tumultuous happenings in Europe, especially the rise of dictatorial governments. She asked herself if what transpired in Europe could happen in America, but remained convinced that the U.S. Constitution protected the nation's future. Despite the thinness of direct evidence, she was certainly aware of the rising Nazi anti-Semitism in Europe and the virulent American anti-Semitism as forces that had implications well beyond her membership in a sorority and her family's social position. Someone who grew up in a situation remarkably similar to hers has recalled that, as a girl in high school in Omaha in the late 1930s, she learned of anti-Semitism by listening to radio reports of what was happening under Hitler's rule.
Goldstein showed an early interest in anti-fascism in the first of a series of book reviews, written in the fall of her junior year just before Roosevelt's reelection. Responding to Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (1935), a widely read novel about the coming of a dictatorship to the United States, she cited the novelist's allusions to Governor Huey Long of Louisiana and Father Coughlin. She warned of a "spirit of unrest" in the contemporary world that came from "war scares, depression, rearmament, mob hysteria." Lewis's book, she wrote, would cause readers to pause. "It surely `can't happen here' and yet--" she remarked inconclusively, even as she resumed her discussion of the danger of dictatorships.
In Bettye's own contribution to the unpublished issue of Tide, "Education for the Masses," she mixed elitism and sharp criticism in the most outspoken statement of her high school years. She mocked Americans for their boastfulness about democracy, equality, and material comforts. Again and again, she stressed the gap between the nation's aspirations and reality. She criticized public schools for the sterility of the education they offered, which she saw in their focus on memorizing, their hostility to culture and creativity, the drabness of the buildings, and the provincialism of the teachers. From grade school through college, she argued, American students attended a series of institutions, each of them having the characteristics of an industrial plant designed to teach marketable skills rather than awaken intellectual curiosity. For her, neither college nor graduate school seemed appealing. At one, social skills were paramount, and at the other, people researched specialized and irrelevant topics. It was not formal education, Goldstein argued, but the mass media that really shaped what American youth dreamed, believed, and wore.
This edition of Tide that never appeared gives additional evidence of what shaped Bettye's political consciousness. Fearing suppression of their free speech by the high school administration, Goldstein and her peers backed off from putting into print an issue that included several controversial pieces. Harry Goldstein had stopped his wife's writing career altogether; this was the first of many times that his daughter Bettye would face difficulty in turning her ideas, especially controversial ones, into published words.
As a teenager, Goldstein also explored relationships among people from divergent social groups. The most direct experience she had along these lines came through a summer job in a settlement house in Peoria, located a mile south of her father's store. The work most certainly sharpened her impression of social conditions during the Depression. In December of her junior year, she made clear her sensitivity to the travails of a cross-class romance in contemporary America, writing in a book review about aristocratic parents who vigorously objected when their son fell in love with and married a girl from humble origins. In December of her senior year, imagining what classmates would see when they returned to Peoria High School in the distant future, she explored the diverse fates those around her might face. The cast of characters in this drama of return included a married couple on the verge of divorce, hoboes, prisoners, and members of the country club set.
There is also some evidence of Bettye's awareness during her last years in high school of conflict between workers and capitalists. In her column for the school newspaper, Bettye castigated boys who with a "childish spirit" would "imitate factory workers" by staging "`sit-down' strikes on girls' front porches. ... Now," she remarked humorously, "somebody ought to imitate the militia." While still in high school, she drafted an outline for a play about a strike at a mill, in which, after the bosses ignored the pickets, scabs and pickets fought, prompting the police to enter the fray.
Yet neither the anti-Semitism she and her family experienced nor the rise of Naziism in Germany seemed to sensitize her to broader issues of race. Like others she knew, Bettye implicitly accepted racial segregation as a given. Her high school class had only one black member. She most frequently encountered African Americans as people who did work that eased the burdens of white, middle-class life. Consequently, she was surely unaware of the implications of her remarks in a review of a book by a white woman who served as a missionary doctor in Africa for three years. Young Goldstein, then a fifteen-year-old high school junior, wrote of the author's "entertaining" discussion of "barbarous" but "childlike and lovable" people with "savage rituals and primitive superstitions!" When they encountered Europeans, she noted, Africans gladly gave up their traditions in exchange for mass media and consumer goods.
Despite her early insensitivity to racial issues, at moments during her high school years, Bettye Goldstein displayed consciousness of the choices women faced. In a sketch, she compared two female students--Bea Grasshopper and Ada Ant. Here she relied on one of Aesop's fables that contrasted a grasshopper whose carefree attitude prevented it from preparing for the future, with an ant who worked hard to make provisions for the unexpected. Bea Grasshopper "sauntered" into class, sexily walked to her seat, and sat down. She then spent five minutes putting on her make-up, after which she flirtatiously looked at Professor Glucose and offered to sew on a button for him. Next to her sat Ada Ant, Bettye's alter ego, who approached her academic tasks with intelligence, hard work, and a touch of sarcasm. The professor, Goldstein noted, scoffed at girls who were intellectually assertive. Ada got an A in the class and ended up as a secretary to a renowned researcher. Bea married her professor, and her admiration for him so enhanced his own self-esteem that he received a series of promotions, eventually gaining membership in President Roosevelt's Brain Trust. Bea "had the feminine touch!" Goldstein concluded wryly, describing a style that combined sex appeal and assertiveness in the cause of finding a prosperous husband who would support her comfortably as a homemaker.
This satire reveals Goldstein's early sensitivity to issues in women's lives. It expresses her ambivalence about intellectual assertiveness and about her pretty and sexy peers who, like her sister, were objects of both her dislike and emulation. It makes clear her keen awareness of two alternate paths women faced. Neither of her two stock characters got very far along the road toward individual achievement. While Bea used sex appeal, domesticity, and adulation to enable her husband to achieve considerable professional power, she gained a position of only vicarious achievement. Ada's intelligence, diligence, and lack of sex appeal landed her in a respectable career, but it was one with limited horizons. Unavailable to either woman--as it had been to Bettye's mother--was the opportunity to combine marriage and career.
Labor-capital conflict in Peoria and major events in America and Europe gave Goldstein knowledge on which she would build in college and afterwards. Yet it would be a mistake to exaggerate the direct and conscious impact of political events on Bettye during her Peoria years. Though she was aware of key social and political issues, they hardly engaged her in any sustained or deep way. Her desire to enter the mainstream of student life, her class allegiance and aspirations, and her longing for a boyfriend all conflicted with her spirited rebelliousness. The craft of writing commanded her attention more than the passion of particular positions. As an adolescent girl, Goldstein was most concerned with personal relationships, identity, and her future. Nowhere is this clearer than in an autobiographical essay she wrote as a class assignment in the spring of her senior year in high school. Whether trying to make things seem better or reflecting how she actually felt, she made clear that she had derived a good deal of pleasure from her youth in a well-to-do house, her accomplishments, her love of books, her acting roles in plays, and her friendships with boys and girls. She admitted that she regretted never having fallen in love with a boy. She acknowledged that some of the boys she most admired treated her more like a sister than a girlfriend. She counted as her friends Jews (including two of her closest friends, who apparently were German Jews) and Gentiles. Though she emphasized its significance, she tended to minimize the impact of her rejection by the sorority. Yet she was quite aware that her route to success in high school came not through popularity but by achievement in activities. In addition, she acknowledged how much her own situation improved in her junior year, especially as she worked on the high school newspaper and then started a literary magazine. "My whole personality changed," she recalled, "I stopped being so miserably self-conscious."
As biographer Justine Blau has noted, Bettye's essay about her life shows that when she was accepted and getting her way, "her gregarious nature came to the fore." Indeed, Bettye bragged about her skills as a leader and organizer, someone able to compel others to act. In contrast, Blau continues, Goldstein felt "bitterness and insecurity ... when her childhood friends no longer stayed in the tightly knit group she preferred."
Though she had already developed an interest in psychology, in the essay Bettye defined herself as a writer and a lover of beauty. Had she the manual dexterity necessary to get through medical school, she wrote, she would have become a psychiatrist so that she could understand herself. Indeed, a few weeks before, she had told a reporter for the high school paper that "to be a writer is second only to her ambition to become a psychiatrist." Regardless of what she did, however, she wanted eventually to write; first, she proclaimed, she had to live. Though she noted that her views shocked others, she put her politics second to her love of beauty, whose emotional power she reported finding in nature, classical music, and literature. It was a testament to her ambition that before she left Peoria she sent off an article about Tide to Quill and Scroll, the national high school journalism magazine, which it published in late 1938. At some level, in trying to reach a national audience, she made clear how ambitious she was to develop a reputation beyond Peoria.
She resolved that when she grew up, things would be different from what she had known in Peoria. "If they don't like me," she wrote of her high school friends, "some day they'll learn to respect me." Foreshadowing her later desire to combine marriage and career, she said she wanted love from a man, a family, and a career. Revealing her longing for what she understood as a normal heterosexual relationship, she remarked that "I want to fall in love and be loved and be needed by someone. I want to have children." Yet she made clear that she wanted a marriage different from that of her parents. Her relationship with her mother made her resolve not to repeat what she saw as her mother's mistakes. As the daughter of an immigrant father and a second-generation mother, Bettye, though aware of social boundaries, had higher expectations of inclusion and achievement than even her assimilated mother. The man Bettye married had to be smarter than she, and someone who shared her interests. She did not want to focus solely on domestic responsibilities. She asserted, "I don't want to marry a man and keep house for him and be the mother of his children and nothing else."
In 1938, her close friend Doug Palmer described her as "inordinately ambitious," someone who would "strive ... to reach the top of the world." Bettye herself echoed this. "I want to do something with my life--to have an absorbing interest." With an adolescent flourish that also revealed the extent of her ambitions, she remarked, "I want success and fame."
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