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This year marked the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, the 1963 book by Betty Friedan.

Describing the period between World War II and 1960, Friedan explains the cycle of women marrying young, having large families after moving to the suburbs, and ultimately abandoning their own ambitions.

A suburban housewife herself, Friedan began the book by asking women why they felt so stifled by the household role they carried. Friedman 1971BettyMarchbegins the book by describing ‘the problem that has no name’, the reason for the widespread unhappiness of American women in the 1960s. She goes on to explain her own decisions in conforming to the pressures of society, and states that women need meaningful work beneficial to society as a whole in order to achieve the gighest potential of self-actualization. Friedman promotes education and meaningful work as the main method to escaping the feminine mystique.

Feminism and what it means to be empowered as a woman varies on a local and global scale, and the Southern Oral History Program has been there to document the voices of women wfemininemystique1ho have defined for themselves what role they can and should play in society.

For example, Lorayne Lester was the first female Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and one of the first five women to achieve full professorship at the college. In her interview, Lester talks about the hiring of women at the University and the effects of Title IX. Lester says,

“I guess I came across as a very smarta** woman, but the workload was massive…so I will admit that I was more than once taken aback by a faculty member or department head getting absolutely irate at hearing the truth about something.”

You can find more interviews from women in leadership roles in the south by visiting the SOHP project ‘The Long Civil Rights movement: The Woman’s movement in the south here

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