Early Years - Peoria High School
Betty Friedan said her childhood was happy. She enjoyed sledding on the hills at Bradley Park, hiking and riding her bike. She had child roles in Peoria Players productions and loved “make-up” games, she and her friends taking on the personas of girl detectives out to solve mysteries. She also loved school.
Bettye, as she spelled her name then, skipped a grade in elementary school, so was a year younger than most when she entered Peoria High School. There she wrote a column for the newspaper, The Opinion, under the heading “Cabbages and Kings” and, with friends, went on to found and edit a literary magazine called Tide. Her writings, and those of other contributors to the newspaper and magazine, embraced major issues of the time, such as fascism, the rise of dictatorships in Europe and labor unions. Shortly after Germany invaded Austria, two students writing for Tide debated whether the United States should enter the war. One of the Tide issues went unpublished for fear, it was said, that local business leaders would be angry over the union sympathies expressed. One of her fellow Tide editors was Carl P. Slane, future publisher of the Peoria Journal Star. Another classmate was Bob Michel, who would go on to represent the Peoria area in Congress for 38 years, the last six of them as House Minority leader. Classmate and dear friend, John Parkhurst, was a state legislator and an author of Illinois’ 1970 constitution.
During her high school years, Bettye also gave speeches, wrote poetry and acted in school plays. She won a prize for a school essay on how the Constitution protected democracy and an acting award for her performance as the madwoman in Peoria High’s production of Jane Eyre. Bettye was one of six valedictorians in the Class of 1938.
Not all of high school was so happy. Among her painful memories was being rejected for high school sorority membership – her childhood friends were selected – because she was Jewish. She said it was in her religion, not her gender, where she first felt discrimination. Nonetheless, she returned for her 25th reunion shortly after The Feminine Mystique was published and maintained close high school friendships throughout her life.
While records indicate Bettye aimed for a career at a time when women largely did not, just what sort of career was unclear. She once told a high school newspaper reporter that she wanted to be a psychiatrist and, if not that, then a writer. “I want to do something with my life – to have an absorbing interest,” she was quoted as saying in 1938. “I want success and fame.” (1)
(1) Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique, by Daniel Horowitz, 1998.
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