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Peoria honors favorite daughter Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan founder N.O.W. author Feminine Mystique responds questions about energy crisis it's effect women. (phoby Howard D. Simmons 2/16/74)

Betty Friedan, founder of N.O.W. and author of the Feminine Mystique, responds to questions about the energy crisis and it's effect on women. (photo by Howard D. Simmons 2/16/74) office at 37 s. Wabash

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:25AM

Betty Friedan was a product of Peoria, where a program honoring her life will be held at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Feb. 19. Called “It Changed My Life,” after one of Friedan’s lesser-known books, six or seven local women will speak on how “The Feminine Mystique” and the women’s movement changed their lives.

Barbara Mantz Drake, 67, former editorial page editor for the Peoria Journal Star and a member of the Betty Friedan Hometown Tribute group, interviewed Friedan in 1999. She thinks Friedan’s legacy is largely unknown to young women today, including those living in Peoria. In the 1990s, she went to speak to a class at Peoria High School about its alumnus Friedan, who died in 2006.

“I was stunned to learn only two of them knew who she was, and none of them knew that she had gone to high school there,” Drake said. “That began a crusade at the newspaper to get her better known and to establish a museum that would recognize the contributions of Peorians like her.”

Drake said she is “constantly stunned by the number of young women I’ve met who don’t know who Betty Friedan is.”

“I think that young women don’t know enough about how it used to be,” she said. “When I tell a couple of stories about how it was when I was young, you can see people’s mouths drop open. They find it hard to believe.”

Still, she said she had a hard time believing Friedan’s book when she read it as a college freshman.

“I remember thinking this can’t be true, all these opportunities that were closed to women,” she said. “I just refused to believe it.”

Kara Spak

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