By Madeleine McGrath and Louisa Hanson
Today is a very special day. Every year on March 8th, National Womens Day is celebrated. We’re celebrating with a profile of one of the most famous feminists in modern times and a little history of feminism.
Gloria Marie Steinem was born on March 25, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, was chairwoman of the educational committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association, a delegate to the 1908 International Council of Women, and the first woman to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education, as well as a leader in the movement for vocational education.
Steinem’s mother, Ruth, had a psychiatric breakdown when she was young, and when Gloria was 10, her parents finally separated. The divorce impacted Steinem in many ways, one of which being that as a traveling car salesman, her dad was the breadwinner of the family. Steinem attended Waite High School in Toledo and Western High School in Washington, D.C., the latter of which she graduated from. She then attended Smith College, a college she maintains ties with, and from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
In the late 1950s, Steinem spent two years in India as a Chester Bowles Asian Fellow. After returning to the U.S., she served as director of the Independent Research Service, an organization funded in secret by a donor that turned out to be the CIA. She worked to send non-Communist American students to the 1959 World Youth Festival. In 1960, she was hired by Warren Publishing as the first employee of Help! magazine. One of Steinem’s first articles was a 1962 piece on how women are forced to choose between career and family. Steinem also worked as a Playboy Bunny and wrote an exposé detailing the law-skirting working conditions of the Bunnies.
At a pro-abortion convention in 1969 which she covered for the magazine, having had an abortion herself at 22, she recalled, “It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’ was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn’t [positive].”
In 1972, she co-founded the feminism-themed magazine Ms. with Dorothy Pitman Hughes; it began as a special edition of New York, and Clay Felker funded the first issue. Its 300,000 test copies sold out nationwide in eight days. Within weeks, Ms. had received 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters. The magazine was sold to the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2001; Steinem remains on the masthead as one of six founding editors and serves on the advisory board.
In 1984 she was arrested outside of the South African embassy while protesting apartheid. Some more causes of Steinem’s include protesting the Vietnam War, cofounding Choice USA, a group that lobbies for reproductive rights, and opposing the Gulf War.
Steinem survived a 1986 diagnosis of breast cancer, and a trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis in 1994.
Currently, Steinem is 81 and still involved in the causes she has been involved in for around 60 years. One of her most famous quotes is, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” Steinem is one of the most iconic feminists in the modern era. She has had an impact in politics as well as journalism, an impressive feat for a woman in her time. Here’s to hoping that the new generation of feminists turns out like Gloria did.
Steinem is iconic in being the first exclusive feminist in modern times though many women before her believed in the same ideas. The movement for women’s rights in the late 19th century and into the 20th century laid the foundation for generations of strong, powerful women. Without the work of Carrie Chapman Catt, Emmeline Pankhurst, Alice Paul and other suffragettes who fought to gain women’s rights the modern feminists would never be where they are today.