Gloria Steinem Biography


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Birth Name: Gloria Steinem
Born: 03/25/1934
Birth Place: Toledo, Ohio, USA


Born March 25, 1934, Gloria Marie Steinem was the daughter of Leo Steinem, a traveling antiques dealer, and his wife, Ruth. Her father's job required the family to travel extensively, which prevented Steinem from regularly attending school until she reached the age of 11. By that point, however, her life was in turmoil due to a nervous breakdown suffered by her mother, who became a delusional, occasionally violent invalid. After shuttling his wife to various sanatoriums, Steinem's parents separated in 1944, with her father leaving his daughter in her mother's care in Toledo, OH while seeking work in California. Her upbringing, along with various doctors' treatment of her mother, would have considerable impact on her understanding of social injustices, especially in regard to women's equality. Her family life was also a deciding factor in her career and personal choices. She eschewed the traditional route of most women in the 1950s by attending Smith College as a government major instead of getting married.

After graduation in 1956, she received a fellowship to study in India, and then returned to serve as a director for Independent Research Service, which sent students to world festivals until she discovered that the organization was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Her exposé of the service boosted her profile as an editorial contributor to various magazines, including Esquire and Show, which famously hired her to work as a Bunny at New York's Playboy Club in order to illuminate the treatment of female employees there. The resulting 1963 article blacklisted Steinem from other magazines for a brief period, during which she contributed to the American version of the BBC's satirical news program, "That Was the Week That Was" (NBC, 1964-65). In 1968, she co-founded New York magazine, for which she penned a political column, as well as features like her 1969 coverage of a pro-abortion rally by the radical feminist group the Redstockings in Greenwich Village. Steinem would later say that her presence at the event would serve as the beginning of her life as a feminist activist; she herself had undergone an abortion in London at the age of 22, and believed that the prevailing social attitude towards the procedure undermined women's abilities to take control of their own lives.

Subsequent high-profile articles, including an interview with presidential candidate George McGovern and the 1969 feature "After Black Power, Women's Liberation," which detailed the rise of feminist groups in America, helped to mint Steinem as a leading figure in the women's movement. She soon became an in-demand speaker at rallies, where her views often put her in conflict with older, established women's rights leaders like Betty Friedan, as well as younger, more militant organizations, which favored radical actions against the establishment. Eventually, her more moderate but still passionate stance helped to coalesce many of these factions for major events like the New York City march in support of the Aug. 26, 1970 Women's Strike for Equality, for which she was joined by Friedan and Bella Abzug. The following year, all three women were key figures in founding the National Women's Political Caucus, where Steinem delivered her groundbreaking "Address to the Women of America." The speech outlined her desire to abolish the schism between men and women in American society in order to forge a new structure based on issues of choice and capability. That same year, Steinem also co-founded the Women's Action Alliance, a national information center that aided women on the local level in pursuing issues of equality. The organization was also instrumental in opening the first battered women's shelters.

In 1972, Steinem founded Ms. magazine, an independent publication devoted to the women's movement. In addition to covering previously taboo media topics like domestic violence, the magazine provided Steinem with an additional platform to address a variety of societal issues, from the war in Vietnam, gay and civil rights, and women in politics, most notably through her support of Shirley Chisholm's candidacy for president of the United States in 1972. Two years later, she co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which worked to organize and support women in trade union jobs. These and other actions made Steinem among the most prominent feminists in the world, which in turn increased attacks from not only male critics but also radical feminist agencies that opposed her one-time connection to the CIA through the Independent Research Service, among other issues.

Despite these setbacks, Steinem remained exceptionally prolific throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, penning numerous articles while continuing to contribute to social causes, including the opposition of the South African apartheid system, for which she was arrested during a protest outside that country's embassy in 1984. After successfully overcoming breast cancer in 1986, she returned to the Ms. masthead as a consulting editor when the magazine was bought back from the Australian publishers that had purchased it in 1987. Steinem then co-founded Choice USA, a non-profit organization that provided support to younger followers regarding reproductive issues. She also published several collections of essays, including Revolution from Within (1992), which drew fresh criticism from readers who viewed its emphasis on personal development as Steinem's abandonment of feminist principles, and Doing Sixty & Seventy (2006), which provided her own perspective on reaching those milestone ages.

In 1993, she was instrumental in founding the Take Our Daughters to Work program, which was expanded to include sons in 2003. That same year, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and made her debut as a producer on both the Lifetime original movie "Better Off Dead" (1993), which concerned the death penalty, and the Emmy-winning documentary "Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories" (HBO). In 2000, Steinem married environmentalist David Bale, the father of actor Christian Bale. They remained together until Bale's death from brain lymphoma in 2003. Steinem contended with the loss by investing even more deeply in social causes, including the formation of the Women's Media Center with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan in 2005. After celebrating her 75th birthday in 2009, Steinem's life was the subject of a 2011 documentary, "Gloria: In Her Own Words," which aired on HBO.

By Paul Gaita