Mom’s Take on The Feminine Mystique

Some of you will know that my mother passed away on Feb 24th at the age of 96. I was fortunate to be with her in the weeks leading up to her death and also when she took her last breath. Last week, while going through a few of her papers, I stumbled on a letter she wrote to me about Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique written by hand in her small but well-formed writing.

Edythe was born in 1926, married my father in 1945 and had three children by 1955. She was a superb homemaker, hostess, volunteer, and mother, grandmother and grandmother – Dad didn’t think it was necessary for his wife to work! Here’s her take on The Feminine Mystique.



It was intriguing to read the various questions and comments in the “Letter to Lesley”. (Lesley is our daughter’s name. I wrote a series of Letters to Lesley for the blog of a friend of mine.) I remember all the ways pro and con that women I knew reacted to Betty Friedan. Like you, I have mellowed over the years.

At first, I was outraged that my own role as wife and mother was being attacked. With few exceptions, everyone I knew stayed home with their children and followed – or allowed – their husbands to make the major decisions. I, for one, found it [she’s referring to her role] quite boring at times, so I guess I could go along with the question “Is this all?”

By the time the war was over, women expected a lot more of life than they were getting as wives and mothers and had to wrestle with the problem. Some, like I did, immersed themselves in church work or community service – rewarding in its way but a bit lacking in personal fulfillment. At the same time, we looked after our houses and entertained when necessary – which as you probably remember was quite frequently in our house!

You know how we enjoyed travelling even in the limited way we could afford in the early days. [I recall many road trips where Mom cooked breakfast and lunch using a Coleman stove to save money.] Later, of course, we spread our wings further afield. You all were a credit and joy to us. And, Mary, you know how proud your father and I were (and I still am) of all your accomplishments – in education, the business world, and the raising of your delightful children, and your loving relationship with Ian.

Lesley’s comments about it being more a question of choice is probably true for her at the moment, but if and when they have a family she may change. Be interesting for you to watch as time goes on. [As for this comment, now with two children, our daughter continues her full-time career.]

I feel women should have a choice without being criticized – wish I had had one in the beginning.

It’s wonderful to have a letter like that and to remember the kinds of conversations we had. We were both mother and daughter as well as great friends. Over the years, I came to appreciate the skills Mom had – analytical, organized, high EQ, determination and perseverance – and knew that she could have had an excellent career had circumstances and timing been different. Instead, she made an impact in other important ways. Here’s to you, Mom!


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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11 Responses

  1. Women indeed should have a choice as mentioned in that piece. Nowadays with home working becoming more prevalent, perhaps, nay surely, there’ll be more opportunities.

  2. Excellent letter and what a lovely keepsake. You will miss her as much as I miss my own dear mother, a farmer’s wife who did it all, yet still managed to squeeze in a part-time job as a court reporter. She, too, could have had a big career.

  3. I am so sorry you lost your mother—she sounds like wonderful woman. What a treasure to have this insightful letter. I suspect it’s not the only one in your possession—such a blessing to be able to read her words even though she’s no longer here to talk to you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Your mother sounds like an amazing lady. My mother was of that same generation, and I often wondered if she regretted not continuing in her career. I did ask a time or two, but she always said she was “content.” I hope she was telling the truth.

  5. I don’t know if you have watched Sarah Lancashire in JULIA. In season 1, episode 7 “Foie Gras” Julia Chiles meets Bette Friedan which led to an interesting discussion about women and whether they can really make choices in the 1960s. I think you might enjoy it,

  6. I just sent you a message on messenger on TradWives. A new rage of women choosing to stay at home, raise kids, care for hubby, take care of home, even down to wearing dresses like June Cleaver. And there is among the liberal women an uproar that women would do such a thing. Google ‘TradWives” Its really crazy. I loved being a ‘trad wife’ a ‘kept woman” a mommy.

  7. What a beautiful letter, Mary. Thank you for sharing. It is interesting to see her thoughts on the topic, and I agree with her about choice without judgement.

    1. Many thanks, Elizabeth. She believed strongly in choice – not only in this context but also a women’s right to choose regarding issues like abortion.

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