From her humble Ohio childhood, Gloria Steinem grew up to become an acclaimed journalist, trailblazing feminist, and one of the most visible, passionate leaders of the women’s rights movement in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Aptly referred to as the "Mother of Feminism," Gloria Steinem led the women's liberation movements throughout the '60s and '70s—and continues to do so today.
Steinem started her professional career as a journalist in New York, writing freelance pieces for various publications. Getting assignments was tough for women in the late 1950s and 1960s, when men ran the newsrooms and women were largely relegated to secretarial and behind-the-scenes research roles. Steinem’s early articles tended to be for what was then called “the women’s pages.”Steinem once recalled that when she once suggested political stories to The New York Times Sunday Magazine, her editor just said something like, “I don’t think of you that way.”
She gained national attention in 1963 when Show magazine hired her to go undercover to report on the working conditions at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club. While Steinem’s expose—“I Was a Playboy Bunny”—revealed the not-so-glamorous, sexist, and underpaid life of the bunny/waitresses, she struggled to be taken seriously as a journalist after this assignment. Steinem worked hard to make a name for herself, and in 1968, she helped found New York magazine, where she became an editor and political writer.
At New York magazine, Steinem reported on political campaigns and progressive social issues, including the women’s liberation movement. In fact, Steinem first spoke publicly in 1969 at a speak-out event to legalize abortion in New York State, where she shared the story of the abortion she had overseas when she was 22 years old. She attended and spoke at numerous protests and demonstrations, and her strong intellect and good looks made her an in-demand media guest and movement spokesperson.
In 1970, feminist activists staged a take-over of Ladies Home Journal, arguing that the magazine only offered articles on housekeeping but failed to cover women’s rights and the women’s movement. Steinem soon realized the value of a women’s movement magazine, and joined forces with journalists Patricia Carbine and Letty Cottin Pogrebin to found Ms. Magazine. It debuted in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine. In 1972, Ms. became an independent, regular circulation magazine.
That same year, Steinem and feminists such as Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and feminist Betty Friedan formed the National Women’s Political Caucus. It continues to support gender equality and to ensure the election of more pro-equality women to public office. Other organizations Steinem has co-founded in her vast career include the Women’s Action Alliance (1971), which promotes non-sexist, multi-racial children’s education; the Women’s Media Center (2004) to promote positive images of women in media; Voters for Choice (1977), a prochoice political action committee; and the Ms. Foundation for Women. In the 1990s, she helped establish Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the first national effort to empower young girls to learn about career opportunities.
In 2013, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour. Steinem continues to be a trailblazer for feminism today, most recently with her Viceland series, WOMAN, and post-election action for young girls and women.