Brooklynite Marilyn French 1929 – 2009

The Womens Room by Marilyn French

The Women's Room by Marilyn French

Feminist author Marilyn French passed away on May 2nd.  Her four-volume history of women, From Eve to Dawn, came out last year, and she was working on a memoir at the time of her death.

I was surprised (and also not surprised) to find out that Marilyn French (nee Edwards) was born in Brooklyn.  Her parents were both of Polish descent, her mother was a department store clerk and her father was an engineer.  I haven’t read anything yet that notes what neighborhood she grew up in but I’m curious to find out.

French is perhaps best known for her germinal feminist novel The Women’s Room (1977) which I recognize from my mother’s bookshelf.  French’s literary agent Charlotte Sheedy describes the book as being for “the ones who were just beginning to understand about consciousness-raising and the politics of housework.  People started debating it in their living rooms.  You could actually track its course for the first three months as it picked up steam across the country.” (Brownmiller p257).

New  York was a thriving center of the Second Wave Feminist movement(s) in the 1960s – 1970s sprouting from a conglomeration civil rights workers, antiwar activists, gay rights advocates, and red diaper babies.

Among the oral history collections BHS plans to digitize from cassette soon are a number of interviews conducted in the 1970s and 80s with Brooklyn Civil Rights activists and Brooklynites involved in the IWO (International Workers Order).  Included in the IWO collection is at least one interview with a women who unionized at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where they fought for, and won, wages *almost* equal to those of their male coworkers.  As we process these oral history collections, I’ll be keeping an ear out for other mentions of feminisms.

It’s so exciting to make these voices available for researchers and students and other curious listeners.

Sady Sullivan

About Sady Sullivan

Sady Sullivan is Director of Oral History at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
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