Every year the social studies department in my school has a mandatory project that we work on over the course of a couple months called the National History Day Project. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.” My sister and I chose the late Betty Friedan as our subject. Betty Friedan was an activist, writer, and feminist. She was the president of the National Organization for Women (N.O.W) , and her book The Feminine Mystique helped start the second wave of American Feminism in the United States. Part of the project requires an interview with someone who relates to your subject matter. When I began the research I found out that Betty Friedan had 3 children. I was only able to find contact information for one of the children. A pediatrician named Emily who practiced in Bufflao, N.Y.
It took me 3 days to work up the courage to call Dr. Emily’s Pediatric office in Buffalo. What was the worse that could happen? I figured it was worth a shot! I dialed the number and felt my palms get sweaty and as I heard the phone ring on the other end, I almost hung up. A lovely receptionist answered the phone, and I nervously explained my situation. I asked if I could speak to Doctor Emily, about interviewing her for a school project my sister and I were doing on her mother. Dr. Emily was busy so I left my name, number, and email. The receptionist awkwardly asked how old I was and nervously I replied that I was fourteen years old. I assumed Doctor Emily frequently gets calls about her mother. I didn’t expect to hear back from her.
As each day passed I lost hope of interviewing Dr. Emily so my sister and I set out to interview the current President of N.O.W and moved on to the second round at Hofstra University. After a few weeks I checked my email and found one from Dr. Emily. She apologized for not getting back to me and said she recognized that my area code was 631! She explained to me how her family still has Betty’s house in Sag Harbor, and how they spend a lot of time there and wondered how close I was to Sag Harbor. I wrote her back telling her how my family summers in the Hamptons and I would love if I could interview her. She replied giving me a family friend’s number who could show us around the house if we wanted to visit it. I was so thankful for the kindness Emily was showing me, because she went above and beyond with providing me with information, and making sure I got to see the house. Before I knew it I was driving to visit Betty Friedan’s home in Sag Harbor, an experience I will forever be grateful for.
I will never forget pulling up to the house. Excitement was bursting out of me, while I was trying to keep my cool, walking up to Betty Friedan’s home. The Sag Harbor chilly air in January made my face feel cold as we waited for our tour guide ( Anton Hagen) to show us around. Anton was very nice, and had a lot of boating stories to tell. When I stepped foot into the house I immediately noticed the house had a lot of history behind it. I also noticed a big wall with lots of books, including The Feminine Mystique. I snapped a few photos as Anton told us stories about Betty. He knew her well. The house had a lot of artwork in it by famous artists. Some that stayed with Betty over the years. A lot of the photos focused on feminism. There were also some portraits of Betty herself.
We made our way to Betty’s bedroom. A lot of her belongings including her furniture were still in her room. A young director was staying in the house for a few weeks to write a movie and he stayed in Betty’s room. We saw all his post it notes around the walls. Her bedroom was a newer extension to the back of the house. It had a nice view of the water from the windows. All of Betty’s furniture is still in place. After seeing the downstairs we walked up the stairs to where there was a spacious loft. There were several mattresses on the floor with blankets.
After seeing the house my sister and I walked down by the water. We sat on Betty’s bench at the end of the yard. I closed my eyes for a second and embraced the cold breeze as I felt I was being brought back in time.
Betty Friedan played such an important role in women’s rights and to have a connection to the east end with her made everything memorable. While we didn’t win the final competition, we gained a world of knowledge.