February 20, 2006 12:00 PM

When she asked, her son Jonathan told her she was dying. “Oh well,” Betty Friedan replied, and then, “Of all the good things I’ve done in my life, nothing can compare to my children.” Not the words one might expect, perhaps, from the pioneering feminist, whose 1963 book The Feminine Mystique blew the lid off the fiction that American wives were satisfied with lives devoted to hearth and kin. But though Friedan, who died at her home in Washington, D.C., of congestive heart failure at 85 on Feb. 4, pushed hard for equal job opportunities, pay parity, maternity leave and legal abortion, the founding president of the National Organization for Women—and mother of three—never thought equality should come at the cost of what she described as “love, nurture, home.” That emphasis, along with her focus on middle-class women and her famously prickly temperament, sometimes antagonized fellow feminists—but nothing could diminish her impact. “Anytime you walked down the street with Betty Friedan,” says Muriel Fox, a NOW cofounder, “women would walk up to her and say, ‘You changed my life.'”

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