Jo Freeman

Jo Freeman

Jo Freeman (August 26, 1945 – ) is an American feminist, political scientist, writer and attorney. As a student at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s, she became active in civil liberties and civil rights movements. She went on to do voter registration and community organization in Alabama and Mississippi and was an early organizer of the women’s liberation movement. She authored several classic feminist articles as well as important papers on social movements and political parties. She has also written extensively about women, particularly on law and public policy toward women and women in mainstream politics.

Early life and education

Jo Freeman was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1945. Her mother was from Hamilton, Alabama, and had served during World War II as a first lieutenant in the Women's Army Corps, stationed in England. Soon after Jo’s birth she moved to Los Angeles California where she taught junior high school until shortly before her death. Freeman attended Birmingham High School, but graduated in the first class of Granada Hills High School in 1961. [Freeman, "At Berkeley in the Sixties", pp. 1–5.] She received her B.A. with honors in political science from UC Berkeley in 1965. She began her graduate work in political science at the University of Chicago in 1968 and completed her Ph.D. in 1973. After four years of teaching at the State University of New York she went to Washington, DC as a Brookings Fellow and stayed another year as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow. She entered New York University School of Law in 1979 as a Root-Tilden Scholar and received her J.D. degree in 1982. She was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1983. [Jennifer Scanlon, “Jo Freeman,” "Significant Contemporary American Feminists", pp. 104–110.]

tudent activist at Berkeley

At Berkeley Freeman was active in the University Young Democrats and the campus political party, SLATE. [ Freeman, "At Berkeley in the Sixties", pp. 14–22, 29–33, 53.] SLATE worked to abolish nuclear testing, to eliminate the University’s ban on controversial speakers, and to improve undergraduate education at Cal. It developed a guide to classes and professors entitled the "SLATE Supplement to the General Catalog," [] for which Freeman wrote reviews of professors and their courses. [ Freeman, "At Berkeley in the Sixties", pp. 53–67.] One of SLATE’s fundamental principles was that students should have the same rights to take stands on issues on campus that they had as citizens off campus. The University had restricted such activity since the 1930s. It became a major issue when the civil rights movement came to the Bay Area in the fall of 1963 because students wanted to support the movement on campus as well as off.

In the fall of 1964 the question was dramatized when student organizations set up tables on campus to solicit money and recruit students for off-campus political action in defiance of the ban. One person was arrested and several students were issued administrative citations. After a mass arrest was narrowly avoided by last minute negotiations with University president Clark Kerr, the Free Speech Movement (FSM) was formed by the student groups to continue the struggle. Freeman represented the University Young Democrats on the FSM executive committee. After two months of fruitless negotiations, Freeman was one of “the 800” students who were arrested for sitting in at the main administration building on December 2–3, 1964. This was the biggest mass arrest in California history. The publicity it generated compelled the Regents of the University to change the rules so that students could pursue political issues on campus. [ Freeman, "At Berkeley in the Sixties", p. 171, 193–198.] [Heirich, "The Beginning: Berkeley, 1964".]

Civil rights activist

When the civil rights movement came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1963, it picketed local employers who didn’t hire blacks. Demonstrations were organized at Lucky supermarket and Mel's Drive-In to get them to sign hiring agreements. Success here was followed by unsuccessful negotiations with San Francisco’s most elegant hotels and several automobile dealers. Freeman was one of 167 demonstrators arrested at the Sheraton-Palace Hotel [] in March 1964, and one of 226 arrested at the Cadillac agency in April. She was acquitted in her first trial and convicted in her second, resulting in a fifteen-day jail sentence. Her second trial kept her from attending the 1964 Freedom Summer project in Mississippi. After it ended she hitchhiked [] to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in August in Atlantic City, New Jersey to support the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s petition to be seated in place of the all-white regular Mississippi delegation. [ Freeman, "At Berkeley in the Sixties", pp. 84–126.]

Following graduation from UC Berkeley, Freeman joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) summer project, SCOPE (Southern Community Organization and Political Education). When the summer was over, she joined the SCLC staff as a field worker. For the next year she did voter registration in Alabama and Mississippi, spending a few days in jail in both states. In August of 1966, when she was working in Grenada, Mississippi, the "Jackson Daily News" published an expose of her work as a “professional agitator” on its editorial page, ["Professional Agitator Hits All Major Trouble Spots," "Jackson Daily News", August 18, 1966, p. 12.] implying that she was a communist sympathizer. [] Accompanied by five photographs, including one taken at Cal during the FSM, this made her a potential target for Mississippi death squads. Thirty years later a federal court order disclosed that these were provided to the newspaper by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. An informant had documented Freeman’s participation in the FSM and recognized her in Grenada. Concerned for her safety, SCLC sent Freeman back to Atlanta, where she worked in the main office and also as Coretta Scott King’s assistant for six weeks. In October she was sent to work with SCLC’s Chicago project. As the SCLC ‘s Chicago project faded out, Freeman went to work for a community newspaper, the "West Side TORCH". When this job ended she tried to find jobs as a journalist and photographer in Chicago, where she was told that girls can't cover riots. Eventually she found work as a re-write editor for a trade magazine. [Scanlon, “Jo Freeman,” "Significant Contemporary American Feminists", pp. 104–110.]

Women’s liberation activist and author

In June 1967 Freeman attended a “free school’” course on women at the University of Chicago led by Heather Booth [] and Naomi Weisstein. She invited them to organize a woman’s workshop at the forthcoming National Conference of New Politics (NCNP), to be held over Labor Day weekend 1967 in Chicago. At that conference women were outraged when they were denied an opportunity to present a resolution to the plenary developed by the workshop. Shulamith Firestone was patted on the head by the NCNP chairman and told that “we have more important things to do.” Freeman and Firestone called a meeting of the women who had been at the “free school” course and the women’s workshop; this became the first Chicago women’s liberation group. It was known as the Westside group because it met weekly in Freeman’s apartment on Chicago’s west side. After a few months Freeman started a newsletter which she called "Voice of the women’s liberation movement." It circulated all over the country (and in a few foreign countries), giving the new movement its name. Many of the women in the Westside group went on to start other feminist organizations, including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

In the fall of 1968 Freeman enrolled in graduate school in political science at the University of Chicago. However she took courses outside the discipline which would give her an opportunity to explore the research on women, sex roles and related topics. Most of the term papers she wrote were later published in various magazines and in college textbooks. When consciousness about women at the University was raised by a sit-in prompted by the firing of a popular female professor, Freeman led efforts to examine women’s experiences at the University and in academia. These included teaching a “free course” on the legal and economic position of women early in 1969, chairing the student subcommittee of the new Committee on University Women, and organizing a major campus conference on women the following fall.

At the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1969, she helped to found the Women’s Caucus for Political Science, eventually serving as its treasurer for one year. She also served on APSA’s Committee on the Status of Women.

As a result of her publications, Freeman was invited to speak at many other colleges and universities, mostly in the Midwest. She spent the summers of 1970 and 1971 hitchhiking through Europe distributing feminist literature. Her lecture at the University of Oslo in 1970 is credited for sparking its first new feminist group. [Elisabeth Lønnå, "Møtet med Jo Freeman," "Stolthet og Kvinnekamp: Norsk Kinnesakforenings Historie Fra 1913", pp. 230–232.] The literature she distributed was also a boon to feminists in the Netherlands.

Although Freeman had not been active in Democratic Party politics since leaving California in 1965 (except for a brief stint on Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 Presidential campaign), she ran for delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention in order to put Shirley Chisholm’s name on the ballot. She came in ninth out of 24 candidates in Chicago's first district and attended the convention as an alternate. She later worked on California Senator Alan Cranston's 1984 Presidential campaign and became active in Democratic Party politics in Brooklyn, New York. [Scanlon, “Jo Freeman,” "Significant Contemporary American Feminists", pp. 104–110.]

Freeman wrote three classic feminist papers under her movement name “Joreen”, which analyzed her experiences in the women’s liberation movement. The most widely known is “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” ["The Second Wave", Vol. 2, No. 1 (1972); published under Jo Freeman’s name in the "Berkeley Journal of Sociology", Vol. 17 (1972–73), pp. 151–165.] which argued there is no such thing as a structureless group; power is simply disguised and hidden when structure is unacknowledged. All groups and organizations need clear lines of responsibility for democratic accountability, a notion that underlies the theory of democratic structuring. Her 1969 “BITCH Manifesto” is considered an early example of language reclamation by a social movement, as well as a celebration of non-traditional gender roles. [Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt, "Notes from the Second Year".] A third article, “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,” ["Ms.", April 1976.] illuminated an aspect of the women’s movement that many participants experienced but few wanted to discuss openly.

Freeman’s 1973 dissertation analyzed the two branches of the women’s movement, arguing that they were separated more by generation and experience than by ideology. What she called the “younger branch” was started by women with experience in civil rights, anti-war, and New Left student activism. The “older branch” was founded by women who had been members of or worked with the President's Commission on the Status of Women and related state Commissions. The latter branch gave rise to such organizations as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL). [] The resulting book, "The Politics of Women’s Liberation", was published in 1975 and won the APSA's prize for the best scholarly work on women in politics. [Scanlon, “Jo Freeman,” "Significant Contemporary American Feminists", pp. 104–110.]

Career in law and political science

After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1973, Freeman taught for four years at the State University of New York. She then spent two years in Washington, DC as a fellow at the Brookings Institution and then as an APSA Congressional Fellow. [] With an increasing interest in public policy, and unable to find a full-time appointment in academia, Freeman decided to study law after she was offered a Root-Tilden Scholarship [] at New York University School of Law. She received a J.D. degree in 1982 and was admitted to the New York State Bar the next year. She maintained a private practice in Brooklyn, New York for many years, serving as counsel to women running for political offices and to pro-choice demonstrators.

Freeman has published 11 books and hundreds of articles. Most are on some aspect of women or feminism, but she also writes about social movements and political parties. Two of these are considered classics: “On the Origins of Social Movements” and “The Political Culture of the Democratic and Republican Parties.” "Women: A Feminist Perspective" went into five editions and for many years was the leading introductory women’s studies textbook. "A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics" (2000) also won a prize for scholarship given at the APSA.

She has continued to attend the major party political conventions, but as a journalist. Many of her articles are posted to her webpage, as are some of her photographs of political events and a small selection from her button collection.

elected works by Jo Freeman

Articles by Joreen
*"The Tyranny of Structurelessness," "The Second Wave", Vol. 2. No. 1, 1972, p. 20; "Berkeley Journal of Sociology", Vol. 17, 1972–73, pp. 151–165. []
*"The BITCH Manifesto," "Notes from the Second Year", ed. by Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt, 1970. []
*"Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood," "Ms.", April 1976, pp. 49–51, 92–98. []


*"The Origins of the Women's Liberation Movement," "American Journal of Sociology", Vol. 78, No. 4, January 1973, pp. 792–811.
*"On the Origins of Social Movements," in "Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies", ed. by Jo Freeman (New York: Longman, 1983), pp. 8–30.
*"The Political Culture of the Democratic and Republican Parties," "Political Science Quarterly", Vol. 101, No. 3, Fall 1986, pp. 327–356.


*"The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process" (Longman, 1975). ISBN 0-679-30284-0
*"Women: A Feminist Perspective", editor (Mayfield, 1975, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1995). ISBN 1-55934-111-4
*"Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies", editor (Longman, 1983). ISBN 0-582-28091-5
*"Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties", editor with Victoria Johnson (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999). ISBN 0-8476-8747-3
*"A Room at a Time: How Women Entered Party Politics" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000). ISBN 0-8476-9804-1
*"At Berkeley in the Sixties: The Education of an Activist, 1961–1965" (Indiana University Press, 2004). ISBN 0-253-34283-X
*"We Will Be Heard: Women's Struggles for Political Power in the United States" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). ISBN 978-0742556089



*Firestone, Shulamith, and Anne Koedt, eds. "Notes from the Second Year". 1970.
*Freeman, Jo. "At Berkeley in the Sixties: The Education of an Activist, 1961–1965". Indiana University Press, 2004.
*Freeman, Jo, "On the Origins of the Women's Liberation Movement from a Strictly Personal Perspective," in "The Feminist Memoir Project", ed. by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998, pp. 171–196.
*Heirich, Max. "The Beginning: Berkeley, 1964". Columbia University Press, 1970.
*Lønnå, Elisabeth. "Stolthet og Kvinnekamp: Norsk Kinnesakforenings Historie Fra 1913". Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1996.
*Scanlon, Jennifer. " Jo Freeman." "Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook". Greenwood Press, 1999, pp. 104–110.

External links

* [ Jo Freeman's website]

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