Jo Freeman

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Jo Freeman
JoFreeman-09-26-06 crop.JPG
Jo Freeman at September 2006 peace protest at U.S. Congress
Born (1945-08-26) August 26, 1945 (age 77)
Other namesJoreen
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
ThesisThe politics of women's liberation: a case study of an emerging social movement and its relation to the policy process (1973)
Academic work
Main interestsFeminist, political science, law

Jo Freeman aka Joreen (born 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 organizations working for civil liberties and the civil rights movement. 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[edit]

She was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1945. Her mother Helen 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 Helen moved to Los Angeles, California where she taught junior high school until shortly before her death from emphysema. Freeman attended Birmingham High School, but graduated in the first class of Granada Hills High School in 1961.[1]

She received her BA 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 PhD 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 JD degree in 1982. She was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1983.[2]

Freeman moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1979 to attend law school and has lived in Kensington, Brooklyn since 1985.[3]

Student activist at Berkeley[edit]

At Berkeley, Freeman was active in the University Young Democrats and the campus political party, SLATE.[4] 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, [5] for which Freeman wrote reviews of professors and their courses.[6]

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.[7][8]

Civil rights activist[edit]

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[9] 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 [10] 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.[11]

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 1966, when she was working in Grenada, Mississippi, the Jackson Daily News published an exposé of her work as a "professional agitator" on its editorial page,[12] implying that she was a communist sympathizer.[13] The exposé was accompanied by five photographs, including one taken during the FSM. 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, later becoming a freelance writer.[14]

Women's liberation activist and author[edit]

In June 1967, Freeman attended a "free school" course on women at the University of Chicago led by Heather Booth[15] and Naomi Weisstein. She invited them to organize a woman's workshop at the then-forthcoming National Conference of New Politics (NCNP), to be held over Labor Day weekend 1967 in Chicago. A woman's caucus led by Freeman and Shulamith Firestone was formed at that conference and tried to present its own demands to the plenary session.[16] The women were told their resolution was not important enough for a floor discussion and when through threatening to tie up the convention with procedural motions they succeeded in having their statement tacked to the end of the agenda, it was never discussed.[17]

When the National Conference for New Politics Director William F. Pepper refused to recognize any of the women waiting to speak and instead called on someone to speak about the American Indian, five women, including Firestone, rushed the podium to demand to know why.[17] Pepper patted Firestone on the head and said, "Move on little girl; we have more important issues to talk about here than women's liberation,"[16][a] or possibly, "Cool down, little girl. We have more important things to talk about than women's problems."[16][17]

Freeman and Firestone called a meeting of the women who had been at the "free school" course and the women's workshop at the conference — this became the first Chicago women's liberation group, known as the Westside group because it met weekly in Freeman's apartment on Chicago's west side. After a few months Freeman started the newsletter Voice of the women's liberation movement. It circulated all over the country (and in a few foreign countries), and gave 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.[18] 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 with the Chicago Challenge Delegation that unseated Mayor Daley's hand-picked slate. She later worked on California Senator Alan Cranston's 1984 Presidential campaign and became active in Democratic Party politics in Brooklyn, New York.[14]

Freeman wrote four 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,[19] which argued there is no such thing as a structureless group; power is simply disguised and hidden when structure is unacknowledged and that all groups and organizations need clear lines of responsibility for democratic accountability, a notion that underlies the theory of democratic structuring. The 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.[20] A third article, Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,[21] illuminated an aspect of the women's movement that many participants experienced but few wanted to discuss openly. The 51 Percent Minority Group: A Statistical Essay appeared in the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.[22]

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).[23] 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.[14] Freeman wrote The Bitch Manfesto in fall of 1968.[24] In this work, Freeman notes that women are labeled as a bitch in society based on three principles, their personality, orientation, and physicality. Freeman argues that women that are labeled "a bitch" are often seen as aggressive or as a man hater. Freeman asked women to embrace their inner bitch, noting that it is difficult to make societal change without angering people (and therefore receiving the bitch label).

In 1977, Freeman became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[25]

Freeman is featured in the feminist history film, She's Beautiful When She's Angry.[26][27]

Career in law and political science[edit]

Before receiving her PhD 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.[28] 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[29] 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.[2] 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.


  • The Politics of Women's Liberation: A Case Study of an Emerging Social Movement and Its Relation to the Policy Process (Longman, 1975; iUniverse, 2000). ISBN 978-0-595-08899-7
  • 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 978-0-7425-5608-9


  1. ^ Women's liberation movement, a type of feminism


  1. ^ Freeman, At Berkeley in the Sixties, pp. 1–5.
  2. ^ a b Jennifer Scanlon, "Jo Freeman," Significant Contemporary American Feminists, pp. 104–110.
  3. ^ Geberer, Raanan. "Former volunteers, now in Brooklyn, recall Summer Voting-Rights Project of 1965", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 23, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2019. "Jo Freeman, a lawyer, professor and writer, moved to lower Park Slope in 1979 after she was admitted to NYU Law School and has lived in Kensington since 1985."
  4. ^ Freeman, At Berkeley in the Sixties, pp. 14–22, 29–33, 53.
  5. ^ "SLATE Supplement to the General Catalogue, Volume II, Number I". Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved August 11, 2008.
  6. ^ Freeman, At Berkeley in the Sixties, pp. 53–67.
  7. ^ Freeman, At Berkeley in the Sixties, pp. 171, 193–198.
  8. ^ Heirich, The Beginning: Berkeley, 1964.
  9. ^ History, Accessed October 9, 2022.
  10. ^ The Civil Rights Vigil at the 1964 Democratic Convention. (1964-04-26). Retrieved on 2015-04-18.
  11. ^ Freeman, At Berkeley in the Sixties, pp. 84–126.
  12. ^ "Professional Agitator Hits All Major Trouble Spots," Jackson Daily News, August 18, 1966, pg. 12.
  13. ^ Jackson Daily News : Jo Freeman Story-1966. (1966-08-16). Retrieved on 2015-04-18.
  14. ^ a b c Scanlon, "Jo Freeman," Significant Contemporary American Feminists, pp. 104–110.
  15. ^ Heather Booth profile, Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  16. ^ a b c Simon Hall (June 6, 2011). American Patriotism, American Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-8122-0365-3.
  17. ^ a b c On the Origins of Social Movements. Retrieved on 2015-04-18.
  18. ^ Elisabeth Lønnå, "Møtet med Jo Freeman," Stolthet og Kvinnekamp: Norsk Kinnesakforenings Historie Fra 1913, pp. 230–232.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt, Notes from the Second Year.
  21. ^ Ms., April 1976.
  22. ^ Morgan, Robin, ed., Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From the Women's Liberation Movement (N.Y.: Random House, 1st ed. 1970), p. 37 ff. (crediting, in id., p. [v], the essay's first appearance to The Voice of The Women's Liberation Movement).
  23. ^ Women's Equity Action League: Information from. Retrieved on 2015-04-18.
  24. ^ "The BITCH Manfesto".
  25. ^ "Associates | The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  26. ^ "The Women".
  27. ^ "The Film — She's Beautiful When She's Angry". Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  28. ^ "Congressional Fellowship Program". Archived from the original on October 1, 2005.
  29. ^ "Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program". Archived from the original on December 28, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]