Sociology Index

Alice S. Rossi

Alice S. Rossi was a pioneering feminist and sociologist. In 1966, Rossi, along with a group that included Betty Friedan, founded the National Organization for Women. Alice S. Rossi focused on the status of women at work, in the family, and their sexual life. Her writings helped to build the foundations of the feminist movement. Alice S. Rossi's early advocacy of abortion and reproductive rights caused her to gain a lot of national attention. One of her main academic pursuits was the study of people's lifecourse from youth to age, particularly in the case of women. Professor Alice S. Rossi was the 74th president of the American Sociological Association. Alice S. Rossi figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

Her most influential feminist article was “Equality Between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal.” First presented in 1963 at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it was published the next year in the academy's journal Daedalus. Professor Alice S. Rossi argued that for most women motherhood had become a full-time occupation, a state of affairs that hurt not only women but also the larger society in which they lived.

For the well-being of both the women and the culture, Alice S. Rossi wrote, parity of the sexes is essential. This article's publication coincided with the publication the same year of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which dealt with similar issues. Professor Rossi's argument was considered subversive at the time.

Professor Rossi argued that the cultural divide between men and women was not the product of socialization alone, as the prevailing view held, but was partly rooted in inborn biological differences between the sexes. Professor Rossi joined the University of Massachusetts faculty, where she was appointed the Harriet Martineau professor of Sociology. She remained there from 1974 until her retirement in 1991, at which point she became an emerita professor.

Alice S. Rossi was called a monster, an unnatural woman and an unfit mother, as she recalled in interviews afterward. Her article can be found in the anthology “Life Cycle and Achievement in America” (Harper & Row, 1969), edited by Rose Laub Coser.