When We Were Free to Be
Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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If you grew up or raised children during the days of pet rocks, mood rings, and lava lamps, there’s a good chance that you remember Free to Be . . . You and Me, the groundbreaking children’s record, book...
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Honestly, I was just trying to do something for one little girl. That it would grow to become a cultural phenomenon was never a part of the plan. Then again, can something like that ever be planned?...
Free to Be Memories
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As a five-year-old girl, I had no idea what a meaningful gift my aunt had given me by dedicating Free to Be . . . You and Me to “her niece, Dionne.” As I grew older, I was able to comprehend how this book and music...
Part One: Creating a World for Free Children
The Foundations of Free to Be . . . You and Me
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Both before and after Marlo Thomas decided to create a new kind of children’s entertainment, she was involved in the burgeoning women’s movement, fully supportive of the Equal Rights Amendment...
In the Beginning
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The following is a tale of magical connections and sublime collaborations. It’s a story about the creation of Free to Be . . . You and Me, but it begins with a short prelude about Sesame Street...
A Thousand Fond Memories and a Few Regrets
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It began in February 1972, with an offer I couldn’t refuse: Gloria Steinem asked me to have lunch with Marlo Thomas. Are you kidding? What time?...
Mommies and Daddies
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I was thrilled when I got the call. It was a call from my agent. I was brand-new to the experience of having a theatrical agent, not to mention one who made phone calls to me, so this was already good...
Free to Be . . . the Music
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It started one day when I sat in Marlo Thomas’s living room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as a group of people brainstormed the ideas that would coalesce into...
Thinking about Free to Be
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I remember the day Marlo Thomas called, told me about her idea for a children’s record, and asked me to take part. We had worked together on a movie...
Beyond the Fun and Song
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Click! It was the sound of our generation. Women had suddenly discovered themselves and the restrictions with which they had lived all their lives without recognizing them...
Free to Be . . . a Child
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My first glimmer of understanding that a magical classic had been born came on a sunny day in Minneapolis. I was speaking in a downtown park as part of a brown-bag lunchtime lecture series. Most people were from nearby offices...
How a Preschool Teacher Became Free to Be
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My Free to Be . . . You and Me opportunity arrived at the same time that the record and book were being conceived. In the spring of 1972, while teaching three-year-olds in a small private school in New York City...
Part Two: Free to Be . . . You and Me in Historical Context
Where the Children Are Free:Free to Be . . . You and Me, Second-Wave Feminism, and 1970s American Children’s Culture
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On a winter day in the mid-1970s, a group of fifth-grade girls in Torrance, California, south of Los Angeles, spent their “free period” at school writing to actress and feminist Marlo Thomas. The girls were enthusiastic...
“Little Women’s Libbers” and “Free to Be Kids”: Children and the Struggle for Gender Equality in the United States
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In May 1973, Randi Lewis, a fifth-grade girl from Peoria, Illinois, wrote a letter to the editors of Ms., the first popular, unambiguously feminist magazine published...
Child’s Play: Boys’ Toys, Women’s Work, and “Free Children”
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When my first daughter was born in the early 1990s, I was determined to be a feminist mother: She would wear only primary colors; read books about smart, strong girls; and never play with a Barbie doll. That lasted until she went to preschool...
Getting the Message: Audiences Respond to Free to Be . . . You and Me
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No analysis of Free to Be . . . You and Mewould be complete without an overview of how original audiences responded to it. As the three versions of Free to Be were absorbed into homes, classrooms, and libraries between 1972 and 1976...
Part Three: Parents Are Still People Gender and Child Rearing across Generations
Genderfication Starts Here Dispatches from My Twins’ First Year
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“He looks like a boy and she looks like a girl,” say my parents over and over again at the hospital as the four of us peer over two bassinettes at my newborn twins on their first day of life. “Her features are just so...
Free to Be Conflicted
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As the daughter of one of the contributors to Free to Be . . . You and Me, I absorbed every one of its catchy lyrics as wisdom to live by: When I grow up, I’m gonna be happy and do what I like to do . . . In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman...
Ringside Seat at the Revolution
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It’s strange— and perhaps somewhat pathetic— to be so proud, at age forty-six, of something I did when I was seven. But Free to Be . . . You and Meis that badge that allows me to say, “I was there.”...
Free to Be the Dads We Want to Be
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When I was a kid in Saginaw, Michigan, I made a horrible mistake: I chose to play the flute in my school band. I was the only boy to do so. And at first, I was just awful. There were twelve chairs...
Little Bug Wants a Doll
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Normally, my eleven-month-old son loved swim class, but that day he refused to budge from the side of the pool. He had found the waterproof doll the instructor kept around to demonstrate...
Growing a Free to Be Family
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Talking in bed the night before our first child was born, we broached a subject that hadn’t come up before. “Maybe one is enough.” We’d always agreed about having two children. But with the due date only...
Can William Have a Doll Now? The Legacy of Free to Be in Parenting Advice Books
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Growing up in a working-class town in Massachusetts in the 1970s, I didn’t know that a feminist movement was afoot across the country. And despite the fact that my mother was part of the same generation...
Part Four: How Free Are We to Be? Cultural Legacies and Critiques
Free to Be or Free to Buy?
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The girl in the photograph looks at me with mock surprise, her mouth and eyes as round as the cotton-ball shaped “Jew-fro” she sports on her head. She’s wearing a T-shirt with wide, bright-colored stripes...
On Square Dancing and Title IX
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It’s 1972. While Marlo Thomas and her artsy friends were in New York City recording Free to Be . . . You and Me, I was eight years old and stuck in the gender culture of second grade at the Lee Avenue Elementary...
“William’s Doll” and Me
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Unlike many kids of my generation, I didn’t wear out a Free to Be . . . You and Me album on my kiddie record player, nor do I have a tattered and treasured copy of the book on a shelf or in a box somewhere...
When Michael Jackson Grew Up: A Mother’s Reflections on Race, Pop Culture, and Self-Acceptance
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This is not the essay I set out to write. The essay I set out to write was about how I was a year old when Free to Be . . . You and Me was first released in 1972 and didn’t hear of it until I was an adult. And about how as a black girl growing up in the South...
Whose World Is This?
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When I was young, my mom was more fun than other moms. She jumped on the trampoline and made snow angels with us, but she was still momlike when we needed her to be— rubbing her huge, soft hands...
Marlo and Me
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When I was growing up in the suburb of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, during the 1980s, Marlo Thomas came into my home every day and sang to me about the wonder of being a kid in the world, what it meant...
Free to Be on West 80th Street
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During the years when Free to Be . . . You and Me was created, I was living in New York City and working to help bring about social change. I had moved from Georgia to New York in 1957, when I was nineteen...
A Free Perspective
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I am the middle daughter of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, an activist and community organizer (like President Obama, I like to say!). My mother was the founder of the West Side Community Alliance and the West 80th Street Day Care Center in New York City...
When We Grow Up
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The broadcast premiere of Free to Be . . . You and Me was so important to my family that we had to invent the VCR. We arranged a borrowed reel-to-reel video camera from my dad’s school and set it up on a tripod across...
The Price of Freedom
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I recently spent some time stomping around the woods, reflecting on how Free to Be . . . You and Me has influenced my life. I felt oddly troubled by this opportunity, and I couldn’t put my finger on why...
Lessons and Legacies: You’re Free to Be . . . a Champion
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When I speak at universities and organizations around the country about my children’s book, My Princess Boy (published in 2010), I am doing so as an advocate for the acceptance of gender difference. I’m a published author...
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As much as historians love to tell stories of beginnings, one of the most important things about Free to Be . . . You and Me is that it has continued. The contributors to this book have described why they created...
Appendix: The Songs, Stories, and Skits of Free to Be . . . You and Me: A Content Overview
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About the Contributors
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Copyright Credits for Contributions to the Book
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012