When We Were Free to Be

Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made

Edited by Lori Rotskoff, Laura L. Lovett

Prologue by Marlo Thomas

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1905-7
    Published: August 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-3755-9
    Published: November 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4360-9
    Published: November 2012

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If you grew up in the era of mood rings and lava lamps, you probably remember Free to Be . . . You and Me--the groundbreaking children's record, book, and television special that debuted in 1972. Conceived by actress and producer Marlo Thomas and promoted by Ms. magazine, it captured the spirit of the growing women's movement and inspired girls and boys to challenge stereotypes, value cooperation, and respect diversity. In this lively collection marking the fortieth anniversary of Free to Be . . . You and Me, thirty-two contributors explore the creation and legacy of this popular children's classic.

Featuring a prologue by Marlo Thomas, When We Were Free to Be offers an unprecedented insiders' view by the original creators, as well as accounts by activists and educators who changed the landscape of childhood in schools, homes, toy stores, and libraries nationwide. Essays document the rise of non-sexist children's culture during the 1970s and address how Free to Be still speaks to families today.

Contributors are Alan Alda, Laura Briggs, Karl Bryant, Becky Friedman, Nancy Gruver, Carol Hall, Carole Hart, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Joe Kelly, Cheryl Kilodavis, Dionne Kirschner, Francine Klagsbrun, Stephen Lawrence, Laura L. Lovett, Courtney Martin, Karin A. Martin, Tayloe McDonald, Trey McIntyre, Peggy Orenstein, Leslie Paris, Miriam Peskowitz, Deesha Philyaw, Abigail Pogrebin, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Robin Pogrebin, Patrice Quinn, Lori Rotskoff, Deborah Siegel, Jeremy Adam Smith, Barbara Sprung, Gloria Steinem, and Marlo Thomas.

Publisher's Note: Late in the production of this book, the text on pages 252 and 253 was accidentally reversed. As a result, one should read page 253 before turning to page 252 and then proceeding on to page 254. The publisher deeply regrets this error.

About the Authors

Lori Rotskoff teaches at the Barnard Center for Research on Women and is author of Love on the Rocks: Men, Women, and Alcohol in Post-World War II America.
For more information about Lori Rotskoff, visit the Author Page.

Laura L. Lovett is associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938.
For more information about Laura L. Lovett, visit the Author Page.


“An unprecedented insiders’ view by the original creators, as well as accounts by activists and educators who changed the landscape of childhood in schools, homes, toy stores, and libraries nationwide.”--Forces of Geek

"Readers familiar with the original record or book, both still available, and researchers interested in social, gender, and media studies will appreciate this work."--Library Journal

"Like any compilation, some entries are more compelling than others, but overall I really liked the extremely broad approach, ranging from behind-the-scenes accounts of the original production to critiques of how well the material has held up in terms of the changing social values. Anyone interested in nonsexist child rearing or the history of women's liberation should pick this up."--Sarah Holt, Children's Book Buyer, Left Bank Books, St. Louis

"Recommended. All levels/libraries."--Choice

“[A] thoughtful, nuanced work of scholarship. . . . The essays engage Free to Be from a diverse array of perspectives, situate it in a clear and compelling historical context, and bring to bear satisfying cultural analysis and cultural criticism.”--H-Childhood

"Important, rousing, and thought-provoking."--The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth