Robin Morgan (born January 29, 1941) is an American poet, author, political theorist and activist, journalist, lecturer, and former child actor. Since the early 1960s she has been a key radical feminist member of the American Women's Movement, and a leader in the international feminist movement. Her 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful has been widely credited with helping to start the second wave feminist movement in the US, and was cited by the New York Public Library as "One of the 100 most influential Books of the 20th Century." She has written more than 20 books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and is also known as the editor of Ms. Magazine.
During the 1960s, she participated in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements; in the late 1960s she was a founding member of radical feminist organizations such as New York Radical Women and W.I.T.C.H. She founded or co-founded the Feminist Women's Health Network, the National Battered Women's Refuge Network, Media Women, the National Network of Rape Crisis Centers, the Feminist Writers' Guild, the Women's Foreign Policy Council, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, GlobalSister.org, and Greenstone Women's Radio Network. She also co-founded the Women's Media Center with activist Gloria Steinem and actor/activist Jane Fonda.
Early life and career
Morgan was born on January 29, 1941, although the birthdate was reported inaccurately throughout her career as a child actor. She was born in Lake Worth, Florida to unmarried Jewish parents. Her mother Faith Berkeley Morgan traveled from her New York residence to Florida to give birth. Robin's father, a medical doctor named Mates Morganstern, did not accompany the pregnant Faith on her trip.
Robin Morgan grew up in Mount Vernon, New York and later on Sutton Place in Manhattan. Her mother and her maternal aunt Sally started her as a child model when she was a toddler. At what she and others thought was the age of four (she was actually five years old), she had her own radio program on New York station WOR titled Little Robin Morgan. She was also a regular on the original network radio version of Juvenile Jury playing herself. She started her most famous acting role when she replaced another child actor in the role of Dagmar Hansen, the younger sister in the TV series Mama starring Peggy Wood that premiered on CBS in 1949. Producers, sponsor Maxwell House and network officials believed Morgan's age was seven when she began work on the series, but she was actually eight. The year was 1949 when Morgan took on the part of Dagmar.
She did guest starring work during the "Golden Age of Television" on such live dramas as Omnibus, Suspense, Danger, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Robert Montgomery Presents, Tales of Tomorrow, and Kraft Theatre, and starred in such "spectaculars" as Kiss and Tell and Alice in Wonderland. She worked with directors such as Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, Ralph Nelson, writers such as Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling, and such actors as Boris Karloff, Rosalind Russell, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Cliff Robertson.
Morgan left the cast of Mama at age 14, having wanted since age four to write rather than act. She fought her mother's efforts to keep her in show business. She graduated from The Wetter School in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1956, then was privately tutored from 1956 to 1959. She published her first serious poetry in literary magazines at age 17.
Until Robin Morgan was 13 years old, or believed that that was her age, her mother Faith explained the absence of a man in their home by claiming Robin's father had been killed in World War II. When Robin revealed she had overheard conversations between her mother and aunts that contradicted such a claim, Faith changed her story. She asserted that Robin's father had escaped from one Nazi concentration camp after another and she had saved his life by sponsoring his immigration to the United States where he had no family. Robin learned in 1961 that this, too, was a lie.
As a young woman no longer working in show business, Robin Morgan learned the surprising truth about not only her father, who was still alive, but also about how old she was. She learned that her mother had conspired with her Florida obstetrician to "lose" the birth certificate and to testify under oath for an affidavit that the baby had been born on January 29, 1942. In fact, the birth had taken place exactly a year earlier. Faith Morgan and her obstetrician did this in order to cover up an out-of-wedlock birth that had been ignored by the biological father, who was himself an obstetrician.
Robin's father, Dr. Mates Morganstern, visited the infant Robin once and decided not to see her again. He stored a certified copy of her birth certificate in his medical office in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He never contacted Faith Morgan again. For Faith and her sister, who was Robin's "Aunt Sally," the postdating of Robin's birth on the affidavit came in handy, causing casting directors and producers to believe the precocious child was a year younger than she actually was.
Dr. Morganstern became aware of Robin's fame as a child actor, believing it was none of his business. He gave the birth certificate to Robin, by then a young woman, when she visited his office in 1961. She sought a meeting with him after discovering, without her mother's knowledge, a listing for the medical practice of Dr. Mates Morganstern in the New Brunswick telephone directory. During their 1961 conversation in his office, Dr. Morganstern told his biological daughter that his wife in New Jersey was a woman he had known since their respective childhoods in Austria. World War II had separated them. He added that he had known Robin's mother for a short while immediately after his arrival in the United States. He asserted that she had fantasized that their relationship was more important than it actually was. Shortly after he abandoned Faith Morgan and their baby, his Austrian girlfriend arrived in the United States and they resumed the relationship they had begun in their homeland.
Robin Morgan was crushed by her father's cold attitude and his dismissal of her mother. Four years later she received a surprise when he invited her and her husband Kenneth Pitchford to have dinner with his wife and two sons. Immediately after issuing the invitation by phone, Dr. Morganstern informed her that he did not wish his sons to know they had a half-sister or that he had fathered an illegitimate child, so she had to pretend she was the "daughter of an old friend" while dining with his family. She went through with the charade once but refused to do it a second time. Morgan never saw or communicated with her half-brothers again. Her biological father visited her Manhattan home sometime later in the 1960s. As her involvement with radical politics and feminism deepened, she lost contact with him knowing he was opposed to it all. She recalled that during her visit to his family under the pretense of being the daughter of an old friend, Dr. Morganstern had referred to Malcolm X, assassinated earlier that day, as a "terrorist Negro."
When Robin Morgan's mother, Faith, entered her early 60s, she developed Parkinson's disease. Faith Morgan's entire life savings, consisting of a six-figure sum that had accumulated in the bank since her daughter had worked in radio and television, was stolen by her two home caregivers. Robin Morgan discovered this too late for police to gather evidence. The two home caregivers attended Faith's funeral in 1983, walked up to Robin after the service to express condolences then disappeared.
As Morgan's mother lay dying, Morgan telephoned Dr. Mates Morganstern for the first time in many years to ask if he wished to say goodbye to her. He declined.
As she entered adulthood, Morgan continued her education as a nonmatriculating student at Columbia University. She began working as a secretary at Curtis Brown Literary Agency. Famed poet W. H. Auden was among the writers she met there in the early 1960s, and around that time she also began publishing her own poetry (later collected in her 1972 first book of poems Monster). Throughout the next decades, along with political activism and lecturing at colleges and universities on feminism, she continued to write and publish prose and poetry.
In 1962 she married the poet Kenneth Pitchford. Her son, Blake Morgan, was born in 1969. She worked as an editor at Grove Press and was involved in the attempt to unionize the publishing industry; Grove summarily fired her and other union sympathizers. She led a seizure and occupation of Grove Press offices in the spring of 1970, protesting the union-busting as well as dishonest accounting of royalties to Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X's widow. She and eight other women were arrested.
In the mid-1970s, she became a Contributing Editor to Ms. Magazine, to continue there as a part- or full-time editor for the next decades, and becoming editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1994. During her time as editor-in-chief, she turned the magazine into an ad-free, bimonthly, international publication.
In 2012, Morgan debuted a radio show and podcast, “Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan.” The weekly hour was picked up by CBS Radio two weeks after its launch and is broadcast on CBS affiliate WJFK each Saturday. The program features commentary by Morgan about recent news, and interviews with activists, politicians, authors, actors and artists.
By 1962 she started to become extremely active in the anti-war Left, and contributed articles and poetry to Left-wing and counter-culture journals such as Liberation, Rat, Win, and The National Guardian.
In the late 1960s Morgan became increasingly involved in American justice movement groups. In 1967 she became active in the Youth International Party (known in the media as the "Yippies") with Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. However, tensions over sexism within YIP (and the New Left in general) came to a head while Morgan was becoming more involved in Women's Liberation activism and contemporary feminism.
She became a founding member of the short-lived New York Radical Women group in fall of 1967, and a key organizer of their September 1968 inaugural protest of the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. She wrote the Miss America protest pamphlet No More Miss America!. Also in 1968 she helped to create W.I.T.C.H., a radical feminist group that used public street theater (called "hexes" or "zaps") to call attention to sexism. Morgan designed the universal symbol of the women’s movement, the woman’s symbol centered with a raised fist. She also coined the term “herstory.” Specifically, the Oxford English Dictionary credits her with coining the term in her 1970 book Sisterhood is Powerful. Concerning the feminist organization WITCH, Morgan wrote:
- The fluidity and wit of the witches is evident in the ever-changing acronym: the basic, original title was Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell [...] and the latest heard at this writing is Women Inspired to Commit Herstory.
With the royalties from her anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970), Morgan founded the first feminist fund in the US, The Sisterhood Is Powerful Fund, which provided seed money grants to many early women's groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Like many radical feminists, Morgan made a decisive break from what they described as the "male Left." She led the women's takeover of the underground newspaper Rat in 1970, and put the reasons for her break in the first women's issue of the paper, in an essay titled "Goodbye to All That." The essay gained notoriety in the press for naming supposedly sexist leftist men and institutions. During the Democratic primaries for the presidential race in 2008, Morgan wrote a fiery "Goodbye To All That #2" in defense of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The article quickly became viral on the internet for lambasting sexist rhetoric directed towards Clinton by the media.
To interview women for her writing and to bring attention to cross-cultural sexism, she has traveled to meet with rebel fighters in the Philippines, Brazilian women activists in the slumbs/favelas of Rio, women in the townships of South Africa, and post-revolutionary Iranian women. In 1986 and 1989 she also spent some months in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, West Bank, and Gaza, where she reported on the conditions for women. She has also lectured and spoke at universities and institutions in countries across Europe, Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Central America, China, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pacific Island nations, the Philippines, and South Africa.
The Feminist Majority Foundation named her "Woman of the Year" in 1990. In 1992 she was given the Warrior Woman Award for Promoting Racial Understanding from Asian American Women's National Organization. She was also given a Lifetime Achievement in Human Rights from Equality Now in 2002. In 2003 The Feminist Press gave her a "Femmy" Award for "service to literature," and she received the Humanist Heroine Award from The American Humanist Association in 2007.
- Limbaugh FCC incident
In March 2012 Morgan, along with her Women's Media Center co-founders Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, wrote an open letter asking listeners to request that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigate the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy, where Limbaugh referred to Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and "prostitute" after she advocated for insurance coverage for contraception. They asked that stations licensed for public airwaves carrying Limbaugh be held accountable for contravening public interest as a continual promoter of hate speech against various minority and disempowered groups.
In 1970, she edited the first anthology of feminist writings, Sisterhood is Powerful. The compilation included classic feminist essays by activists such as Naomi Weisstein, Kate Millett, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Florynce Kennedy, Frances M. Beal, Joreen, Marge Piercy and Mary Daly, as well as historical documents including the N.O.W. Bill of Rights, excerpts from the SCUM Manifesto, the Redstockings Manifesto, and historical documents from WITCH. It also included a document from the Black Women’s Liberation Group from Mount Vernon; this piece demonstrated the race-conscious “sisterhood” that some second-wave black feminists demanded and was used by many second-wave feminists to communicate this demand. It also included what Morgan coined “verbal karate”: useful quotes and statistics about women. The anthology has been widely credited with helping to start the general Women's Movement in the US. It was cited by the New York Public Library as "One of the 100 most influential Books of the 20th Century". Morgan established the first American feminist grant-giving organization, The Sisterhood Is Powerful Fund, with the royalties from Sisterhood is Powerful. However, Chile, China, and South Africa banned the anthology."
Her follow-up volume in 1984, Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, compiled articles about women in over seventy countries. That same year she founded the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, notable for being the first international feminist think tank. Repeatedly refusing the post of president, she was elected secretary of the organization from 1989 to 1993, was VP from 1993 to 1997, and after serving on the advisory board, finally agreed to become president in 2004. A third volume, Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium in 2003, was a collection of articles by well-known feminists, both young and "vintage," in a retrospective on and future blueprint for the feminist movement.
Morgan's articles, essays, reviews, profiles, interviews, political analyses, and investigative journalism have appeared widely in publications such as Amazon Quarterly, The Atlantic, Broadsheet, Chrysalis, Essence, Equal Times, Everywoman, Feminist Art Journal, The Guardian (US), The Guardian (UK)The Hudson Review, The Los Angeles Times, Ms., The New Republic, The New York Times, Off Our Backs, Pacific Ways, The Second Wave, Sojourner, The Village Voice, The Voice of Women, various United Nations' periodicals, etc. Articles and essays have also appeared in reprint in international media, in English across the Commonwealth, and in translation in 13 languages in Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
Morgan has written for online audiences and blogged frequently. Among her best known articles are "Letters from Ground Zero" (written and posted after the September 11 attacks in 2001—which went viral), "Goodbye To All That #2", "Women of the Arab Spring," "When Bad News is Good News: Notes of a Feminist News Junkie,” “Manhood and Moral Waivers,” and "Faith Healing: A Modest Proposal on Religious Fundamentalism." The last five and other examples of her online work are hosted in the archives of The Women's Media Center.
Since the 1970s Morgan has continued in her writing, editing, publishing, and feminist organizing. Her writing has been translated into 13 languages. According to a 1972 review of her debut book of poems Monster in The Washington Post, "[These poems] establish Morgan as a poet of considerable means. There is a savage elegance, a richness of vocabulary, a thrust and steely polish..... A powerful, challenging book." From 1979 to 1980 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a Literature Grant in Poetry. She then held a writing residency at Yaddo in 1980. A year later she was given the Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism for her cover story in Ms. Magazine titled "The First Feminist Exiles from the USSR." She was awarded Ford Foundation Grants in 1982, 1983, and 1984 to help fund work on Sisterhood Is Global.
Her 1987 novel Dry Your Smile was somewhat autobiographical, following the life of fictional feminist Julian Travis. Like Morgan, Travis is a former child actor who escapes into a bohemian marriage with a gay man and later falls in love with a woman.
She has served as a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine for many years, and served as editor-in-chief from 1989-1994. In 1990 she relaunched the magazine as an international ad-free bimonthly publication, leading to a series of awards. In 1991, she was awarded for Editorial Excellence by Utne Reader, and also was given the Exceptional Merit in Journalism Award by the National Women's Political Caucus.
A review of her 1991 Selected and New Poems, Upstairs in the Garden noted “As a vindication and celebration of the female experience, these inventive poems successfully wed feminist rhetoric with vivid imagery and sensitivity to the music of language.” Two books of poems, Lady of the Beasts and Depth Perception, earned a review in Poetry Magazine by Jay Parini, stating "Robin Morgan will soon be regarded as one of our first-ranking poets."
She published the historical fiction book The Burning Time in 2006, a historical novel Middle Ages. It follows a woman fighting the Inquisition, and is drawn from court records of the first witchcraft trial in Ireland, involving Lady Alyce Kyteler of Kilkenny. The novel was placed on the Recommended Quality Fiction List of 2007 by the American Library Association. Her most recent non-fiction book is Fighting Words: A Tool Kit for Combating the Religious Right.
She has been a Guest Professor or Scholar in Residence at a variety of academic institutions. In 1971 she was a Guest Chair for Feminist Studies at New College of Florida, and The Center for Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture at Rutgers University hosted her as a visiting professor in 1987. She was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar in Residence, Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand in 1989. She later was a visiting professor in residence at the University of Denver, Colorado, in 1996. In 2000, she then became a visiting professor at the University of Bologna in Italy, at their Center for Documentation on Women. She also was awarded an Honorary Degree as a Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1992. The Robin Morgan Papers are archived at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University.
Views on transsexuality
In 1973, Robin Morgan gave a keynote speech at the West Coast Lesbian Conference. In the speech, she criticized Beth Elliott, a transsexual singer and guitarist who had controversially been scheduled to perform at the conference. Morgan called Elliott "an opportunist, an infiltrator, and a destroyer--with the mentality of a rapist."
Robin Morgan currently lives in Manhattan. Her son (with former husband Kenneth Pitchford) is the musician and recording artist Blake Morgan. She has been open about having romantic relationships with both men and women since the 1960s. While she has identified her religion as both atheist and Wiccan, she is "deeply opposed to all patriarchal religions.”
In 2013, Morgan announced that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She discussed her diagnosis publicly for the first time in April 2013 on her radio show and podcast, WMC Live. On the show, Morgan revealed that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's in April 2010 and that her quality of life was thus far "normal." Since her diagnosis, Morgan has been active with the Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF), completing training to become part of the organization's Parkinson's Advocates in Research initiative. In fall 2014, Morgan announced that she would be taking a leadership role in PDF's new Women and PD initiative, which will seek to better serve women impacted by Parkinson's disease by understanding and resolving gender inequalities in PD research, treatment, and caregiver support.
- Citizen Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini (playing Francesca S. Cabrini as a child)
- The Little Robin Morgan Show as herself (WOR radio show)
- Juvenile Jury as herself
- Mama as Dagmar Hansen
- Alice in Wonderland (as Alice)
- Mr. I-Magination (as self)
- Tales of Tomorrow (starring as Lily Massner)
- Kiss and Tell TV Special (starring as Corliss Archer, 1956)
- Other videos and kinescopes in the Robin Morgan Collection at the Paley Center for Media, NYC
- Not A Love Story: A Film About Pornography [Feature length Documentary] (as herself) (1981)
- 1968 TV Documentary with Tom Brokaw (as herself) (2007)
- The American Experience TV Documentary (as herself) (2002)
- Interview by Ronnie Eldridge (2007)
- MAKERS: Women Who Make America on PBS (2012)
- 1972: Monster (Vintage, ISBN 978-0-394-48226-2)
- 1976: Lady of the Beasts: Poems (Random House, ISBN 978-0-394-40758-6)
- 1981: Death Benefits: A Chapbook (Copper Canyon, Limited Edition of 200 copies)
- 1982: Depth Perception: New Poems and a Masque (Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-385-17794-8)
- 1999: A Hot January: Poems 1996-1999 (W. W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-32106-7)
- 1990: Upstairs in the Garden: Poems Selected and New (W. W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-30760-3)
- 1977: Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist, (Random House, ISBN 0-394-72612-X)
- 1982: The Anatomy of Freedom (W.W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-31161-7)
- 1989: The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism (W. W. Norton, ISBN 0-7434-5293-3)
- 2011: The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism (Updated Second Edition, Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
- 1992: The Word of a Woman (W.W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-03427-1)
- 1995: A Woman's Creed (pamphlet), The Sisterhood Is Global Institute
- 2001: Saturday's Child: A Memoir (W. W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-05015-7)
- 2006: Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right (Nation Books, ISBN 1-56025-948-5)
- 1987: Dry Your Smile (Doubleday, ISBN 978-0-7043-4112-8)
- 1991: The Mer-Child: A New Legend for Children and Other Adults (The Feminist Press, ISBN 978-1-55861-054-5)
- 2006: The Burning Time (Melville House, ISBN 1-933633-00-X)
- 1969: The New Woman (Poetry Editor) (Bobbs-Merrill, LCCN 70-125895)
- 1970: Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement (Random House, ISBN 0-394-70539-4)
- 1984: Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology (Doubleday/Anchor Books; revised, updated edition The Feminist Press, 1996, ISBN 978-1-55861-160-3)
- 2003: Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium (Washington Square Press, ISBN 0-7434-6627-6)
- "The politics of sado-masochistic fantasies," in Against Sadomasochism : a radical feminist analysis, ed. Robin Ruth Linden (East Palo Alto, Calif. : Frog in the Well, 1982.), pp. 109–123
- "Their Own Country" (debut performance, Ascension Drama Series, New York, December 10, 1961 at 8:30pm, Church of the Ascension, reception immediately following.)
- "The Duel." A verse play, published as "A Masque" in her book Depth Perception (debut perf. Joseph Papp's New Shakespeare Festival Public Theater, New York, 1979)