A renowned poet, feminist leader, journalist, and editor, Robin Morgan began her career as a child actor and by seventeen had begun publishing her poetry in literary magazines. In 1962 she became active in the civil rights and feminist movements, quickly becoming a leader. She worked as a contributing editor for Ms. Magazine for twenty years, serving as editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1994. Her editing of the Sisterhood anthologies (beginning with Sisterhood Is Powerful in 1970) has a significant impact on the feminist movement. In 1984 Morgan founded the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, a think tank for women’s rights worldwide. Morgan continues to write and lecture around the world in addition to hosting a weekly radio and online podcast and webcast program entitled “Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan.”
Early Life and Personal Details
“If I had to name a single quality characteristic of patriarchy, it would be compartmentalization, the capacity for institutionalizing disconnection. Intellect severed from emotion. Thought separated from action. Science split from art. The earth itself divided—national borders.... The personal isolated from the political. Sex divorced from love…Law detached from justice…If I had to name a single quality characteristic of global feminism, it would be connectivity—a capacity dangerous to every status quo, because of its insistence on noticing.”
In her lifetime battle for women’s dignity and global change, Robin Morgan uses words as ammunition, as one can see in the above quotation from The Word of a Woman (1992). As poet, novelist, journalist, lecturer, and feminist theorist, she expresses the reality of contemporary women’s oppression.
Morgan was born on January 29, 1941, daughter of Faith Berkeley Morgan, in Lake Worth, Florida. As a child, Morgan’s mother told her that her father had been killed in World War II and later told her other false stories about his identity and fate. Morgan learned the true identity of her father, an obstetrician/gynecologist named Mates Morgenstern, in 1961 when she was nineteen years old. They met only once in person in 1965.
When Morgan was not yet a year old, her mother entered her in baby contests and she began a career first as a child model, and later as a child actor and radio personality. She remained a public figure, starring in primetime dramas and specials as well as working on the stage, until the age of fourteen, when she left the limelight to do what she really wanted: to write.
Though she never formally enrolled in college, Morgan attended (nonmatriculated) classes and lectures at Columbia University and remained in New York City. At the age of seventeen, she published her first serious poetry in a literary magazine. In 1962, Morgan married writer Kenneth Pitchford, whom she divorced in 1990. Together they had one son, Blake Morgan-Pitchford, born in 1969.
Morgan identifies her religion as Wiccan and/or atheist. She writes: “When compelled to define myself specifically in ethnic terms—I have described myself as being European American of Jews of European origin and their descendants, including most of North and South American Jewry.Ashkenazic (with a touch of Descendants of the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal before the explusion of 1492; primarily Jews of N. Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Balkans.Sephardic) Jewish ancestry. I respect and understand the desire of others to affirm their ethnic roots as central to their identities, but while I’m quite proud of mine, I feel they’re just not particularly central to my identity. And I am deeply opposed to all patriarchal religions, including though not limited to Judaism.”
Activism and Career
Morgan became an activist during the 1960s and was involved in the civil rights movement, SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), and the anti-Vietnam War movement. She was also a founding member of New York Radical Women and other radical feminist organizations, such as W.I.T.C.H, which she co-founded in 1968. She was one of the key organizers of the 1968 protest at Atlantic City’s Miss America Contest, which helped launch the second wave of United States feminism. She later reflected on the Miss America pageant, its practices, and the 1968 protest: “where else could one find such a perfect combination of American values—racism, militarism, capitalism—all packaged in one 'ideal' symbol: a woman” (Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches, 1968-1992).
In the following decades, Morgan spearheaded the international women’s liberation movement through her continued activism, her steadfast publishing of feminist poetry and prose, her work as a feminist journalist and editor, and her passionate international lecturing. Morgan coined the term “herstory” in her first published anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement (1970) and designed the now universal logo of the women’s movement (a raised fist in the female gender symbol). Morgan also funded The Sisterhood is Powerful Fund, the first feminist foundation in the United States, with royalties from Sisterhood is Powerful. In 1970, Morgan helped lead the women’s takeover of Rat, a leftist newspaper. Women staffers at the paper and previous contributors like Morgan seized the paper for an issue and never gave it back. In the first women’s issue of the paper, titled “Women Seize RAT! Sabotage Tales!,” Morgan published what became the famous essay, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she addressed sexism on the Left and “Leftist men’s betrayal of women.”
Throughout her career, Morgan has traveled far and wide to interview women rebel fighters in the Philippines, Palestinian women activists in the Intifada, and women in postrevolutionary Iran. She was a contributing editor to Ms. magazine for twenty years, serving as its editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1994, when it was relaunched as an advertisement-free publication. Since August 2012, Morgan has hosted a nationally syndicated weekly American radio show and podcast, Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, in which she discusses current events, interviews guests, produces in-depth investigative reports, and offers commentary on a host of contemporary issues.
Morgan has written more than twenty books, including five books of poetry, two novels, and numerous books of essays. She is best known as editor of several important anthologies. Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement (1970) gives voice to American feminists of the 1960s. These raw and immediate essays cover topics such as female orgasm, the nature of prostitution, the lives of radical lesbians, and the challenge of being Black and female.
Morgan’s second groundbreaking edited volume, Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology (1984), compiles articles about the status of women in seventy countries. In 1984 Morgan co-founded the Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI) with Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), bringing together the writers of the anthology at an organizing conference. SIGI functions as a think-tank on women’s human rights worldwide. Morgan is also co-founder of The Women’s Media Center with Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem.
A third anthology, Sisterhood is Forever: The Women’s Anthology for a New Millennium (2003) was a well-received collection of articles by prominent feminists in which Morgan exhorted both young and the “vintage” feminists to take credit for the astounding and irreversible revolution they brought about. Morgan has since published several further works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right (2006) and a novel, Parallax, published in 2019.
The Robin Morgan Papers, a collection documenting aspects of Morgan’s political history, personal life, and professional works, are archived at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University.
Morgan has received numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts prize in poetry, the 1990 Feminist Majority Foundation Woman of the Year Award, and the Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism. She has also been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation and received prizes for her editorial excellence. In 1992, Morgan was awarded an Honorary Degree as Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of Connecticut at Storrs, and in 2002 she received a Lifetime Achievement in Human Rights from Equality Now. Morgan was also awarded a “Femmy” award from the Feminist Press in 2003 for her “service to literature” and in 2007 was awarded a Humanist Heroine Award by the American Humanist Association.
To see a brief video clip of an interview with Robin Morgan from the MAKERS project, click here.
Selected Works by Robin Morgan
Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right. New York: Nation Books, 2006.
Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for the New Millennium. New York: Washington Square Press, 2003.
Saturday's Child: A Memoir. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992.
Sisterhood Is Global the International Women's Movement Anthology. New York: Anchor Books, 1984.
Monster: Poems. New York: Random House, 1972.
Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement. New York: Random House, 1970.
“Annual Humanist Awardees.” American Humanist Association, June 1, 2021. https://americanhumanist.org/awardees/.
Antler, Joyce. Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement. New York: New York University Pres2, 2018.
Green, Carol Hurd, and Mary Grimley Mason, eds. American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. 5. Vol. 5. New York: Continuum, 1994.
Joyce, Nakamura, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, and Sheryl Ciccarelli. Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. 29. Vol. 29. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1990.
Morgan, Robin. Correspondence with original author, Reena Bernards, December 13, 1996.
Morgan, Robin. Going Too Far: the Personal Chronicle of a Feminist. New York: Random House and Vintage Paperbacks, 1977.
Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. Accessed June 10, 2021. https://poets.org/poet/robin-morgan.
“Robin Morgan: Author, Activist, Feminist: NYC.” Robin Morgan | Author, Activist, Feminist | NYC, February 23, 2020. https://www.robinmorgan.net/.
“Robin Morgan, Author at Ms. Magazine.” Ms. Magazine. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://msmagazine.com/author/robinmorgan/.
“Robin Morgan Papers, 1940s-2019 and Undated, Bulk 1970-2019 - Archives & Manuscripts at Duke University Libraries.” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Accessed June 8, 2021. https://archives.lib.duke.edu/catalog/morganrobin.
Ryan, Bryan, and Kathleen Wilson, eds. Major Twentieth-Century Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1991.
Shapiro, Ann R. Jewish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Women's Media Center. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://www.womensmediacenter.com/wmclive/.