THE INFLUENCE of feminist Kate Millett, who died last year, can scarcely be overstated. Her work as a writer, speaker, and educator were instrumental in shaping the principles and goals of second-wave feminism in the 1970s, while her position as an out lesbian supported her contention that women could succeed on their own and ought to reject the patriarchal values and institutions of men.
Born Katherine Murray Millett in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1934, she was the middle of three daughters of mother who was a schoolteacher and insurance saleswoman. Her father, an engineer, abandoned the family when Millett was in her early teens. She was educated at the University of Minnesota, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, and Columbia University, where she received her doctorate. For nearly twenty years, from the 1960s to the 1980s, she was married to Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura, whom she’d met while working in Japan as a sculptor. They pursued their own sexual lives, and Millett had affairs with women; Yoshimura remarried after their divorce and died in 2002 in New York. It was during this period, starting in 1973, that Millett struggled with mental illness, later diagnosed as bipolar disorder (manic depression, as it was called back then), and was involuntarily committed to mental institutions on several occasions.