Feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem spoke before a packed auditorium at Simmons College in Boston Friday night, returning to the women’s college for the first time since delivering a commencement address in 1973.
“It’s kind of like reading a novel: I go back to the places I was and find out what happened,” Steinem told the crowd of more than 500 students, alumni, and faculty. “To come back [to Simmons College] 40 years later is a great experience.”
A prominent voice for the feminist movement, Steinem, 78, cofounded Ms. Magazine and assisted in the formation of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a grass-roots organization that works to install women in elected and appointed offices.
Steinem, whose address was met with applause and cheers, spoke of reproductive rights, the gender wage gap, and the feminization of poverty. Many of the topics echoed her 1973 address, which called for unity in fighting all types of discrimination.
On Friday night, she urged the crowd of about 500 to remain steadfast in their fight for gender equality in the face of what she called a new form of resistance.
“We are constantly being told that the [feminist] movement is over,” she said. “It took 100 years to gain legal identity as human beings. That was legal identity; now we are striving for legal and social equality. We’ve got 50 or 60 years to go.”
Steinem touched upon what she said was another misconception, the idea that young women were apathetic toward women’s rights. She cited a 2012 poll that found 55 percent of women self-identified as feminists.
“The future is a larger understanding that we cannot have democracy without feminism,” she said.
The lecture was part of “SimmonsPalooza,” a series of events and programs at Simmons College celebrating diversity, inclusion, and social activism. Prior to her speech, Steinem toured the campus, meeting with women’s and social advocacy groups.
Student president Shannon Curran, 22, of Sterling said Steinem was a clear pick for the event.
“She really has all the values and ideals that we hold dear here,” said Curran.
Curran said she wanted Steinem’s talk to inspire future events at Simmons and expose the campus to a wider array of speakers, which she hoped would serve as the legacy of the class of 2013.
Steinem received the first doctorate for human justice from the college following her address in 1973.
Following her hourlong address, Steinem urged event organizers to turn on the lights so she could speak with her audience as an “organizing group.”
She was “so real and authentic, meeting us halfway,” said Simmons senior Vanessa Poirier, 21, of Peabody. “She came in and said, ‘What can I do for you?’ ”
When asked by an audience member about her own legacy, Steinem paused before responding, “I guess I want to be remembered as someone who did her best to leave the world a little more fair, more connected, and whole.”
Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@