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For her 87th birthday, Gloria Steinem opens her apartment to visitors, online

Gloria Steinem in her New York apartmentAnnie Leibovitz

Starting Thursday, you can be a guest in Gloria Steinem’s home — virtually.

Gloria’s Foundation, which celebrates the work of the feminist activist and organizer, and Google Arts & Culture have chosen March 25 — which happens to be Steinem’s 87th birthday — for the launch of “A Home for a Movement,” a virtual tour of Steinem’s New York City residence, where she’s lived since 1966. You’ll see her bookshelves, poetry on the wall, and the meeting place where she’s gathered with fellow activists.

You can move through the space with Google’s Street View tool. (Recommended first stop: getting close to the bookshelves and tote bags hanging in her entryway.)


Days before the opening of the exhibition, co-produced by Amy Richards and Ella Tieze, Steinem took a Zoom interview with the Globe to talk about why homes can be the best museums, what visitors will see, and how she’ll be celebrating her second pandemic birthday.

Q. There’s a different level of intimacy when you’re invited into someone’s personal space to learn their history. I think about that when I visit the Gardner Museum [Isabella Stewart Gardner’s former home]. Whose idea was it to show your history in your own space?

A. I’ve always felt there was something special about going into somebody’s living space. I remember the first time I went into [late Cherokee Nation chief and activist] Wilma Mankiller’s house. I did not, of course, think of my house that way. It was really Amy Richards, who is the mother — the parent — of this idea, and understanding that, for instance, photographs of people’s bookcases are fascinating. I notice that now, when we’re online in this way. Many people are in front of their bookcases and you’re always trying to see the books. And then the other element is that so many meetings have taken place in those rooms — because I have space, I don’t have children, I live sort of in Midtown. I wish in a way that in my living room, I had kept a little list on the wall, just what groups were there. ... The other thing that happened was that right after the election of you know who, it happened that we were all together in New York in the gym auditorium of what had been a women’s prison that we were trying to turn into a women’s building. There was an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photographs, so we were together in that space, right after that disastrous election, and we all said to each other, “This is saving our sanity, to be together.” And that also confirmed that having a space was important. This is a more dramatic example, but I also had written earlier about Hitler’s election and that period of the buildup of Nazi power, and the groups that survived had a space. The first thing he did was to padlock the family planning clinics and declare abortion a crime against the state, but the religious groups that had a space together were more likely to survive.


Q. To have outsiders tell you what’s interesting In your space — did any of the curation surprise you?

A. Well, photographs of the bookshelves. Some of the objects. They would find some awards interesting, or a framed letter in which my cousin, who had the same name, disowned me because I had supported Angela Davis, so I framed the letter. A poem by Alice Walker. We were both speaking [at an event], and she read this poem, it was beautiful. And then at the end, it was about me, and I never got over that moment. I never got over it. So I framed that.


Q. There is something about the pandemic making some experiences more accessible. That now, people who might not have had access to take a tour or visit a reading or a museum, can click on a link. Did that influence the exhibition, and have you benefited from some of these more virtual experiences, being able to reach different people?

A. I didn’t think about that until you said it. A big benefit for me is I don’t have to go to the airport — because I spend all my time on the road. So it is amazing to be able to have something like the same event — although there’s nothing like being with each other physically — without all that traveling,

Q. This has been a year of activism and protest, and the work is never done. I imagine that many are overwhelmed by how much work remains — and always remains. What do you tell people who have done so much and see so much more to do?

A. I think what helps us, or what helps me, is not to think about the big problem out there, but [ask], “What can I do every day?” You know, if you started to get up in the morning and say, OK, if I introduce this person to that person, or if we raise a little money here. I mean, revolutions are like trees. They’re not built from the top down, they are built from the bottom up, and it can be very disempowering to look at the big thing, as opposed to simply say, “What can I do?”


Q. Thinking about your space and what people will see, I wonder about the many homes you’ve visited over the years. Are there any that became important to you, as a visitor?

A. What comes to my mind is whatever space Alice Walker has been living in over the years. Whatever is hanging on the wall means something. Couches always have a little blanket. She creates very, very simple special spaces.

Q. You are one of the people with a late March birthday, your second pandemic birthday. What will you do to celebrate?

A. I am lucky to be living for a year on my friend’s ranch here in California. So we’re able to have an outdoor lunch — properly spaced and outdoors. And so she — who is truly a great woman — is giving me this lunch for about 20 people. Twenty women.

Interview was edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.