GLORIA STEINEM, PERHAPS NORTH America's most famous feminist, is packing for a trip to South Africa. But first she must finish an article for Ms., the magazine she cofounded in 1972 and to which she still contributes. She is also fretting over her next book, about her life on the road as a feminist organizer. "It is hard," Steinem says of her wearying schedule. "But it's more difficult not to do it."
Still, she is elated that she can cross at least one big item off her things-to-do list: The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History (Houghton Mifflin, $45), a reference work that Steinem coedited, has just been published in time for Women's History Month. "Damon Runyon talked about the oldest floating crap game in New York," Steinem says of the endless conferring that was necessary with her coeditors (former Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller, professors Gwendolyn Mink and Marysa Navarro and writer-scholar Barbara Smith). "We were probably the longest-running floating editorial meeting in the country."
The 696-page volume, five years in the making, covers everything from picture brides to the origins of terms like Ms. "I grew up in a generation in which most of the people in this country were invisible in history books—women as well as people of color and poor people," Steinem says, adding, "When you realize how little we learned growing up, you get mad. But it's also very energizing."