Celebrating the life and legacy of Rose Friedman: Rose’s Intellectual Legacy

Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a two-part series on Rose Friedman’s legacy. Read the first part here.

“From the beginning, I have never had the desire to compete with Milton professionally (perhaps because I was smart enough to recognize that I couldn’t). On the other hand, he has always made me feel that his achievement is my achievement,” Rose remarks in her memoir Two Lucky People, which she coauthored with Milton.

Although Rose never finished her PhD and was a full-time mother, she was also an avid researcher and intellectual. She continued economic research on her own, publishing a pamphlet, Poverty -Definition and Perspective (American Enterprise Institute, 1965), and a series of twelve articles entitled “Milton Friedman – Husband and Colleague” in the Oriental Economist (May 1976 to August 1977). The series also was published as a book in Japanese.

While many people remember Milton for his notoriety as a public facing economist, he didn’t start out that way. It was Rose who encouraged him to step into the limelight.

“In the summer of 1966, the editor of Newsweek magazine telephoned to ask whether my husband would consider becoming a columnist for Newsweek,” she recounted in Two Lucky People. “Though agreeing that this was a worthwhile project, my husband was very reluctant to undertake the assignment. … [M]ost of all he felt that it would take too much time and thus interfere with his research which was, along with his teaching, his main task. I agreed, of course, that his research came first. I did not believe, however, that writing a column every three weeks would interfere very much with his research. I felt that my husband’s special abilities and knowledge put him in a particularly good position to do so. The debate between myself and our son, who agreed with me, on the one side and my husband on the other, continued for some days. We succeeded in persuading him without too much pressure, however, because he found the assignment a challenging one and could not resist trying it.”

Rose similarly encouraged Milton when they were approached by the Chief Executive of the Public Broadcasting Service in 1977 to produce a television series “Free to Choose,” from which they would later coauthor their book with the same title. When reflecting on their initial meetings with PBS, Rose recounted: “One suggestion, a weekly discussion program on television, while a good idea in the abstract, did not appeal to Milton. The lecture series and television documentary did. Milton and I have spent much of our life trying to persuade our fellow men and women of the dangers of an intrusive government and the key role that a free competitive economy plays in making a free society possible. Bringing these ideas to the large audience that a TV documentary could attract excited us.”

Rose served as assistant producer for the series. It was this encouragement to branch out into the media that assisted Milton’s rise and lasting memory as the freedom loving economist we know and admire. Rose collaborated with her husband on three books on public policy that have received wide attention and circulation: Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 1962), Free to Choose (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), and Tyranny of the Status Quo (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984).

In Two Lucky People, Rose wrote about an interview for the San Francisco Sunday Examiner on March 18, 1984. Rose recounted being asked how she dealt with the fact that she and Milton did not share equally in the popular limelight.

“Fortunately, I was not born with a strong competitive gene, so his fame is our fame. I will never be a Nobel laureate, but I am very proud to be the wife of one. In addition, he is more gregarious and outgoing and less self-conscious than I, so he is better suited for the limelight,” Rose responded.

Among her many intellectual contributions to Milton’s work, Rose and Milton share a deep fervor for educational freedom. Milton remarked in Two Lucky People: “Monetary policy aside, no subject of public policy has commanded so much of our attention over so long a period. … The more we have learned about our educational system the greater has become our confidence that an unrestricted voucher system would lead to enormous improvement in the schooling available to our children, especially those in the most disadvantaged families.”

“During the more than forty years since my first article was published. Rose and I have been repeatedly involved in movements to use a voucher system to enable parents to choose the schools to which their children go—in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, California, among other places.”

All of that advocacy culminated in the founding of Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, now EdChoice, in 1996, for the purpose of promoting parental school choice.

Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Leslie Hiner recalled her first interaction with Rose.

“I met Rose at my first board meeting. Within a few minutes of sitting together, Rose took a deep dive into making sure I was crystal clear about the point of vouchers. With a strong voice and what was clearly hardcore commitment to what she was about to say, she told me that vouchers are about freedom, individual liberty. The country could not hope to remain free if people are not smart enough to understand the value of freedom and how to keep it.”

“Rose told me that if the next generation is not educated well enough to understand the free market and what it takes to make it work, there would be no freedom future generations. She reminded me that freedom can, in fact, be lost.”

Rose Friedman’s journey from humble beginnings to pioneering force in educational reform and policy exemplify the transformative power of education, determination, and advocacy. Her unwavering commitment to educational freedom, alongside her husband Milton, reshaped the landscape of learning and laid the groundwork for the school choice movement that continues to thrive today. With an unwavering commitment, Rose Friedman’s legacy endures, guiding the journey toward empowering individuals through education for a brighter and freer future.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a two-part series on Rose Friedman’s legacy. Read the first part here.