Peg Yorkin, a self-described 1950s housewife who transformed herself into a leading feminist organizer and philanthropist, campaigning to expand access to abortion and to elect more women to political office, died June 25 at her home in Malibu, Calif. She was 96.

She had dementia, said her daughter, Nicole Yorkin.

As the longtime chair and co-founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, or FMF, Ms. Yorkin called on women to “turn our rage into direct action,” urging supporters to join her in promoting women’s equality and empowerment, including through access to safe and affordable reproductive health care.

Partnering with activists including Eleanor Smeal, a former president of the National Organization for Women, she waged a successful 12-year campaign to bring the abortion pill mifepristone to the United States, where millions of women have used the medication to terminate early-stage pregnancies.

The drug, which was first approved for use in France in 1988, now accounts for the majority of abortions in the United States, although antiabortion activists have sought to outlaw the pills since the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision last year.

Ms. Yorkin had warned for decades that the court might dismantle the constitutional right to abortion, and she told reporters that she was tired of men telling women what to do with their bodies and lives.

“It drives you insane,” she said in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I’m not a very calm person,” she added, although she did have an impish sense of humor about it. Outside her office — she was based in West Los Angeles before relocating to Beverly Hills, where she bought and renovated a building for the FMF — she hung a plaque reading: “Peg Yorkin Is Beyond Therapy. Do Not Disturb.”

As chair of the FMF, which is headquartered in Arlington, Va., Ms. Yorkin worked on a host of feminist projects: protecting independent abortion clinics from violent protesters who threatened doctors and patients; spotlighting the plight of Afghan girls and women under Taliban rule; safeguarding Ms. magazine, the trailblazing feminist publication that the foundation acquired in 2001; and increasing the ranks of women in politics.

Ms. Yorkin helped launch the group’s Feminization of Power campaign in 1987, organizing conventionlike gatherings in eight states and 21 cities. Women were encouraged to run for state legislatures and Congress, and attendees were asked to pledge their support to candidates with a feminist agenda. By the time the campaign ended a few years later, according to Smeal, the FMF’s president, the number of women in Congress had more than doubled, from about 5 percent to 10 percent of all members. (The figure is now 28 percent.)

Drawing on her own personal fortune, which stemmed from a divorce settlement with the television writer and producer Bud Yorkin, Ms. Yorkin also donated to individual candidates. She demonstrated such largesse that Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) once likened her to a one-woman political action committee.

Ms. Yorkin was an early backer of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the long-serving speaker of the House, and was credited with playing a key role in the 1992 Senate campaigns of women including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who were both elected as California Democrats.

“Her astute political mind helped power a wave of women running — and winning — up and down the ballot,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday, describing Ms. Yorkin as “a giant of the feminist movement.”

To Ms. Yorkin, political success was gratifying but far from expected. Raised in genteel poverty by a single mother, she had devoted years to PTA meetings, the Brownies and Girl Scouts, raising two children while giving little thought, as she told it, to feminist advocacy. “I fondly like to think that I’ve been a feminist all my life,” she told an interviewer in 1996, “but if you look at the journey … it’s sure as hell not true.”

Ms. Yorkin was born in New York City on April 16, 1927, to Frank and Dora Diem, a photographer and an actress. An only child, she was born without a given name — “my full birth name,” she claimed, “was Female Diem” — and at some point took the name Peg. Associates learned never to call her Peggy, which she hated.

Ms. Yorkin’s father, who took pictures for the silent-era filmmaker D.W. Griffith, met her mother when she was an extra on the director’s 1921 French Revolution drama “Orphans of the Storm.” Ms. Yorkin later recalled that her parents fought bitterly, hurling “brickbats and epithets” while at the kitchen table, until she returned home from summer camp at age 11 and discovered that her father, an alcoholic, had vanished.

She saw him just one more time, when she was 12, according to her daughter, and would later search for his name in phone books, trying unsuccessfully to find out what happened to him.

Ms. Yorkin spent the rest of her childhood in Yonkers, N.Y., where she lived with her maternal grandmother and mother, who pushed her to become an actress and appear on children’s radio show. She enrolled at Barnard College at 16, dropped out after two years and trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, learning from instructors including Martha Graham and Sanford Meisner before landing small roles on television and in summer stock theater.

After her marriage in 1950 to Newton Arnold, she moved to Los Angeles, where her husband became an assistant director. They divorced in 1952.

Two years later, she married Bud Yorkin. While he worked on movies and TV specials, she focused on their children, David and Nicole. “I was kind of a wife of the ’50s,” she told the Los Angeles Times, adding that as second-wave feminism took hold in the 1960s, she grew increasingly restless.

Throwing herself into volunteer work, she became the president of SHARE, a Hollywood philanthropic group, and employed her show-business connections to organize galas for children with developmental disabilities. She found support from actors including John Wayne and Janet Leigh but had less success, she said, in trying to persuade the group’s female members to list themselves by their given names, instead of as “Mrs. John Wayne” or “Mrs. Milton Berle.”

While her husband forged an acclaimed partnership with Norman Lear, working on 1970s sitcoms including “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” Ms. Yorkin became involved in the local arts scene, producing plays for the L.A. Shakespeare Festival and its successor organization, the L.A. Public Theatre.

She also turned toward politics, campaigning for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and serving as a California delegate to the National Women’s Conference of 1977.

Then, in 1984, her marriage unraveled. Her husband said he wanted a divorce, and two years later they finalized their separation.

“She was pretty angry for a while, and channeled that rage into doing something positive,” her daughter said in a phone interview. “As she always said, thanks to California’s great divorce laws, she ended up with a great settlement — although she always felt she earned it anyway, helping my dad every step of the way in his career as it grew.”

The same year as her divorce, Ms. Yorkin produced a 20th-anniversary gala for the National Organization for Women, which was then led by Smeal; the production was their first collaboration. In 1987, they founded the FMF with fellow activists Toni Carabillo, Judith Meuli and Katherine Spillar, the organization’s current executive director.

Ms. Yorkin made headlines in 1991 when she announced at a Washington news conference that she was donating $10 million to the group; it was described as the largest gift ever given to a feminist organization. Women have to “put our money where our anger is,” she said, “or we perpetuate a system that relegates women to begging for the obvious. It is time to stop begging men for our rights.”

Much of the donation was earmarked for advocacy on behalf of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, which terminates pregnancies by blocking the hormone progesterone and is often taken with the drug misoprostol.

Ms. Yorkin, Smeal and other activists traveled to Paris and Frankfurt, Germany, where they met with executives of the drug’s manufacturer and parent company, encouraging them to bring the pill to the United States. They later lobbied lawmakers and the Clinton administration, encouraging them to champion the drug, and advocated for its use in treating progesterone-related cancers. The pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.

“You get to be players at the table if you have the money to do it,” Ms. Yorkin told the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s taken so long, I was beginning to wonder if it would happen in my lifetime.”

In addition to her daughter, survivors include her son and four grandchildren.

Mifepristone grew in importance after the Supreme Court’s decision last June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which led some states to further limit or ban abortion. Ms. Yorkin, who was by then struggling with dementia, would have been “heartsick” if she knew what was happening, Smeal said in a phone interview.

Still, she added, Ms. Yorkin had remained committed to abortion rights and feminist issues even when the political climate seemed to turn against her. Urging her fellow activists to continue working, she would say, “Just remember, we’re fighting for half the human race.”

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