When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

by Gail Collins

Paperback, 2010




Back Bay Books (2010), Edition: Illustrated, 512 pages


Tells how American women got from there to here, in politics, fashion, economics, sex, families and work in the past five decades.

Similar in this library


(124 ratings; 4.1)

Media reviews

Among the impressive features of Ms. Collins’s book is her genial, fair-minded sympathy, her refusal to smirk at the excesses of the most radical ’70s feminists or at the stances of women, among them Phyllis Schlafly, who counseled their sisters to stay home where they belonged. This
Show More
evenhandedness seems all the more admirable later in the book, when she considers the significance of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s and Sarah Palin’s roles in the 2008 presidential election.
Show Less
2 more
Did feminism fail? Gail Collins’s smart, thorough, often droll and extremely readable account of women’s recent history in America not only answers this question brilliantly, but also poses new ones about the past and the present, as she explicates moments that were widely recorded and
Show More
illuminates scenes that were barely remarked upon at the time.
Show Less
Although women have come a long way, baby, Collins acknowledges that — in 21st century America — they haven't figured out how to raise children and hold down a job at the same time, or to keep marriages from cascading into divorce. Nonetheless, her splendid book reminds us that their moms
Show More
created a world their grandmas "did not even have the opportunity to imagine."
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This book is a modern history of women in the United States from 1960 through the 2008 US Presidential campaign. Gail Collins, the first woman to serve as editor of the New York Times editorial page, begins with a detailed review of the role of women, and societal attitudes towards women, in 1960.
Show More
There were virtually no women doctors or lawyers. Television had taken the nation by storm, with 90% of American families owning a TV, and most programs portrayed the men in lead roles and women as subservient. Housework was very time-consuming, with labor-saving devices only just beginning to enter homes. Most women did not feel poorly treated; it was just the way things were. Surprisingly (at least to me), the civil rights movement was a trigger event that set waves of change in motion. Collins takes the reader decade by decade up to the present time, showing how women gradually earned rights, both legally and informally, and celebrated the early pioneers who made it all possible.

The book effectively covers my entire life (I was born in 1962). And while I had some idea that we’d “come a long way baby,” (as the ad used to say), I didn’t realize how much radical change had occurred until reading this book. I also found it very interesting to reflect on my personal experience during each decade. In that regard, the most meaningful chapters were those covering the 1980s and early 1990s: the time in which I came of age, went to university, got married, started a career, and had a family. But the chapters covering the 1960s and 1970s were compelling, because they put into perspective events that were somewhat of a mystery when seen through a child’s eyes (Roe vs. Wade is one notable example).

I recommend this book for all American women who would like to better understand the key people and events that shaped the society in which we live today.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Joanne53
"You've come a long way baby" doesn't even begin to cover the changes in women's lives and society's attitudes since 1960. Born in 1953 and married in 1974, I had forgotten how difficult it was for me to obtain a credit card in my own name in my 20's...and I could only qualify if I had my husband
Show More
co-sign. At least now I realize that I was in good company!!
I was particulary struck by the discrimination shown by the leaders of the civil rights movement for the women who were on the front lines. One would have thought they would have been more sympathetic to all oppression...how silly of me.
Gail Collins did a wonderfull job on this social history. It is easy to read, entertaining and educational all at the same time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member banjo123
[When Everything Changed] by [[Gail Collins]] is a history of the women’s movement and of women’s place in the US. It’s well-written and full of interesting details. Collins covers issues of class, race and sexual orientation as they relate to women’s roles, so the book is quite
Show More
comprehensive. It’s broad, rather than deep, but well worth reading.

I was impressed at how far we have come since the early 60’s when women were marginalized and accepted the marginalization. The story that resonated with me was an anecdote about JFK. Katharine Graham told how the president wanted to know why Adlai Stevenson, balding and chubby, was regarded as so attractive by his many female friends. Told that it was because Stevenson actually listened with interest to what women had to say, the president responded “Well, I don’t say you’re wrong, but I’m not sure I can go to those lengths. “
Show Less
LibraryThing member midwestms
Engrossing herstory of American women from 1960 on. Ms. Collins gives us excellent perspectives to look back on the truly amazing journey we've taken in these past decades. As a woman growing up in the seventies, I was acutely aware of the double standards, and I just loved reading this
Show More
well-thought out account of the journey women have taken to get the freedoms we did not enjoy in 1960.

I just love Ms Collins' humor and voice.
Show Less
LibraryThing member KarenRice
I didn't need to read this book because I'm a 66-year-old feminist. Highly recommended for women born after 1960.
LibraryThing member Florinda
American society has changed at an amazing pace in the last fifty years, especially for women. In 1960, when Gail Collins begins the narrative of When Everything Changed, most white, middle-class women were married, stay-at-home mothers well before their thirtieth birthdays; they may have worked
Show More
before they married, but their choices of acceptable careers were limited - sometimes by convention, sometimes by actual barriers to entry, including the law. It was more expected for poor women to work, even if they had children, but they were still primarily responsible for family and housekeeping as well. While the suffragists had succeeded in winning women the right to vote in 1920, progress for women in society essentially stalled after that. When it was proposed that non-discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race, be added to the Civil Rights Act, it was essentially a joke aimed at derailing the law's passage in the first place.

The Civil Rights Act passed anyway, and together with Title IX, the legal framework was put in place for women's rights and opportunities to expand dramatically. And with that framework, women's consciousness began to expand too, and they began to question and reshape the social framework as well...ultimately, by the early 21st century, bending some of it back toward where it started.

It's rather difficult to review this book fully, because it includes so much material. However, it's a relatively fast and very engaging read (if I'd had more time to spend with it, I'd have finished it sooner). There are some topics and people on which I'd have liked to spend more time, but I don't think Collins missed or shortchanged anything that really matters. The book was enlightening about so many things: the women in the civil-rights movement (whom the men wanted to keep in the background); the early triumph and ultimate defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, and its role in the rise of modern-day conservative politics (by the way, did you know that around the same time Congress originally passed the ERA, they also approved national child-care legislation? I didn't know it; if that had sustained some momentum, the lives of working moms could be so different); the perception of women as portrayed in popular culture, from That Girl to Mary Tyler Moore to Clair Huxtable, and reflected back as role models. Collins' approach embodies the "personal is political" tenet of modern feminism; much of the story here is oral history, told through women's experiences. While she spends time on plenty of prominent women - Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton - the stories of little-known women who also spent time in the trenches and lived out the changes are equally important here.

Collins is a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, and brings her journalist's approach to the writing here - it's very straightforward and direct, with plenty of references and endnotes. I read this on my Kindle, where the endnotes are actually links - it's a much more efficient approach, and I definitely liked it better than flipping back to the end all the time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kristenn
This history has received some criticism for not getting as worked up and fiery as the subject matter warrants. Overall, that objective tone made it even more appealing to me, but I wonder whether it's also why I read it unusually slowly. Along with working well as an introductory overview of the
Show More
era, there are many examples ordinary individual lives that will be interesting to anyone.

The book includes the first in-depth explanation of the ERA that I'd come across, including a profile of the remarkably Palinesque Phyllis Schlafly. There's an unexpectedly rich account of the Civil Rights movement, providing clear context for how the two movements did -- and didn't -- work together. I'd never heard of the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 and it's amazing to consider what might have been. There's mention of the collateral damage suffered by the traditionally female-dominated fields -- nursing and teaching (and librarianship) and the peer pressure on anyone disinterested in free love. Stunningly, I encountered quotes from both a fourth-grade classmate and my undergraduate advisor, despite the fact that the author is based in New York City and they are at the opposite end of the country. Some editing errors slip through -- Anchorage is confused with Fairbanks, for example.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lmnop2652
Fabulous book--a must-read for those of us who lived/changed the face of America--nay the world--beginning in the 1960s, and for those of us who have no clue as to what they have today and how they come to have so much--male and female alike.
LibraryThing member stacyinthecity
I never realized what life as a woman was like for my great grandmother, grandmother and mother. This book really shows how things have changed over the past 60 years or so. It is told in many small vignettes gleaned by interviews and extensive research. This style of writing made it engaging and
Show More
hard to put down.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Aetatis
I was less than impressed with this and I really had great expections for Collins. I love her columns in the NY Times but the book was strong in the beginning and the end but the middle trod ground that has been written before and better.
LibraryThing member annbury
Engrossing story of how the world has changed for American women since 1960. Like many of the other reviewers, I lived through all this, and I'd forgotten just how much things really have changed. The earlier sections of the book are the most exciting; they show where we were in 1960 (most of which
Show More
they don't show on 'Mad Men" because it was really, really boring) and then show how the walls came tumbling down. Things get a bit slow after that, as the first fine foolish rapture fades, and as the fact that someone has to bring up the kids comes into focus. Still, a well researched and enjoyable read. For an old feminist, it's a good reminder of just how far we really have come -- and a reminder of the fact that there are still changes that need making.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SR510
History as seen through dozens of snapshots. Lots and lots of anecdotes, each lasting perhaps a few pages, provide views of American women over the past few decades. There's what to be said for a less fragmented, more sustained approach, but there's also what to be said for this. Worth the read.
LibraryThing member speedy74
New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, delivers an engaging book about the triumphs for women’s rights in the decades from 1960 to the most recent presidential race of 2008. Written with numerous anecdotes from both famous and less well-known women’s lives, this book chronicles the social,
Show More
political, and economic aspects of the women’s rights movement in the United States.
While I already knew the underlying themes and struggles of the women’s rights movement, I found Collins’ research to be fascinating. I especially learned a lot from the sections relating to the 1960s as I did not live through this era and had never read about the specific role of women in the movement.
This is an excellent book for any liberal arts teacher, feminist, or history buff. I highly recommend it and look forward to teaching elements found within the book to my high school students next fall.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bacreads
Every woman should read this, but especially those born after 1960. I lived on the fringes of this movement because I was too busy being a wife and a mother but I did benefit from the changes that were made. My daughter of course benfitted more and my granddaughters [hopefully] will see little
Show More
discrimination because of their sex.

There were part of the book that became a bit tiresome. It was very difficult to remember names but once I decided that the actions, not the names were important that was helpful. The author did seem to jump around a bit which made it difficult to keep all of the information in a clear context.

HIghly recommend.
Show Less
LibraryThing member reannon
Excellent history of the women's movement in the U.S. since the 1960s. I've loved Collin's columns in the New York Times for years, especially her humor. The humor isn't much in evidence in this book, but herwriting talent and serious chops as a journalist are. I love reading about the Civil Rights
Show More
movement, so the part of the book about women and the movement was my favorite. The most difficult part is remembering the stories of some of the non-famous women she tracks across the time period. Overall, highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cherybear
I admit, it took me awhile to read, but not because it wasn't well done. I'm just not that good at nonfiction anymore, plus it's been a busy time. But it is exactly what the title says. Not only do we read about the people we all "know" like Rosa Parks and Gloria Steinem, but there are the stories
Show More
of, and interviews with "everyday" people. From politics to education, to voting, to Civil Rights and race relations, to marriage and gender roles within relationships. . . she covers them all. As we see women's reproductive rights challenged again in 2014, it is an educational look back to the battles fought and won, and even those we have yet to win.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
Consists mostly of anecdotal stories that reminds us that women have come a long way since the fight for equality (this book focuses on the 1950s to the present day), but that we still have a lot left to do, especially in work-family balance issues. I found this fascinating, and at times,
Show More
infuriating. Not a book to read if you are searching for solutions, and there are better books out there, but it's an important read for providing some background in feminist history. I had this in my TBR for a long time, but was compelled to pick it up the week of the 2016 Presidential Election results. I'm glad I did.
Show Less
LibraryThing member rmariem
LibraryThing member phyllis01
So much of this has happened in my lifetime. I can remember going to buy my first (used) car on my own in 1985, and the salesman asking me if my daddy was going to co-sign the loan for me. There I stood, college degree in one hand and downpayment I had earned in the other, and was being asked if my
Show More
daddy was going to stand for me. Things have come very far, very fast. However, it's sad and scary the movie '9-5' could be remade today with updated fashions and little if no other changes to the script and still be right on the mark regarding women in the workplace. An upside is what Title IX has done for women in high schools and colleges regarding athletics. Collins provides terrific detail, great personal stories from women who fought the good fight, and provides thought-provoking parallels to the Civil Rigths movement; insight on the rise of the New Right; and how Sarah Palin is basically a Phyllis Schafly retread.
Show Less
LibraryThing member framberg
Powerful and accessibly written, this book is a must-read. Not for just women, or for people interested in politics, or history, but for everyone. Collins traces the breathtaking changes in women's status and opportunities over the last 50 years, elucidating the political, economic and social
Show More
shifts that the current generation takes for granted. Collins also makes clear what has not changed and the distance we still have to travel to achieve true equality.
Show Less
LibraryThing member aratiel
Amazing, AMAZING book. This should be required reading for women of every age. It's an easy read full of anecdotes, but thoughtful and intelligent as well.


Ohioana Book Award (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2010)
Dayton Literary Peace Prize (Longlist — Nonfiction — 2010)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

8.25 inches


0316014044 / 9780316014045
Page: 0.6377 seconds