Tracking The Journey Of American Women

In her new book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, New York Times columnist Gail Collins examines the transformation in the lives of American women since the upheaval of the counterculture.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write this book?

Gail Collins: I was recruited in 1999 to do an introduction to a New York Times Magazine special millennium edition on women over the last thousand years. While I was writing it, it really hit me for the first time that I got to live in the one particular sliver of time when all the convictions about women's limitations, and women's proper place that had been in place since the beginning of recorded history came crashing down.
The idea really knocked me out. I still get a kick thinking about it.

So I wrote a book called "America's Women," which I thought was going to tell that story -- at least for this country. But as often happens in these projects, I got to page 400 and something, and I was still on World War II. I had to wrap things up fast, but I knew I'd come back and write a book that was specifically about the years when everything changed.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

GC:When Everything Changed tells the story from the top - the big dramatic events that were the real milestones, and also from the view of average women who were just living through it. My researchers and I asked them about careers and goals and families but also about what they wore, how they dated, what movies they saw, and so on. Whenever I read about a particular time in history I always want to know things like whether the people involved had comfortable shoes, or where they went to the bathroom.

On that big-events level, I was really stunned by the story of how Congress passed a bipartisan bill in 1971 that would have provided early childhood education and after-school programs for every American family that wanted them. It was vetoed by Richard Nixon. On the grassroots level, I have to say that Barbie and Ken seem to have had a lot steamier a time in little girls' playrooms than I imagined.

JG: What would you be doing, if you weren't a writer?

GC: Boy, I really don't know. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was around 11. Since then this was pretty much the only career I imagined.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

GC:Half the Sky, by my fellow columnist Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It's the book that was always waiting to be written about women in the developing world -- their oppression but also their incredible triumphs.
One of the neat things about my job is that I can look out my office door and see the authors of a dozen fantastic books. J.Courtney Sullivan, who sits about 10 feet away, has a really good novel out called Commencement, about Smith graduates in 2002.

JG: What's next for you?

GC: I'm writing a biography of President William Henry Harrison. Whenever I say this people stare at me, waiting for the punch line. Times Books has been publishing a fine series of short biographies of all the presidents, and they asked if I'd like to do one.

I picked William Henry in part because he died one month into his presidency, so I figured he needed somebody who liked to write about politics more than policy. Also, when I was in high school I won an "I Speak for Democracy" essay contest and the prize was getting to read my essay at the tomb of William Henry Harrison. We were bonded by fate.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.