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

by Gail Collins

In 1960, a secretary named Lois Rabinowitz went to court to pay
a traffic ticket for her boss. But there was just one problem: she
was wearing pants. What is commonplace now (women in pants) caused
an uproar at the time as the judge threw her out of his courtroom
for dressing inappropriately. The event ushered in a new era for
women, and the right to wear pants --- figuratively and literally
--- was just the beginning. In WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED, journalist
and author Gail Collins chronicles 50 years of social, political,
legal and cultural changes in the status, rights and roles of
American women.

Rabinowitz never intended to be part of a movement, but there
were many women in the 1960s who decided the time was right for
change. Some of the first to demand if not equality than fair legal
protection were flight attendants, who were sick of being hired
based on looks and fired once they got married. In the years that
followed, women’s rights to equal pay and fair treatment in
the workplace and financial world became a massive movement led by
all types of women: housewives, radicals, writers, politicians and

Soon colleges began admitting more women. There were a growing
number of female doctors, lawyers and elected officials. Yet even
as they proved their competence, they continued to be discriminated
against in various subtle --- and not so subtle --- ways. Women
still felt the need to take to the streets and call for
improvement. Of course, the backlash came, and it was often led by
women as well.

One of the most interesting and poignant sections in the book is
Collins’s examination of the Civil Rights Movement from the
perspective of women’s participation and contributions. There
is great irony that an equality movement would discriminate based
on gender. Collins spends much of her time discussing women in law,
politics and journalism, and there is little mention of women in
cultural milieus such as art and music. Still, the book
doesn’t seem lacking, only thusly focused.

Collins’s narrative is a blend of well-researched history
and interviews; she covers all the heavy-hitters of the movement
but spends plenty of time discussing the changes brought about by
women most have never heard of. In this way, the scope is broad and
informative, but the book is personal and energetic. Though
entertaining and readable, it packs a punch. Young ladies may not
realize, for instance, that until after 1970 women couldn’t
sign for mortgages or credit cards in their own names --- and that
realization is powerful. A lot has been accomplished in the last 60
years, and this book celebrates that but also acknowledges that
true equality has yet to be achieved.

WOMEN but can be read alone as an exploration of contemporary
women’s history in America. Ending with an even-handed
account of the 2009 presidential election and the key figures of
Clinton, Palin and Michelle Obama, Collins succeeds in bringing the
book to a timely and exciting conclusion. With a balanced but
pro-equality message and a lively style, she treats her subject
with all the seriousness it warrants and the right amount of humor
to keep the reading from being dull. WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED is a
welcome and important addition to the study of not just
women’s history but American history.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 27, 2011

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present
by Gail Collins

  • Publication Date: October 21, 2010
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316014044
  • ISBN-13: 9780316014045