The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Little, Brown, $27.99, 480 pp.
It was 1958. I stood before three examiners from a national fellowship foundation. I was a college senior. They represented a foundation established to support graduate students committed to college teaching. I supposed we would discuss my love of history, the particular field I hoped to study, the graduate schools I’d applied to. Wrong. They wanted to talk about my plans for marriage. I told them I was not in a romantic relationship and had no idea whether I would marry. But what if I were to marry? they asked. I said I hoped I would find a man who understood that my career was as important to me as his was to him. (I did not like where this was going.) But, they persisted, what if he did not? What if my husband did not want me to work? Pushed to the wall and profoundly unnerved, I answered that if I had to choose between marriage and career, I supposed I would have to choose the marriage. I left the room convinced I had lost all chance of winning the fellowship. (I got it anyway. I don’t know why.)
This anecdote could serve as a prologue to Gail Collins’s When Everything Changed, a quite comprehensive and engaging account of, as the subtitle puts it, The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. The book rests on a firm foundation: it relies on the work of social scientists and historians (credited appropriately in the notes and bibliography) as well as on vivid stories and interviews that make the narrative come alive as no...