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Gail Collins
Gail Collins
America’s Women:  400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines
ISBN: 0061227226
America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines
—from the publisher's website

America's Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of what it means to be female in America.

By culling the most fascinating characters -- the average as well as the celebrated -- Gail Collins, the editorial page editor at the New York Times, charts a journey that shows how women lived, what they cared about, and how they felt about marriage, sex, and work. She begins with the lost colony of Roanoke and the early southern "tobacco brides" who came looking for a husband and sometimes -- thanks to the stupendously high mortality rate -- wound up marrying their way through three or four. Spanning wars, the pioneering days, the fight for suffrage, the Depression, the era of Rosie the Riveter, the civil rights movement, and the feminist rebellion of the 1970s, America's Women describes the way women's lives were altered by dress fashions, medical advances, rules of hygiene, social theories about sex and courtship, and the ever-changing attitudes toward education, work, and politics. While keeping her eye on the big picture, Collins still notes that corsets and uncomfortable shoes mattered a lot, too.

"The history of American women is about the fight for freedom," Collins writes in her introduction, "but it's less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women's roles that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders."

Told chronologically through the compelling stories of individual lives that, linked together, provide a complete picture of the American woman's experience, America's Women is both a great read and a landmark work of history.

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines
Program Air Date: December 14, 2003

GAIL COLLINS, AUTHOR, "AMERICA`S WOMEN": "When I look back through all of American history, the one moment that stays with me is the image of women standing on the deck of the Mayflower, staring out at a whole continent of dense forest. On the trip over, they must have been fixated on simply getting to land. They could never have imagined how wild it would seem, how big and empty of everything they knew. "Plenty of male Europeans had made the same voyage before them, but they were explorers or traders or fishermen, out to get what they needed and return home. For the women, this was going to be the only home they would ever know again. The real job of settling was theirs. Most of them would die before they could put down real roots, but those who survived generally went on to have big families whose descendants took special pride in knowing they shared the DNA of those simple, scared, determined women. "The history of American women is all about leaving home, crossing oceans and continents or getting jobs and living on their own. Some of our national heroines were defined by the fact that they never nested. They were peripatetic crusaders like Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Sojourner Truth, Dorothea Dix. The center of our story is the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it." (END AUDIO CLIP)

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Gail Collins, I wanted to start this, because that was my experience, instead of reading the whole book, because I was traveling, I listened to it. What was it like doing the audio part of all this?
COLLINS: Well, it was very neat. I`m a big fan of recorded books, and so it was a real pleasure to be able to do a piece of myself. And then to be able to be the lead-in act for Jane Alexander was very neat, too.
LAMB: Did you have anything to do with Jane Alexander being picked to read it?
COLLINS: No. I was thrilled, but I had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
LAMB: So the idea for this book came from where?
COLLINS: It just sort of popped up. You know, we did -- during the millennium, we did a "Times" issue of the magazine on women over the last 1,000 years, and they asked me to write an essay, introductory essay. And that was sort of the first time I fixated on the idea of, My God, there were theories about the way women were supposed to be that went on back as far as we can remember in Western civilization, and in my lifetime, they changed. That`s just amazing. And so I really -- the idea then of just going back and looking at that whole story occurred to me.
LAMB: I thought of you when I read about -- and I read part of it -- Sara Josepha Hale (ph).
COLLINS: Yes, I love Sara Josepha Hale.
LAMB: First magazine editor that was a woman. You`re the first woman to be the editorial page editor of "The New York Times."
COLLINS: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Did you think about that along the way? Is that one of the things that moved you on to write about this?
COLLINS: No, I think, actually, I was writing the book before I became the editorial page editor. I was a columnist at "The Times" when I agreed to write the book. And I`d written about half of it before, two years ago, I got -- I got this job. And it`s been … (LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: ... trying to be the editorial page editor and finish the book, but -- I mean, now that it`s done,
LAMB: What`s Sara Josepha Hale`s story?
COLLINS: You know, what I love about Sara Josepha Hale is she`s sort of one of those rope-a-dope women`s liberation movement people who figured out the way to get what she wanted without breaking any eggs, without really upsetting the theories about the way women are supposed to be. Women were supposed to stay home in the 19th century. They weren`t supposed to do any of the jobs that men did. They were supposed to stay completely out of the public eye. And Sarah Josepha Hale was the very powerful editor of this major-league women`s magazine.

And the way she did it -- she started out -- she was a widow. She had five children to support. And she kept saying, I really would rather be home all by myself, retired by the hearth, not doing anything outside, but unfortunately, I have to feed my starving orphaned children. And she kept saying this until she retired when she was 90, and her youngest child was 55. But that was still sort of the organizing principle she was working on.
LAMB: What was her magazine, and what year did she become editor?
COLLINS: She started in the 1830s. She started with a magazine called "Ladies` Magazine." She was extraordinarily prolific. She -- when her husband died, she started trying to support her children by entering essay contests and poetry contests. She wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb." It never occurred to me that anybody wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but she did. I don`t know if she won any awards for it.

But she started there, and then she got a job writing this magazine called "Ladies Magazine" in New England, which was like all the magazines of that time, basically just cut-and-paste jobs. You took a British magazine and stole everything and put it out again. But she decided that her magazine would be original and would speak to the American woman, even if she had to write every word herself, which she did, even letters to the editor. And then she got promoted to Godi`s (ph) ladies -- to Godi`s magazine, which was the sort of the definitive woman`s magazine of the time.
LAMB: Speak to your own experience and your job as editorial page editor of "New York Times" and a woman. Is there a different way that you look at it than, say, a man would?
COLLINS: Probably. And my theory is that people from different demographic or historic backgrounds or whatever all look at stuff a different way. And you can`t say it`s one particular way because you`re a woman, but if you`ve got a mix of a whole bunch of different people running around, doing things and working together, you tend to get just a really good stew. So I`m sure there`s stuff about what I do that`s due to the fact that I`m a woman, but I don`t know exactly which things those are, to tell you the truth.
LAMB: What was the date of your new title?
COLLINS: I came on in August of 2001. So I had about a month before -- you know, when I came on, I thought, Well, this is sort of strange, because I was a columnist. You don`t normally make a columnist the editorial page editor. But I thought, Well, I`m very good at kind of spinning things and making things interesting, even if they`re kind of pedestrian. So it`s going to be a really boring time in American history! Things look so calm. The economy is great. Foreign affairs are very dull. So I`ll just sort of spin stuff around and see what I can do with it.

And then, of course, we`ve had one terrorist attack and two wars, a blackout. A few weeks ago, a worm sent letters from our op-ed department to thousands of people saying, Thank you for your contribution, when they hadn`t written any, causing them all to believe that identity theft had taken place. Stuff keeps happening. It`s been quite an adventure, I must say.
LAMB: Can you remember what you thought the first day you walked in the editorial -- is there a room that`s set aside?
COLLINS: There is. You know, people often ask me if "The Times" editorial page has ever changed it`s opinion on a really big issue. And I always say, yes, we changed on women`s suffrage. For about 100 years, "The Times" was opposed to giving women the right to vote, until the very last minute.

We have a long boardroom where I run the editorial board meetings. And on the other end of the boardroom are pictures, portraits of Charles Miller and Henry Raymond (ph), who were the two really major editorial page editors during that period. So I do like to every once in a while come in early, you know, and say, Guys, it`s Gail. I got your job. (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: Wasn`t Henry Raymond a Republican?
COLLINS: Yes. He was during the Civil War, and he -- legend had it that during the Civil War riots, he had a Gattling gun installed in the department, and he was ready to shoot down the crowds if they came and attacked the paper. He`s a fierce-looking little guy, I can tell you! (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: Do you have any idea who the first woman was to serve on "The New York Times" editorial board? And how long ago was it?
COLLINS: It was in the `60s, I think, and I can`t remember right now who it was. There had not been many, really, until the 1980s.
LAMB: How many do you have on the board now, and how many women are on there?
COLLINS: There are 14 people on the board and 5 of them are women now, and -- but of -- 2 of them are on part-time right now because they wanted to take more time off to be with their families, so we don`t have as many as a perfect balance would indicate, but we have amazing women, so that`s good.
LAMB: When you did this research on women, what did you find were the three or four major turning points in the history of women since, what is it, 1600?
COLLINS: Since the 1600s. One was the Revolutionary War, was just really huge. Some women, a few women thought -- certainly, Abigail Adams, people like that, thought that they`d get out of the Revolutionary War some really major rights for women because they fought so hard themselves. They were the ones who ran the farms while their husbands were at war. They were very active in the boycotts of British goods. So they really -- for the first time, there was a national sense that women were sort of taking part in a public event like the war was.

So they thought they`d get a lot out of it, and they didn`t. Legally speaking, they got very little. There`s that really famous letter that Abigail wrote to John saying, Remember the ladies, and when you make up the new laws, drop the title of master and take up the title of friend. And we wrote back, which we don`t quote ….As to your thing about the laws, I cannot help but laugh at you, Abigail. What are you talking about?

So they didn`t get that. But what they did get was the idea that women should be educated, that they be the mothers of the new citizens, so that women, as well as men, should be sent to school. And once you started sending all these women to school, suddenly the nation realized they had a terrible shortage of teachers. And every time in our history, no matter what the theories are about women, if there`s a desperate need for literate workers at low pay, women are going to be the answer!

So it was suddenly decided that part of the maternal feeling of women was to be a teacher. So it was the first time for women, middle-class women, that you had a job that you could go and do. You didn`t have to be either a wife or a dependent. If you didn`t want to get married, you could actually get a job and support yourself. And that was huge, just an amazing turning point.
LAMB: So Revolutionary War. What`s next?
COLLINS: Maybe the Civil War, Civil War and -- whenever there`s a war, all the rules are suspended. It`s an emergency, so there`s always a very strong feeling that women are allowed to do stuff they normally aren`t allowed to do. And during the war, especially in the North, women were really very active, and before the war, in the Abolition movement. For the first time, you had women really getting out there and mixing it up in politics. Again, the women kept saying, Well, this is part of our maternal deal. You know, It`s not really about the politics. It`s about families being broken up.

You know, Harriet Beecher Stowe and "Uncle Tom`s Cabin" was a very canny, rope-a-dope liberation way of looking at the slavery issue. It wasn`t about politics or whether blacks should be citizens. It was about families being torn asunder. You know, and that`s was a women`s issue. So therefore, the Civil War was, in part, a woman`s war. And that -- so many woman got politicized then and never really depoliticized afterwards. So that was a huge deal.

And afterwards, again, you know, great disappointment on the part of women, who thought that they would get the vote, along with the ex-slaves. And that never happened. And there was a sort of a very nasty, evil period there, towards the second half of the 19th century, when people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were running around, hanging out with deeply, deeply racist guys, who were really arguing, How could it be that these immigrants and these ex-slaves who can hardly read are allowed to vote and we middle-class women aren`t? It was wrong, wrong, wrong. So it was a bad and bleak period, in many ways.
LAMB: Next point in history?
COLLINS: Well, you got to go for suffrage. (LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: Suffrage is very big. There`s a great story at the end of the suffrage movement. You know, what you don`t realize until you look at it is how long and dreary and painful this was. There was a long period in which the suffrage movement decided the only way to do this -- We`ll never get a constitutional amendment, the Southern politicians will never allow this. We`ve got to do this state by state. So they`re schlepping off. Five times they go to South Dakota to try to get a constitutional amendment in the South Dakota state constitution. And you know, it`s always really hot out or it`s really cold out. And Susan B. Anthony almost dies out there. They`re all schlepping back and forth to South Dakota and all these other very bleak states, trying to do this.

And it feels to so many of these women like it`s never going to happen. It`s never going to work out. Finally, you get to the point where you`ve got -- you`re almost there. You pass the thing through Congress. You`ve got all but one state. You`re down to your last state. It`s Tennessee. It`s the last possible state. It`s the last possible date. It`s passed in the senate. It`s gone to the house. It`s a one-vote margin. And the speaker of the house changes his mind and says he`s going to vote against it.

And then, suddenly, this 24-year-old guy, the youngest member of the legislature, who`s a no vote, gets up says, I`ve got this letter from my mother. She says, Son, do the right thing and vote for suffrage. And a good boy always listens to his mother. I`m changing my vote. The thing passes and it becomes law.

It was so dramatic at the end. I mean, you would have loved to have been there.
LAMB: And what would you call the years of suffrage?
COLLINS: The years since suffrage...
LAMB: No, the years that they -- it was debated and worked on and the Susan B. Anthonys and the Elizabeth Cady Stantons...
COLLINS: Oh, the years of suffering -- it went for -- it went for almost a century. And you know, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton knew they wouldn`t see it. They knew they would not really see national suffrage in their lifetime.
LAMB: It passed in Tennessee in what year?
COLLINS: It passed in Tennessee in 1920.
LAMB: And -- when was the first -- (CROSSTALK)
LAMB: ... election that the women voted in?
COLLINS: Warren Harding. They voted for Warren Harding!~ (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: Did the women vote for him?
COLLINS: After all this time. Yes. Yes. As far as they know. Of course, there wasn`t very sophisticated polling then, but it appears that women basically voted like their husbands did, not, I don`t think, because they were following their husband`s lead but because, like their husbands, their votes were predicated on region or class or other stuff about their demography that made them feel that one party or the other was in their interest. And of course, Harding was the great peace candidate of his time -- normalcy.

But it wasn`t a great moment. You know, we begin this great stride. Women are going to change the world. And the first thing we do is elect Warren Harding, the worst president in American history. So it`s a little bit embarrassing.
LAMB: The next moment you think that made a big difference in women`s lives?
COLLINS: Again, I`d have to go with World War II. I mean, that -- but there`s this interesting -- but what you`re seeing during these periods, if you look at this top, what you think is, Well, during the Depression, the whole country was united in the idea that women should -- married women should not work. Let the jobs go to the men. Huge pressure for married women not to work. Then comes World War II -- huge pressure for all women to go out and work, big posters saying men will die in war if you don`t go and man the machine tomorrow. Then the `50s -- you know, everybody`s supposed to go back into the kitchen. And it looks as if women are sort of dashing back and forth into the marketplace.

But in fact, it wasn`t happening. During the Depression, married women who were working kept working because they had a need to work. And during the war, traditional housewives who weren`t working did not go to work. They stayed right where they were. And after the war, married women who had been working continued to work. They just didn`t get paid as much for it afterwards. But you see that by this time, the women have really begun to set their own rules, quietly on the ground, for what they`re going to do and whether they`re going to work or not.
LAMB: So can we make the statement that war was good for women?
COLLINS: I think so. Anything that shakes things up is, over the long run, good, as unpleasant and horrible as it may be when it`s happening.
LAMB: Is there a last moment, then, where things really took another turn?
COLLINS: Well, the thing that knocks me out whenever I do this and talk about this or think about it is that in my lifetime, in the early `70s, all the rules changed. There was just suddenly this social -- messy as it was -- very, very fast social consensus that women were not going to be kept at home and that women, in fact, had a right to do all the stuff that men could do, including having adventures, you know, and playing baseball, doing all -- anything that a man wanted to. And it happened so fast. It`s just -- when you look at history, in one quarter of a second of our history, everything changed. It is just such a neat story. I just love thinking about it.
LAMB: Well, then, you point out that 55 percent of the graduates in college are women.
LAMB: Now, how long did it take? I mean, back in the years we were talking about earlier, Revolutionary War, how many women went to school then, any?
COLLINS: Well, you couldn`t even go to school, most women. Well, some were educated at home or in private schools. But for the most part, little girls -- there`s these horrible stories of little girls sitting on the steps of schoolhouse, trying to listen while the boys recite things in...
LAMB: Any school?
COLLINS: School …at all before -- after the Revolutionary War, in numbers, they started to go to school. Before then, there was a little bit of sort of home tutoring and there were nannies who would have, like, nursery schools that women went to. But there really wasn`t any education for women.
LAMB: When did they first go to college?
COLLINS: They started going to college in little numbers in the early 19th century, in small numbers. Really, the huge sort of massive movement of women into college came at the end of the 19th century. And you had a period there, that kind of "new woman" period, the Jane Addams period that came after the turn of the century, in which you had a large number of women going to college, large number of women not getting married, disproportionate to any other period in our history, and large numbers of women in professions like doctor, and numbers that we wouldn`t see again until the 1980s. There was just sort of this really huge surge of liberation for the upper and middle-class women of America going on right around the turn of the century. And then really in the `20s, it kind of drew back, and we liberated our -- you know, sort of our bodies and our right to drink and drive cars and stuff like that instead, you know?
LAMB: How about in your -- is Collins your maiden name or married name.
COLLINS: Married name.
LAMB: What was your maiden name?
COLLINS: Gleason (ph).
LAMB: Did you go back and look at the Gleason family or your mother`s family to find out what happened to women in your own family?
COLLINS: Not really. The Gleason family is sort of one of those Irish non-success stories for a long period of time, until -- really, until my parents` generation. So I don`t think they were up to much of note. I remember vaguely my, you know, grandmother talking, telling us stories about nursing soldiers during the Civil War. But there wasn`t really a whole big bunch of stuff going on until, really, my parents` generation.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
COLLINS: In Cincinnati.
LAMB: For how long did you live there?
COLLINS: Until I was about 18, and then I went to college, and I never really returned. But my family is still there. You know, I went there early on to take the book around, stuff...
LAMB: What were your mother and father doing for a living?
COLLINS: My father worked for the utility company. He was an executive in the utility company. And my mother was a traditional housewife. I always say I wrote the book partly for her. I didn`t want this to be a book about how we were stuck in the kitchen and then we got out in 1970 and things have gotten better. I wanted -- for most of our history, most women wanted desperately to be full-time housewives, and that was the most creative and empowering option that they had, way better than any of the jobs that most of them could have hoped to have gotten, which were factory jobs and farming jobs and domestic jobs. So that`s a chunk of our history that`s so important and that, you know, it took us a while to get back and look at.
LAMB: Is your mom and -- are they both still alive?
COLLINS: Yes. My mother was there for the beginning, the book party sort of moments. And it was like a mother rock tour. Everyone was... (LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: I dedicated the book to my mother, so she`s had a big part …And actually, when I was writing it, I sent it to her and said, Show me the parts that you think are boring, because it was about 00 pages when we finished it the first time around. And she was very, very diligent about chopping stuff out. You know, she had no mercy, so it was very good. She was a big help.
LAMB: Now the family consisted of how many people when you grew up?
COLLINS: I have two sisters and a brother.
LAMB: And was the issue of what a woman would do in a society ever discussed around the dinner table?
COLLINS: Not much. You know, that`s the interesting thing. I was the oldest, and I came in a period when, you know, you still were kind of thinking in terms of the 1950s theory about women. But my parents were really ambitious for me. And there was never any real thought about, you know, you couldn`t do this or that because you were a girl. And you know, my sisters have both, you know, had stellar careers and...
LAMB: What have they done?
COLLINS: My one sister was a CPA and a financial officer in California, and my other sister runs non-profit child care centers in Cincinnati that just do stupendous work in child care. And she`s educated -- the whole women in education thing is just a huge part of American history that -- both for the women who got the jobs and for what happened to the country because the women took the jobs, that was neat writing about.
LAMB: You went where to college?
COLLINS: I went to Marquette (ph), Milwaukee.
LAMB: Did you have any experience there that...
COLLINS: Well, you know, that was the period -- even Marquette, which was a very conservative school, you know, in the late `60s was a period in which you were supposed to not go to class very much! And we took to the streets, and we demonstrated for freedom of speech and stuff like that. So there was a lot of stuff that we got to do then that just happened because that`s the way the world was at the time, you know?
LAMB: Did you ever say, I`m not going to be a housewife like my mother?
LAMB: Did you ever think that you...
COLLINS: I never really thought I would. I mean, I think my mother didn`t think I would. It wasn`t really something that anybody ever discussed. It was just presumed that I would go to college and I think everybody thought I`d get married at some point in time, but it wasn`t -- I didn`t -- I don`t -- I`ve never felt like I`ve -- was a great struggler for women`s rights because, in fact, people have been always spectacularly supportive with me. I`ve been really, really lucky. And so it`s other people who`ve carried the great banners.
LAMB: After Marquette, what`d you do?
COLLINS: Well, I got married, and I went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts. WE had more demonstrations! (LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: Closed down more schools, had more days with no classes. And then my husband and I went to Connecticut. We both got journalism jobs there. My husband, Dan`s, an editor at CBS. And then we went from Connecticut to New York, and here I am.
LAMB: There`s a picture in here that I want to show, this one right here, because it -- more often than not, you would write about what women had to wear over the years.
COLLINS: Yes. I think that...
LAMB: What are we looking at here?
COLLINS: That`s a corset. The period -- there`s an entire century worth of corseting going on in American history, in which women could barely breathe. And you were supposed to do it from the time you woke up in the morning, if you were middle class, certainly. You put on your corset when you got out of bed. And it was a time in which women didn`t move around much.

I wrote in the book about the bicycle at the turn of the century and how important the bicycle was to women because they`ve been spending a century walking around in these corsets, with maybe 20 pounds worth of skirts and petticoats hanging down, weighing them down. They were almost immobilized. Clara Barton, during the Civil War, couldn`t move sometimes because the blood would soak into her petticoats when she was nursing soldiers, and she was just trapped, you know, to the floor.

And suddenly, you got the bicycle, and it was OK for women to ride the bicycle. So you could zoop along. And it was just an extraordinary -- they called it "wheeling" then. You know, it was an extraordinary liberation moment for women. And all the famous women of the time got on bicycles. You know, Lillian Russell wrote a newspaper column explaining what you wore when you went bicycling. It was just a very big moment.

The stuff about what women wear, their health issues during -- are just so important for American history. You just tend to always think that people got up in the morning and did whatever they were supposed historically do. You don`t think about, Well, how did they feel physically? Did they have any energy? You know, Were they in pain? Were they comfortable? And that stuff is just a huge part of the story. And that was one of the reasons I really wanted to write the book. I wanted to kind of look at the stuff from the ground up.
LAMB: What did you find were some of your better sources on the history of women?
COLLINS: There are stupendous books on the history of American women. For the last 20, 25 years, there`s just been a blossoming of the literature. And what I tried to do was to read as much of it as I could. You know, I have this wonderful room now that`s full of nothing but books. I had six assistants who worked part-time for me, who read books and underlined stuff for me. And then I tried to sort of pick out all the good bits that I could and spin into it a story that would be fun to read but would not only tell the ground story and the big over story, but also some of the theories that women have -- that historians have developed about what women did. And at the end of the book, I tried to show through the footnotes where my trail was, so that other people could follow it and go back and read these books, too.
LAMB: The -- speaking of the corsets, you also write that there were periods where the larger the woman was, the better off she was.
COLLINS: Yes, the Gilded Age -- you know, I -- let`s all go back and live in the Gilded Age. There`s this great letter from a guy in the -- toward the end of the century, 19th century, from the West, saying a tightrope walker came to town, and she walked across Main Street on her tightrope. She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw -- huge thighs. (LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: I mean, Lillian Russell was the great beauty of the time. Lillian Russell, who, you know, on her good days, weighed about 160 pounds, would have eating contests with Diamond Jim Brady and invite reporters, would leave her corset with the maitre d` when she came into the restaurant, so she`d have plenty of room for the eating contest. And everybody liked large -- it was "living large" kind of era. People were proud then of conspicuous consumption. And it was a period in which they really celebrated the sins of the flesh.
LAMB: So what changed it to the opposite? You write in the `20s, the flappers and the skinny women and -- they went the opposite direction.
COLLINS: Yes. After suffrage, the -- there was sort of an explosion again, in which women wanted to be physically free. And they wanted -- they got rid of their corsets. They got rid of, you know, all the restrictive clothing there was. They wore very simple, straight outfits. They wanted to be able to walk around, to be free to move a lot. The dances became really lively at that period of time, you know, the Charleston and stuff like that. And part of the deal was you wanted to be physically free, so you wanted to be athletic. You wanted to be able to move around.

It was very strange, though. You know, you had a period in which women were supposed to be so physically free, but they bound their breasts. It was as if you couldn`t get to the point where women really opened up to their bodies in a way in which nothing was restrained. So you were going to be free, you`re going to move around a lot, you weren`t going to be hemmed in by corsets, but you were going to look like a boy, so it wouldn`t be too threatening physically to people.
LAMB: A man reading this book also will find some information about the woman`s biological functions that they probably never thought of. (LAUGHTER)
LAMB: And I`m sure -- I mean, this is -- we don`t need to go into any detail about it, but this must have been something that you thought about writing before you did it.
COLLINS: Right. Well, I...
LAMB: There`s several different periods where you write about how -- the difference between men and women and how they lived their lives.
COLLINS: I am, I must say always a person who tries to imagine during the great moments of history where people went to the bathroom when all these things happened. You know, where did they go to the bathroom when they were crossing the Great Plains, you know, where did they get the privacy? If they got any? What did they do about diapers? And what did women do when they had their periods? That`s something that every woman I know has always been curious about. So I had one researcher who did virtually nothing but tried to figure that out.
LAMB: I`m interested, how -- where do you find it?
COLLINS: There`s not that much information. What we found, a lot of it comes from letters, from doctors` manuals, and then once you hit the very end of the 19th century -- advertisements. Sears catalogue, stuff like that. You begin to get some hints. But parts of it are still a mystery.
LAMB: Well, it`s -- because there`s so many characters in your book, let`s say that you have the option of putting the dinner together with some of your favorite characters around the table for conversation purposes. Who would you start with?
COLLINS: Well, I think you`ve got to start with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I mean, for the sort of a person who`s both smart and totally wired into her society, and very funny, and just a person you could just imagine sitting down with them and listening to our gossip about everybody that she knew.
LAMB: Seven children?
COLLINS: Yes. And it drove Susan B. Anthony crazy. You know, one of the great stories of the book is the whole fight with -- the first time a professional woman existed in the United States, she`s writing letters about what am I going to do about children, you know? About, you know, can I get a family, what am I going to do about that? And Elizabeth Cady -- Susan B. Anthony, who was the great partner of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was driven mad by the fact that she kept having all these babies. It was like the trail of the cars every time it happened. But I would want to hear from her for sure. She would be my first person.
LAMB: Who else is at that table?
COLLINS: Lillian Russell is a fascinating character. I really -- and she was a great suffragette, too. She was very into women`s vote, and ...
LAMB: Who was she? What did she do?
COLLINS: She was -- well, she was the great beauty and the great theatrical performer of the Gilded Age. She sang, and she did comedies, and so -- she wasn`t a great dramatic actress.
LAMB: What would you ask her?
COLLINS: You know, she would like to talk about the fashions and the cosmetics and all the physical things. She was great about writing, she would write columns in the newspaper about what to do in order to look more beautiful. During those days, they stressed thinking beautiful thoughts more than buying good products.
LAMB: And her years?
COLLINS: She was -- she was in the Gilded Age just after the Civil War. So it`s the `70s, `80s and `90s, really. She went on for a very long time.
LAMB: The third person at the table?
COLLINS: The third person? Well, I love the Grimke sisters. I am not sure if they`d be great conversationalists. But they really knocked me out. They were the daughters of slave owners, before the Civil War. And of all the white middle class women in the South, they were the only ones who said, not only that they didn`t like slavery, which wasn`t that uncommon, but that they weren`t going to take it, and they moved north at a time when women never left home and traveled by themselves, and they began speaking on behalf of the abolition movement to mixed crowds of men and women, which never happened. You never did that.

And they did all these things, they broke all these rules and they didn`t seem to notice. They just kind of trotted along, you know, following their own star. And everyone was very thrilled when Angelina, who was a great spokesman for women`s rights, got married, because they thought it was impossible, that you just didn`t do that. She addressed the state legislatures, first time anybody did that, she`d be trotting along, giving speeches, while crowds were, you know, throwing rocks through the window. They were just very sweet, humorless, kindly women.
LAMB: From where?
COLLINS: From -- they are from South Carolina.
LAMB: Where in South Carolina?
COLLINS: Charleston.
LAMB: And why are they known in history? I mean, what was the source of that information?
COLLINS: Well, we say that -- there were several great biographers of the -- Gertrude Looner (ph) was the first of the Grimke sisters that -- and there continued to be people writing about them today.

They were just so amazing. At the end of the war, they retired and sort of lived on health foods and ran a boarding school. And suddenly there is a knock at the door and there`s two young black men walk in and say, it turns out we`re your nephews. Your brother, you probably didn`t know, was having an affair with our mother, who was his slave, and now we`re free so we thought we would drop by. And the Grimke sisters have no money at all. They`re living on like, rice and apples. And they say oh, come in, be our nephews and we`ll send you to Harvard. And they did. And they became two of the great, you know, civil rights leaders of their era. But they were just -- they were just lovely women. You just would like to kind of hang out with them for a while.
LAMB: Well, including you, we have five at the table, and we have room for eight, and one of them has to be a man, and the man who did the most for women in his lifetime. So we`ve got two more women to take.
COLLINS: Wow, the man who did most for women in his lifetime. You know, in some ways, I would really have to argue for Franklin Roosevelt on that front. But that means you, of course, you`d also want Eleanor. I don`t know if they both would want to come together. They didn`t travel that much in the same company. Certainly you`ve got to have Eleanor Roosevelt at the table.
LAMB: You`ve got one left.
COLLINS: I`ve got one left. It seems like it would only be fair to bring -- oh, you know who I`d love to have? I`d love to have one of the WASP women from World War II. No one in particular, but these were women who flew for the United States military. They flew in this country to free up pilots to go overseas. And the theory was this was very safe and would be no trouble at all. They could do that -- put their hands -- but in fact, the men felt very strongly that while it was glorious to die in battle, it was really stupid to die in Schenectady at the airport. So they gave the women all the dangerous jobs in this country, like towing (ph) targets for the airplanes, and so on.

And they risked their lives. So many of them died, taking up these old rickety planes, that were half-repaired. And -- and they were just tossed out once there were enough men. They didn`t get any credit at all until the `90s, I think, they finally got their commissioners. But I`d love to have one of them in, just to talk about World War II and what it was like back then
LAMB: Let me ask you about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And you write about it -- it`s written a lot. He`s the guy that had the affair, though, with another woman that split that family up. Why would you want to give him so much credit for women getting advanced?
COLLINS: Well, you know, what we learned, and we -- actually, I wrote a book about this, the one before this, the ...
LAMB: Scandal book?
COLLINS: "Scorpion Tongue." It was gossip, celebrity in American politics. What we learned again with Bill Clinton was that American women, like American men, do not care about what a president is doing in his bedroom if they`re getting the stuff they want in terms of his policies. And the amount of -- stuff that -- with -- because of Eleanor, but it was Franklin who was president. We have to always remember. The amount of stuff that happened for women during that period, the number of changes that happened, that meant so much to women, to rural women, to -- electrification alone for rural women was probably the most important thing that happened in the 400 years I write about. That suddenly you could bring water into your house and that you have lights on.

You could listen to the radio, which was so crucial to these women. There`s a great set of diaries during the Depression of a woman in Kansas who writes, you know, writes her diary every day, you know, I fixed my husband`s pants and wrote to my daughter who`s away, and, you know. And then Bob got his divorce today. And Bob is a character in a soap opera, but she`s got them in her diary right along with everybody else, because the soap operas are so important to her life, that bringing voices into these lonely plain farm kitchens, so East Texas, to places like that, was so critical, so -- If they only did electrification, it would have been enough to get Franklin at the table, I think.
LAMB: You do say in your book that Eleanor Roosevelt was the most important woman -- possibly the most important woman in American history.
COLLINS: I think so, you know. She was the first one, and she had a little bit of that same genius for that rope-a-dope liberation thing. What she did, she was able to do, she created so much of the New Deal, really the heart of the New Deal, the idea that government had an obligation to make sure people were taken care of and that they were OK in this country, that somehow the safety net existed and it was government`s responsibility to do that. Always for women politically, the safety net has been so important. That was Eleanor`s thought, I think, more than Franklin`s. And she was the one who really pushed it and who mobilized people around the country behind these thoughts.

But she always did it in terms of being a wife, you know what I mean. She`s always had that sort of fiction, half fiction anyway, that she was only flying out to the Philippines to see the troops because Franklin wanted to go but he could not because he was crippled. And, you know, she was only going down to the coal mine because Franklin wanted her to go to tell them what was going on. And that helped the American people accept this really dramatically new vision of a woman in politics, and what she could do. And -- and of course, it was the first administration that brought a lot of women into high positions in politics.
LAMB: And you didn`t mention the other women that you write about, like Louisa Adams, what you found interesting. Why was she interesting?
COLLINS: Louisa I ran into in my first book, and I found -- Louisa Adams was John Quincy Adams` wife, and a difficult guy at best. And she had been -- when he was ambassador to Russia, she came back alone across the frozen plains of Europe during the Napoleonic wars, crossing battlefields, full of bodies, with her young child with her alone. And yet, when she gets to Washington, she`s sitting there writing, she`s eating chocolates and writing her autobiography, which is called "Adventures of a Nobody." And there`s a kind of duality, to, you know, Louisa, who was just so extraordinary.

She got her husband elected president. Everybody hated John Quincy Adams, but she was quite a good hostess and able to bring a lot of people around who otherwise would probably have happily tarred and feathered him. So she had a lot of power, but yet, on the other hand, she felt the obligation to feel very powerless.
LAMB: You didn`t put Margaret Sanger at your table.
COLLINS: No, she`s welcome to come, though. I`d love to have Margaret Sanger much. We`re not going to have room for all these people. You know, I should bring my mother, too, since she is figuring so prominently in that staff.
LAMB: What would your mother do at that table? What would she -- is she quiet or …?
COLLINS: She would have a grand time. My mother just, you know, sort of, you know, loves to be in the mix of things and to meet people and to hear what they have to say. And she is -- she is very good at drawing people out, she`d have a great time.
LAMB: Side question. Do your parents read your editorials?
COLLINS: They do sometimes, yeah, yeah, yeah. And they read my books, and they read my stuff.
LAMB: Are you on the same wave length politically, that ...
COLLINS: No, not at all.
LAMB: Really?
COLLINS: Oh, my parents are, like many parents in the world feel that everything that I do is very good, even though it does not agree with whatever they think otherwise.
LAMB: Did they ever say to you, where did we go wrong?
COLLINS: Only during the `60s and the `70s when we were having, you know, the rebellion against Vietnam and the free speech movement and things like that.
LAMB: The reason I brought up Margaret Sanger is because a lot of your books also is about the subject of sex.
LAMB: Sum up what that subject has had on history of women.
COLLINS: It`s so -- I mean, obviously until we got really effective birth control women were not going to be able to totally participate in the public and commercial life of the country, just because they were constrained by whatever happened to them in terms of their bodies. But it`s also true that like -- as with work, women started writing their own rules way before society decided that this was going to be OK or that they knew how to do it.

And from the time, from the turn of the century to the beginning of the 1800s, you saw this dramatic drop-off in the number of children per family. You know, on and on and on throughout our history until the 1950s really, we`d had this continual plummeting of the birth rate, which made it very clear that women had figured out how to control the number of births they had, without much help from either science or the rest of society.
LAMB: Who was Margaret Sanger?
COLLINS: Oh, Margaret Sanger was, of course, this nurse, very spunky Irish nurse whose mother had way too many babies and who came to Greenwich Village and lived very sort of a radical bohemian life with her husband, until they had children. And then she went to work as a visiting nurse.

And I was told that very apocryphal story about a woman that she treated, who had had an abortion, it went wrong, and, you know, who begged her for some kind of good birth control method, and the doctor then said, we`ll just have your husband sleep on the roof. We`ll have Jake sleep on the roof. And then, the next time she saw the woman, saying she was dying from another botched abortion.

Certainly, for the immigrant women -- and then when she opened her first clinic, she just had miles and miles and miles of poor immigrant women standing there with their children, you know, just dying. It wasn`t so much that there was not the science, it was that the information wasn`t available. You didn`t have any organized way of finding out what worked and what didn`t. And if you got lucky and got the right deal, you could be very effective. But until Margaret Sanger, there was really no way to really figure out what to do.
LAMB: Are there women that you got to know or people you got to know in your book that you wouldn`t want at a dinner party?
COLLINS: Oh, you know, a lot of the Temperance women were really hard to live with. Frances Willard, who was the head of the Temperance movement in America, was -- was a remarkable woman. You really would want to have her at a dinner party. She was very smart. She wrote a book called "How I Learned to Ride a Bicycle," when she was in her 50s , you know. She was one of those wheeling ladies of that period. And she was also unique in that she brought the Temperance women together with the suffrage movement. For most women in America, the great social issue was not getting the right to vote, it was banning alcohol. That was their big deal. And it didn`t really interest your average Main Street homemaker so much, the idea of voting, until it occurred to her that if she could vote she could ban liquor.
LAMB: Why did they want to ban liquor?
COLLINS: You know, from the very beginning in this country, from the very founding of the first successful colony at Jamestown, when the first 200 settlers were all men, you know, and the investors come over to see how these 200 men are doing and discover that they have got this rowdy fraternity party going on in the woods there, that nobody is doing any work, nobody is doing any farming, and they say, what are we going to do? We`ve got to bring in women. The women will make them settle down and do the farming and get stuff done.

The job of women is to make men behave. That`s been the bottom rule of all of society, and the making men behave thing was very much tied into the idea of banning alcohol.

And it also shows you sort of the dark side of women in power during that period. Women -- there`s always a sort of surreptitious theory that women as voters, women as a political force are the good people. They want to take care of the babies and stuff, whereas the men want only to cut taxes or go to war or whatever. But when women began to get political power, the first thing they wanted to do was to enforce middle class Main Street female rules of behavior on the rest of the society. They ban liquor, ban any kind of sexual expression whatsoever, ban pornography, ban gambling, ban prostitution. Banned everything that is just, you know, a respectable matron in Main Street would not like.

There was -- and not -- and many people who read the book said, I didn`t really like that chapter. Let`s skip over the Temperance part and go on to the next neat thing that we did, you know. The Temperance thing shows that there is not -- women in politics have not been perfect.
LAMB: You didn`t name Betty Friedan to be there at the table.
COLLINS: Yeah, you really should bring somebody from the `70s, one of great leaders of the `70s, and certainly, she`d be a good choice.
LAMB: Who`s your favorite leader from the `70s?
COLLINS: Favorite leader from the `70s -- You know, there`s something really appealing about Gloria Steinem`s ability to kind of mix everything together and to create a package that was -- that was so easy for large numbers of Americans to accept.

But Betty Friedan has figured out a lot of stuff. Often the person who -- you had that period where I think one of the reasons that there was that sudden explosion at that period was that in the `60s for the first time, you had a mass of women who were in their 50s who had raised their families, who had been permanent homemakers all their lives, who suddenly were likely to live for another 20 or 30 years and who really didn`t have that much to do, because for the first time you did have appliances that in the absence of children took care of many of the household chores.

Taking care of a home, if there weren`t any children in it, was not necessarily something that was going to take up all your time. And before that, women had generally died by the time their children were out of the house. Suddenly, this was changed. And that, I think, seeing their mothers for younger women at that time and feeling that kind of sudden strange liberation with no place to go for the older women was a big part of that explosion. And Betty Friedan was very smart about kind of encapsulating all that.
LAMB: What year did the ERA get introduced and what year was it defeated, and what was it?
COLLINS: The equal -- you know, it`s very interesting. The other day I was someplace, and I got -- and an 11-year-old girl said, why did the equal rights amendment fail? And I think, hey, we`ve got an 11-year-old girl who wants to know about the equal rights amendment.

An equal rights amendment came right at the point when everything was exploding in the early `70s. And there was a feeling when it was first introduced that you would have -- it would be passed into law in five seconds, you know. And suddenly then it stalled, and then it stopped, and then it died off, and it was resuscitated, and it died off again.

And I always thought that the reason -- it was all about symbols that the stuff we thought the equal rights amendment was going to do all got done. All those little laws that people said you can never get change without one great amendment -- all got changed. We got the stuff done that we needed to get done, the really serious business at hand about getting women equal credit and giving women equal job opportunities, things like that. Giving women the right to sports -- to do sports on an equal level with men.

But the symbol of the equal rights amendment was to many traditional housewives, it was simply a statement that their lives didn`t matter. And when you think of how fast things changed, when you think all those centuries in which women had one job, and that`s what they were supposed to do, and suddenly not only is that changing, but you have a lot of people in the women`s right movement saying, traditional housewives are stupid, they don`t know what they`re doing, they missed the boat, their lives are really, you know, not fulfilled at all. It was inevitable that somewhere, some symbol was going to be picked and the world was going to say -- the women were just going to say, no, that hurts my feelings too much, I don`t want to go there. So -- and in the end, boy, how could you not feel some sympathy for them?
LAMB: The ERA in the end missed by three states?
LAMB: You think anybody will try to do that again?
COLLINS: No. I mean, they talked about it once in a while, but it`s really -- the deed is done. The stuff is done. You know, to pay us an amendment to say that women have equal rights in law -- when the laws have already been changed -- it just seems like a great road to hoe for no good reason.
LAMB: Would you go back over where we`ve been, Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, all had impact on women. Have we been through a war now in the last couple of years that will again change women`s life in this country?
COLLINS: Yeah. And everything changes women`s lives as it changes men`s lives. But I don`t think we`ll ever again have a situation, because women go to war now. Women are in the Army. It used to be that much of what women had to do was to take care of the home front because men were going away. But now men and women go away. We see this now in Iraq, you know, that there are mothers with children, and they have to go away because they`re in the reserves and serve for long periods of time there. So whatever happens in the future is going to be different. It`s not -- the rhythms will be different from what we`ve seen before.
LAMB: Based on what you know, with all the laws that have been passed and 55 percent of the women graduating from college -- I mean, 55 percent of people graduating from college are women, what about the voters? More women than men vote, I believe.
COLLINS: Yeah. More women than men do vote. That`s been true for some time.
LAMB: So when is it that women take over the majority of the corporations, president of the United States? Have 50 percent of the Senate? On and on. What`s your sense of ...
COLLINS: Oh, I think a lot of those things will happen in my lifetime, but I doubt that, you know, they`ll all happen tomorrow. If, you know, people rightfully get very impatient, you know, there`s lots to be done. But when I look at it in terms of 400 years, just so much has happened so fast. I think you`re going to need another, maybe, generation of development before we get to the point where there are tons -- an equal number of women who are not the husbands of powerful men. Being politically and economically as powerful as the most powerful men are.
LAMB: As the editor of the editorial page of "The New York Times," do you ever sit there in your office or do you think about, as in that position I have a responsibility to women to do the following?
COLLINS: No. I think I have a responsibility to women and to children. But -- yeah -- and you work -- you always feel that since you`re there, you have to be particularly open to women`s, you know, interests and needs and complaints, but I don`t know that my predecessor, Hal Raines, was certainly, you know, committed to women`s rights and to women`s issues. And the other members of the board are, too. In the "New York Times," we`ve long passed the Henry Raymonds (ph). "The New York Times`" editorial board positions have been sort of massively committed to women`s rights for a long time now.
LAMB: If five of the editorial positions on the board of the 14 are women, when are we going to see a majority?
COLLINS: You know, they don`t turn over very fast. And whenever I hire somebody, I must admit that although I would love to have more women, you know, there`s -- there`s all these other things that come into the mix. And you`re always trying to make the mix more fruitful. So sometimes all the different variables don`t come up at the same time, but I get yelled at a lot by women about that. So I`m certainly very conscious of it.
LAMB: And how did you manage to write a book in the middle of your other responsibilities? When did you do it?
COLLINS: I did it late at night. I`m a late at night kind of person. And on weekends. And as I said, about half of it was done before I got this particular job. And so -- and I also have no life whatsoever.
LAMB: Did you find another woman in the book that you would write a book about, a biography about?
COLLINS: Not right now. I found so many wonderful biographies of women that I got to read for this. I`m just in awe of the scholarship that`s out there. I must admit at this exact moment in time I have no desire, whatsoever, to write another book. I`m just thrilled that this one`s done and out and having a life of its own now.
LAMB: Another person that you mentioned that was in a pivotal spot was Billie Jean King.
LAMB: Why?
COLLINS: Brian, you know, when we were in the `70s, when there was suddenly a realization that women could do sports, and often you have a silly or a non-remarkable moment that happens in history that you kind of focus on it and say, oh my God. And that moment in which Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs at tennis, even though she was a top player and he was a very sort of middle of the road, you know, struggling tour guy. It just focused the American mind on the idea that women could do sports. And that women athletes could be -- could be not only really good at their games but really sort of fun to watch and characters you`d like to invite to a dinner party, that they weren`t -- you know, there wasn`t something off-putting or strange about them, that they were your friends, and your daughters and your wives and your sisters and so on.
LAMB: What is your instinct? You`re in the state with a famous American woman politician, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who everybody says will be a candidate at least in 2008, maybe even in 2004. Do you have a responsibility to boost her up to that job?
COLLINS: Oh, Brian, Brian, Brian, Brian. No. And you know, it`s interesting. Women voters don`t feel that responsibility. You see in the polls, if there`s a woman candidate who`s particularly attractive, sometimes you do see, you know, women kind of flocking to her, to be supportive of her. But none of the polls seem to indicate that women prefer to see women running for office over men. They`ll vote for a man over a woman if they like the man better.

So, no, I don`t think that that -- but you know, it`s interesting. One thing I did when I was on the bus with Hillary during her Senate campaign -- and I`ve never been able to prove this is right or not. It may be a big misunderstanding on my part. But you would see these women upstate, sort of middle-aged women. And I just -- really, really, really excited about Hillary Clinton. And I just had the feeling that -- that there`s maybe a group of women out there, women who had raised their families and had careers, but they gave up part of their careers for the families and they were happy to have done the families and they were happy with the careers. But suddenly the kids are grown and they`re thinking maybe I could have a real shot. Not just at continuing my good career, but really doing something spectacular. Maybe I could start all over again and do some really neat thing, and that for those women Hillary Clinton was a really special person. And I do think that there`s just something there, there`s just a vibration that goes on sometimes.
LAMB: The title of your book, "400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines" was whose idea?
COLLINS: We wrote it together, but it was -- Susan B. Anthony is responsible for the dolls and the drudges. She always said that if you got married -- if you`re married to a rich man, you were a doll, and you married a poor man, you were a drudge. And then we threw in the helpmates and the heroines, which began with Hs, but also most women in this country have either been supporting men or they stood out on their own and had done sort of amazing things. And that was the helpmates and the heroines.
LAMB: We`re out of time. Gail Collins. Title of her book is women -- "America`s Women." Thank you very much for joining us.
COLLINS: Thank you.

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