In her new book "When Everything Changed," Gail Collins weaves research with oral history to describe an American society in the midst of change in the 1960s.
Read an excerpt of the book below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
"Some of you do wear a cautious face"
In January of 1960, Mademoiselle welcomed in a new decade for America's young women by urging them to be … less boring. "Some of you do wear a cautious face," the editors admitted. "But are you really --- cautious, unimaginative, determined to play it safe at any price?" Mademoiselle certainly hoped not. But its readers had good reason to set their sights low. The world around them had been drumming one message into their heads since they were babies: Women are meant to marry and let their husbands take care of all the matters relating to the outside world.
They were not supposed to have adventures or compete with men for serious rewards. ("I think that when women are encouraged to be competitive too many of them become disagreeable," said Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose baby book had served as the Bible for the postwar generations of mothers.) Newsweek, decrying a newly noticed phenomenon of dissatisfied housewives in 1960, identified the core of the issue: menstruation. "From the beginning of time, the female cycle has defined and confined woman's role," the newsmagazine wrote. "As Freud was credited with saying: 'Anatomy is destiny.' Though no group of women has ever pushed aside these natural restrictions as far as the American wife, it seems that she still cannot accept them in good grace."
Most girls grew up without ever seeing a woman doctor, lawyer, police officer or bus driver. Jo Freeman, who went to Berkeley in the early 60s, realized only later that while she had spent four years "in one of the largest institutions of higher education in the world – and one with a progressive reputation," she had never once had a female professor. "I never even saw one. Worse yet, I didn't notice." If a young woman expressed interest in a career outside the traditional teacher-nurse-secretary, her mentors carefully shepherded her back to the proper path. As a teenager in Pittsburgh, Angela Nolfi told her guidance counselor that she wanted to be an interior decorator, but even that very feminine pursuit apparently struck her advisor as too high-risk or out of the ordinary. "He said: 'Why don't you be a home economics teacher," she recalled. And once Mademoiselle had finished urging its readers to shoot for the sky, it celebrated the end of the school year with an article on careers that seemed to presume most new college graduates would be assuming secretarial duties, and ended with tips on "pre-job hand-beautifying" for a new generation of typists.
Whenever things got interesting, women seemed to vanish from the scene. There was no such thing as a professional female athlete -- even in schools, it was a given that sports were for boys. An official for the men-only Boston Marathon opined that it was "unhealthy for women to run long distances." When Mademoiselle asked seven "headstrong people who have made names for themselves lately" what the 1960s would bring, that magazine for young women managed to find only one headstrong woman to include in the mix – playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who did double duty as the panel's only minority.
"Women used to be the big stars but these days it's men"