Journalist and author Gail Collins (Photo/Courtesy Nina Subins)
Journalist and author Gail Collins (Photo/Courtesy Nina Subins)

NYT columnist who gives ‘women of a certain age’ their due coming to S.F.

When it comes to women of a certain age making the most of life, Gail Collins’ credentials are impeccable. A political columnist for the New York Times, Collins, 73, also is the author of three books on the history of women.

Collins will bring some of their stories about aging —and some of her own — to town on Thursday, Oct. 24 when she will speak at the JCC of San Francisco about her new book, “No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History.”

“Collins is funny, relatable and extremely sharp,” said Stephanie Singer, director of Arts and Ideas at the JCCSF. “We expect her book to speak to many of our community members and we’re grateful to the Jenerosity Foundation for their support of this program.” Lauren Schiller, the creator and host of “Inflection Point,” a nationally syndicated weekly public radio show and podcast, will interview Collins at the Kanbar Hall event.

“No Stopping Us Now” pays tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan Sontag, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and other notable Jewish leaders in thought, word and deed. Funny as well as informative, Collins’ book also honors other older women in America who “figured out how to get around what seemed like fixed social deadlines for being a valuable part of society.”

All women, Collins says, must be grateful for the way those deadlines keep getting pushed back, writing that today, “You can recreate yourself at 65 — go back to college or move to Cambodia or start a commune.”

In an interview with J., Collins suggested that women thriving in their later years is not a recent development. “This whole vision of women moving forward is not new. Early in this country, women knew how to grow food and raise chickens, and this women’s economy brought in money that helped keep the household going,” she said.

You can recreate yourself at 65 — go back to college or move to Cambodia or start a commune.

“Today, women have economic power, too, [and] investments, and that has helped to wipe away the age thing. If you have an economic function, you’re great. Of course, that’s true whether you’re female or male, gay or straight, Catholic or Jewish.”

Collins’ book highlights Mary Fields, the first African American postal worker in the U.S. In the 1880s, Fields delivered mail in Montana, driving a horse and wagon part of the year and strapping on snowshoes when the weather was bad. Collins writes of another Mary as well, recalling that Mary Tyler Moore’s TV character in the 1970s was described by the media of the time as a “30-year-old spinster.”

Anne Pollard also is featured in this book. Pollard is said to have been the first woman to set foot in the new settlement of Boston, in 1630, and she lived for more than a century. Also spotlighted is 98-year-old Betty Reid Soskin, a national park ranger (the nation’s oldest) at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in Richmond, although she’s been off the job since mid-September after suffering a stroke.

Collins, employing a sharp wit, also tracks the history of corsets, the Equal Rights Amendment and hormone-replacement therapy. She describes how women have reimagined the “change of life” for the better. And the book cites many famous feminists past and present.

Collins’ earlier books on related topics include “America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines” and “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present,” and she has also written “As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda” and “Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics.”

Writing about women in history is “one of the most fun things I’ve done,” she said. “I’d always read about different women’s lives through history. I think that’s interesting. It’s also been interesting to hear from younger women who have grown up empowered. So many didn’t realize that, at one time, our only career options were teacher or mother. Telling stories about the women who challenged that is still a pleasure.”

“Gail Collins on Women of a Certain Age”

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 at JCCSF, 3200 California St. S.F.. $30-$40, discount for members.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.