October 30, 2002

Collins Speaks About Women's Role in Society

Print More

Gail Collins, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, presented the 2002 Daniel W. Kops ’39 Freedom of the Press Lecture. In a speech entitled “How Women Got Their Voice,” Collins discussed both her upcoming book on womens’ history in America and her current position at The Times.

Collins first addressed the gender issues of American women of the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Men and women lived very separate lives,” she said. “There was a separate sphere where women were supposed to stay. Well into the 19th century the idea of women speaking in public was strange.”

Collins focused on women’s use of “poetry,” and “separate communities,” in order to be heard. She mentioned the women who “embraced women’s place in the home” in order to publish their work and travel extensively.

“When I think about all these women in the past who had to be so sneaky and so brave just to get up and say what they think, it really knocks me out,” she said.

She continued by speaking about her role at The New York Times, and the changes in her job after Sept. 11.

“My job has been totally colored by the World Trade Center,” she said in her speech, referring to the thousands of letters that flooded The New York Times on and after Sept. 11.

Collins said that she wanted to help others as The New York Times opinion pages are “a common circle for all the people who are the readership of this national and, in some ways, international paper.”

Collins also addressed the role of the modern woman.

“In the 20th century women are finally joining the community of men,” she said. “To me the 60’s were the first time women dared to say, ‘we are going to do these things because we want them for ourselves.'” She asserted that “today there is an expectation that women will go into the world, have a voice, and use it. It is not shocking for women to complain and demand change.”

Collins concluded her lecture by answering questions from the audience. There was a discussion between Collins and various members of the audience on the role of African American women in American history.

“Of the women who lectured to ‘promiscuous audiences’ there were very few black women. Black women resented that they were seen as ‘freed slaves’ even when their families had been free for generations and generations,” said Collins.

Kops founded this annual lecture in order to educate the Cornell community on the freedom of the press. He himself was present at the lecture, along with his wife, Nancy. “I get a great deal of satisfaction particularly when we get a great audience like this tonight,” he said.

Collins had worked as a columnist for New York Newsday, the New York Daily News and the Connecticut Business Journal, as well as senior editor for Connecticut Magazine, before taking on her role as the editorial page editor for The Times.

The audience was extremely diverse, with varying reasons for attending the lecture. “I admire Gail Collins and this subject is close to my heart.

She is a historical figure herself. She’s the first women to ever be the editorial page editor of the New York Times” said Prof. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, American studies.

“I personally run a non-profit organization, ‘Glamour Girls,’ and I feel anything I can learn from a woman leader is worthwhile,” said Rachel Doyle ’05.

Emma Colby ’06 said, “I came here to discover more about journalism and feminism.”

“I love to speak at colleges,” said Collins, “and I do it whenever I have the opportunity.”

Archived article by Elisabeth Becker