He was writing back to England, desperately looking for a wife because there were no women in the settlement to marry. He had two qualifications for eligible brides: a woman who was civil and under 50 years of age. Early American housewives were valuable because families relied on women to make food and candles, and raise chickens. But once folks started gravitating toward cities, men lost interest in any woman beyond childbearing age. Then in post-war America, middle-class suburban families became the norm.
The idea of women working even if the were married transformed everything once again. Now, if a woman is a good earner, she can hold the same status as a man when it comes to age, Collins says.
Excerpt: “no stopping us now: the adventures of older women in american history”
Not long after, she says, the federal government allowed women to wear slacks so they would stay warm during an energy crisis. But during the Colonial era, bills that would make it illegal for women to dye their hair or wear makeup were proposed to prevent a woman from tricking a man into marrying her under the guise that she was younger. Hair dye was a revolutionary invention for women, she says. Before it hit the market, women would cover their hair with caps to cover their gray hair.
By letting women to color their grays, she says, hair dye allowed women to mask their age and do more for longer. Throughout her book, Collins points out that even when times were tough for elderly white women, elderly African American men and women had it worse. Older black women could help with housework, but older black men were not seen as valuable. Her friend threw a party to celebrate the release of the book.
And so it's a celebration for me. Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web. Whether Anne was first or not, she definitely stayed for quite a while — she died there in at the age ofleaving behind descendants.
In the years between, she married, opened a tavern with her husband, and later ran it herself as a widow. Her story is a useful reminder that while early American settlers did not generally live as long as we do now, some of them did get to be very old.
Of the women who managed to reach 21 in the late-seventeenth- century Plymouth Colony, about 7 percent made it past You just had to be very, very lucky. Today, aging tends to be a rather confident progression through childhood, young adulthood, and into middle age, at which point we might begin to seriously contemplate our own mortality. In the colonial period, death could come at any time — infants died, children died, teenagers died. Young women died in childbirth; young men were lost at sea. Houses — and towns — caught fire. Plagues and epidemic diseases appeared and whisked away hundreds of people of all ages.
Twice ten years old, not fully told Since nature gave me breath My race is run, my thread is spun Lo here is fatal Death.
If New Englanders had a shaky life expectancy, it was absolutely nothing compared to the situation in the early southern colonies, where, thanks to the malarial swamps, mortality rates before ran as high as 37 percent. The upside was that women who did manage to survive had a raft of opportunities. Their tenure as prime marriage candidates could stretch out until menopause. This open attitude toward age on the part of the male population had a lot to do with the fact that there was only one woman for every six men.
However, if you were a black pioneer in the West, you could own the only bar in town or be the stagecoach driver. If you were Margaret Brent in seventeenth-century Maryland, you could step up and save your colony.
The fact that she never married was so unusual for the time and place that many scholars have concluded she had taken a religious vow of celibacy. But she certainly did not seem to shun all worldly goods.
She threw herself into the business of lending money to the newer settlers and spent much of her middle age in court, suing her fellow colonists times, mainly for debt repayment.
She generally won. Later, when mercenary soldiers were threatening to level the colony, the dying governor put her in charge of restoring the peace. She did — by raising enough money to bribe everybody to go away.
Most women who came to the early south had less dramatic stories. Mainly they were just hoping to make a good marriage. But the matrimonial odds were so favorable that a woman in good health could just keep marrying up. Frances Culpeper wed a large landowner in what is now North Carolina when she was He died, and Frances inherited most of his property.
The now-wealthy widow was soon remarried — this time to Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia. Frances, 36, was now Lady Berkeley and equipped with a sizable guaranteed income for life. About a decade and many adventures later, Lord Berkeley died from the effects of a bout with malaria. Frances was married again, at 46, to a younger man who became governor of the Carolinas. But she was always known as Lady Berkeley.
Life for women in the northern colonies was much. And the women who did make it to middle age and beyond sometimes concluded that older was better. She was 61 at the time, and she had lived an action-packed life. Her husband, Henry, a Philadelphia businessman, had been exiled during the Revolutionary War as a suspected Tory sympathizer. Elizabeth made her way to Valley Forge in to plead his case to George Washington — who offered a good dinner but not much assistance.
Drinker was wealthier than most colonial women of her time, but the rhythms of her life were typical. She married in her 20s, bore children until middle age, and was still raising her brood when her oldest offspring began to have families of their own. Even when the children left the house, most of them continued to live nearby, and her life was full of domestic duties and babies. There was no real empty nest, just a slightly calmer one. And you could see how, after nine deliveries and two miscarriages, she might have regarded aging as something of a picnic.
Elizabeth Drinker would live into her 70s, but like everyone in the colonies, she understood how quickly death could strike people of any age — only four of her nine children would survive her.
Given the poor chances of living for a very long time, old people were often regarded as having been singled out by the Creator as particularly worthy. One Massachusetts congregation, whose seating plan still exists, made the status of seniority perfectly clear.
Then came the congregation, which was divided by gender and seated according to age, with the youngest members coned to the rear. The church was the center of life in those communities. If you were an older woman wondering if you still had a place in the scheme of things, it must have been hugely reassuring to walk into Sunday service and stride up the aisle, past your younger relatives and neighbors, and take an honored seat near the front.
We’re being trampled by a candidate stampede
Even in the healthier north, when it came to sex in general, male opinions on the perfect age for a partner varied. We will pause for a moment to consider whether that was a compliment. No specific milestone ified passage into old age among colonial women. By 40, many had already lost a husband and offspring. Many year-olds were still raising their children — the average housewife was 63 when her youngest left home. Every woman who was capable of lifting a finger was expected to take part in household chores.
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And nobody was going to tell you to slow down because your hair was getting white. Martha Ballard, a Maine midwife, spent her life balancing her job delivering babies with a mind-boggling list of domestic duties: spinning, knitting, sewing, preparing the family food, tending chickens and sheep. Aroundas she approached her 70s, she began to cut back; but then the other local midwife died and Ballard stepped up.
At 77 she was still answering late-night calls that could drag on well into the next day. I tarried all night. She reached her clients mainly by horse, crossing rivers and traversing bad or nonexistent ro in Maine weather. There were other midwives who probably performed just as heroically. On Long Island, Lucretia Lester was said to have delivered 1, babies and lost only two.
She just happened to be the one who kept a diary. As long as midwives were needed, nobody objected to their riding around the countryside in the middle of the night at any age. The same was true of every occupation where competent workers were in short supply.
Ministers urged their aging female parishioners to achieve serenity by contemplating death as the passage to a far happier life in heaven. While they waited, women were supposed to gradually withdraw from the world, spending more and more time in prayer and contemplation while enjoying earthly pleasures less and less — but still, of course, continuing to perform the household chores.