Representing a middle-class ideology that expects old women to be stationary and “comfortable,” Mrs.
Simonds’s intervention exposes how benevolence directed toward elderly people often masks an anxiety about unfulfilled gender and age norms.
Although we tend to think of aging as an inevitable biological reality, there are powerful norms and values that shape our experience of each life stage. are entirely lacking in due and proper reverence for age and its accompaniments,” and old people are “often considered burdens, spoken of as having outlived their usefulness and their day; spoken of often with thoughtless, if not heartless, lack of reverence.” Mullikin’s sentiments convey the extent to which old age was a stigmatized status, and she registers pre-emptive shame, what she calls an “inward shrinking,” at the idea of becoming old, which she attributes to concerns about frailty or loneliness but rather to the social stigma against elderly people in mainstream American culture (how old people are “considered” and “spoken of”).
Consider, for example, an essay entitled “Growing Old Gracefully,” which appeared in an 1875 issue of . Discussions of old age as pathological and feeble pervaded late nineteenth-century popular culture as scientists and social workers classified “the elderly” as a population and made older people subjects of social organization and medical scrutiny.
For example, Howe acknowledged aging as individual and idiosyncratic, noting that “the development of character does not correspond with the period of physical growth and maturity.” Their collective refusal to treat women’s lives as quantifiable and uniform in their unavoidable decline serves as a feminist rejoinder to a culture increasingly preoccupied with aging as pathological and unattractive, especially for women.
In their fiction, nineteenth-century women writers resisted limited notions of old age.
” a variety of well-known writers, including Julia Ward Howe, Mary E.
Wilkins (Freeman), and Rebecca Harding Davis, almost unilaterally refused to answer the question as posed.
By urging her older readers to consider “jet in its many varieties” and explaining that, “most elderly women require a rather plain skirt, whether the material be cloth or silk,” Ralston aligns old age with plainness and discretion.
To be an old woman, she implies, one must become as diminutive and unobtrusive as possible, and such dictates mandate that only one model of old womanhood is appropriate. In 1894, when ran a forum called “When is a Woman at Her Best?