Grand Old Women and Modern Girls | Corinne T. Field || Radcliffe Institute
Articles, Blog

Grand Old Women and Modern Girls | Corinne T. Field || Radcliffe Institute

September 2, 2019


– So today, I want to talk
about the intersection of age and power in US women’s rights
arguments from 1870 to 1920. I’m going to draw on
archival sources that are in the Schlesinger Library
here at Radcliffe’s, especially those that look at the
antislavery and women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony
and Harriet Tubman. And then after my talk,
we’re going to go over, and we’re going to see some
of this stuff in person. So that’s really
the highlight here. OK, first I need
to explain what I mean by the intersection of age
and power in American history. There are many ways to look
at issues related to aging. So here at the
Radcliffe Institute this year, we have
scientists that are looking at the
degeneration of human cells or how childhood trauma
impacts health in later life. We have poets and
filmmakers and sociologists that are exploring the ways in
which memories get passed down within generations and families. And we have people looking
at how individual longevity depends upon the sustainability
of our environment. We also have– and
I’m so lucky to say– Robin Bernstein, Tunisia
Ford, and Evie Shockley whose work on youth
and childhood and race has so deeply influenced my own. And I’m just thrilled
to be in conversation with all these people. That’s not what I’m going
to talk to you about. I’m going to talk about
old age and middle age as political categories
in US history. So Margaret Gullette,
who’s also here today, has shown that whatever
happens in our bodies, we are in her words
aged by culture. And she’s asked us to
think in particular about middle and old
age as key periods where this happens
in ways that are culturally defined but highly
variable and contingent. Now this headline proclaims
Harriet Tubman the oldest ex-slave. She’s not at all. But the fact that people thought
she was and held a reception for her as such is politically
and culturally significant, and these are the things that I
want to draw your attention to. So this souvenir from Anthony’s
80th birthday celebration juxtaposes two dated
portraits of her– one a family
daguerreotype taken when she was a 36-year-old
relatively marginalized reformer and the second an official
portrait for her 80th birthday when she had become the leader
of the national movement and arguably one of the most
famous women in the world. The souvenir draws attention to
both precise birthdays 36, 80, and the long stage of life
in between, the middle years. And these are two ways,
age and stage, in which we are aged by culture. Now can any of you tell me why
suffragists might have begun with a portrait at age 36– just after her 35th birthday? President– yes. OK, so according to
the Constitution, you have to be at least 35
years old to run for president. In practice, Americans have
chosen men much older than men. In 1900, a man under 45
had never held the office. Now if I were you, I
would start googling this, so I just did it for you. The youngest man to
ever hold the office was Roosevelt. He
was not elected. He was elevated after
McKinley’s assassination. Kennedy is, in fact,
the youngest at 43. Trump is our oldest ever at 70. Reagan was 69. Clinton, if she’d
been elected, would have been 69 and Sanders 75. The point I want to make here
is that our young presidents– they’re not really that young. In what other context do we
talk about young people of 45. And our old presidents
aren’t really that old. It’s really an office
for middle-aged men, and this was a problem for women
because, in the 19th century, single women reported that
they became old maids at 30, and married women often
wrote about feeling pushed to the background of
their family circles by age 45. So how is a woman to become
president or senator or even city councilor? In drawing attention to
Anthony’s life after age 35, suffragists challenged
Americans to imagine her not just as the President of
the National American Women’s Suffrage Association,
but I think as a credible candidate for
the presidency of the United States. So the historian
Alison Lange points out that this profile pose was
new for women in the 1880s, and that suffragists
turned to that to model their leaders
after Roman states. So this souvenir is drawing
on that visual convention to imagine a very particular
passage through middle age. So Anthony leaves the ornate
but rather confined frame of a family portrait and grows
not just in age but in stature. She looks back at
her former self but not with a longing
for lost youth– with pride in her
accomplishments over time. As these two birthday
programs suggest, suffragists modeled
Anthony’s celebration on those for George Washington. They used the birthday to
insert a founding mother into a national narrative
built around founding fathers and to suggest
that even at a time when most women could
not vote for president, there was at least one
woman in the nation that was qualified to be president. By 1900, Anthony had become
not just an old woman but a grand old woman, and
she was not the only one. The archives of women’s
suffrage are filled with efforts to elevate mature women
as national leaders. Suffragists built
organizations that put middle aged women
in executive power and gave them a public voice. They theorize the significance
of the age in their writings and speeches, and
they circulated images of older women
and described these women as beautiful and charismatic. Now suffrage is just one
angle on age and power in American history, and what
I’m hoping with this work is that it encourages you
to think about others. And I’m very curious in the
questions where you were thinking of age popping up. But what I’m going
to do today is I’m going to focus very
narrowly on public celebrations for Susan B. Anthony and Harriet
Tubman using both as case studies that I think show
why suffragists focused on these connections
between age and power and also how they
disagreed with each other about what women’s
leadership should be and what ends it should be used. So I want to start right after
the Civil War when supporters of Anthony and Tubman worked
to sustain them in middle life and compared both of
them to Army generals. So Tubman was already famous
as the Moses of her race for leading enslaved people to
freedom during the Civil War. She worked as a spy
and helped pilot ships on the Combahee River
where Union troops destroyed Confederate
supplies and liberated more than 800 enslaved people. Many Union soldiers referred
to her as General Tubman. Yet because she had
not formally enlisted, the US government did
not pay her a salary, nor did she receive a
pension for her disability. The government did pay pensions
to both white and black Union soldiers who had been
injured in the line of duty, but Tubman’s
injuries had occurred before the war when she
was an enslaved child and right after when she
was coming home on a train and a white conductor violently
threw her from the railroad. These were not arenas
that the US government recognized as battlefields. Tubman’s allies,
black and white, were outraged that
she return to her home in Auburn, New York with
no official recognition. They took up a subscription
to fund a biography and organized a public fair at
which the book and other items could be sold for her benefit. Now these were
tried and true ways for supporting formerly
enslaved people. But what I think is
new here is the way that supporters are
comparing Tubman to a male military
commander, a general. So for instance, one supporter
wrote to the local paper captains, colonels,
brigadier generals have been created during our
late war who never accomplished the shadow of the service
to the country which this noble woman has performed. Now many male veterans
were entering politics. Comparing Tubman to
these men suggested that she, though
female, illiterate, and a manual
laborer, was not only a citizen and a veteran but
a potential political leader. Middle age and indeed
chronological age had a particular resonance
for Tubman and her family because as she explained to
Bradford, her biographer, her mother had a legal
claim to be freed at age 45 along with her children– a directive in her master’s
will that his heirs be concealed from Tubman’s family. Tubman liberated herself
and then her mother. Now this kind of age
fraud was quite common. Under both private wills and
gradual emancipation laws, many black families had to
sue for the freedom that should have been theirs on the
basis of chronological age. Other fugitive slaves protested
that enslavers freed old people when they could no
longer work and that this wasn’t benevolence but a
form of abuse or neglect. And as was true of
many enslaved people, both Tubman and her mother
had been denied access to any documentation
of their birth dates. So Tubman’s biographer
reported that quote “she was born as near as she
can remember in 1820 or 1821.” Harriet Tubman
grows famously old, but she never knows her age. And she never has a birthday
that she can celebrate. In contrast, white
women suffragists emphasized their birthdays. So that the first
public birthday for a middle-aged woman
in the United States was Susan B Anthony’s is 50
in 1870, or so she claimed. And I haven’t proven otherwise. So I want to make a
crowdsourcing plea for anybody who comes across mention of
a public birthday for a woman in 19th-century
America, please let me know because I’m
trying to put together this comprehensive list. I’m a little obsessed. So for Anthony’s birthday,
the New York World claimed in the hyperbolic
style of the day Miss Anthony is again
the Moses of her sex. She has perpetrated a
daring innovations in regard to that subject, which has
been with woman the most sacred and inviolate. No more talk of women of a
certain or uncertain age. Susan squarely owns up to 50. Papers as far away
as San Francisco and the Hawaiian Islands
noted that Anthony was particularly transgressive
to announce her age because she was unmarried. For years, journalists
and critics had been dismissing
women’s rights activists as sour old maids who
couldn’t get husbands. But in this moment, Anthony
her and her supporters reclaimed and redefine the term. She was– the New York Sun
declared– a brave old maid. Matilda Joslyn Gage
explained the significance of Anthony’s 50th
birthday this way. Here to for tell one’s age has
been looked upon as the death knell for a woman. Her value has been only in
her youth and good looks. Her intellect and soul
have been passed aside, and no terms of reproach have
equaled that of old woman, old maid. And I just want to pause on
this and emphasize how often I’m seeing in the archives that this
generation of women suffragists argued that white men maintained
power in part by sexualizing young girls and then ignoring
or denigrating older women. And I just think it’s worth
pausing on this idea right now in this context. OK, this was also
all about money. So the idea for the
party seems to have originated as a fundraiser. Many guests brought $1 for
each year of Anthony’s life and other gifts, such
as this gold brooch. Anthony desperately
needed the money. The paper she published, The
Revolution, was deeply in debt. In the late 1860s,
she had alienated her former anti-slavery
and Republican Party allies when she decided to oppose
black men’s suffrage until women could be enfranchised as well. Rather than reforging
ties with black leaders, Anthony decided that
she should appeal to prominent white people who
had money and had connections. The birthday
perfectly suited these aims as it functioned
to mute criticism, raise money, and generate
positive publicity. So to be clear, the event did
not cause the racial and class divisions in the women’s
suffrage movement. What it did was
justify, even celebrate Anthony’s
controversial decisions as a form of brave leadership. Said the poet Phoebe Cary
wrote an ode for the occasion. We touch our caps
and place tonight the victor’s wreath upon her– the woman who outranks us
all in courage and in honor. This is really more
aspirational than true in 1870 there are arguably
other women who outrank Anthony at this moment– not least, as I’ll talk
about, Harriet Tubman. So notice how Anthony,
her supporters, and the hyperbolic journalists
all took up titles widely used to describe Tubman,
Moses, general, while failing to
mention Tubman herself. Anthony certainly
knew of Tubman, as they had many
friends in common, and people who congratulated
Anthony on her birthday also helped organize
Tubman’s fair. These connections
are very direct. Further, Frances Harper, another
leading black suffragist, had directly told Anthony
and her colleagues to focus on the needs of
Moses and other black women. Instead, the birthday
promoted Anthony’s lone status as a woman general. So what we have here by 1870
and Tubman’s fair and Anthony’s birthday are two efforts
to elevate and sustain the public careers
of mature women. They presented different
and indeed incompatible models of women’s leadership. Tubman’s redistributive
politics did not appeal to most of the prominent
liberals gathered for Anthony’s birthday, and Anthony’s
focus on women’s suffrage without mention of race
or class seemed misguided to those organizing
Tubman’s fair. Both women would become even
more prominent as they aged, and that’s the story
I want to turn to now. So in the late 19th
century, public birthdays grew in popularity,
but they became rituals to honor the achievements of
old people in their 70s and 80s. After the Civil
War, all Americans, not just women’s suffrage,
just paid more attention to chronological age in general
and old age as a stage of life, in particular. So by the 1890s, the
US Pension Bureau began using chronological age
as a proxy for disability. Private companies
experimented with the first age-based
retirement programs, and doctors specialized
in what would come to be known as gerontology. Age also mattered
for young people as schools instituted
age graded classrooms, and states passed the first
age-based child labor laws. Historians explain these changes
as part of a broader effort to bring scientific
tools of management to bear on an
industrializing democracy and a diverse citizenry. Printers, caterers,
and merchants also commercialized birthdays. Prosperous Americans
celebrated children’s birthdays before the Civil
War inspired largely by Queen Victoria it appears. By the 1850s, publishers
and political parties held some birthday
celebrations for prominent men. Then in the 1880s, printers
marketed the first commercially produced birthday cards. Most women still didn’t want
to announce their exact age but congratulating each other
on the day of their birth date became more common among
friends and family. Members of the National
Women’s Suffrage Association continued to innovate
ways of publicly honoring older women leaders
on their birthdays. In 1885, they not only hosted a
lavish party for Elizabeth Cady Stanton in New York City
but also sent out directions for how local suffrage clubs
could hold parallel events all over the country,
and they then documented this in
the souvenir program. This was the occasion at which
Stanton read her often quoted essay on the pleasures
of age in which she declared that 50, not 15, is
the heyday of a woman’s life. Other suffragists
meanwhile resisted the idea of public birthdays. So Lucy Stone, for example,
was shocked in 1888 when people sent her gifts and
telegrams congratulating her on 70 years, as she had
quote no idea the day was known except by relatives
and a few near friends. This convention program for 1893
presents middle aged and older white women as the public face
of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Lucretia Mott on the
left died in 1880. She appears here
as the four mother of Stanton, Stone, and Anthony. The speakers listed below
include younger white women born between the
1840s and 1860s. They have a voice, but
they aren’t elevated yet into this pantheon
of great leaders. The implication is they’re
going to have to wait for that. Black women do not
appear at all here, despite the fact that
the women pictured were all part of the antebellum
anti-slavery movement and all collaborated throughout
their lives with black leaders. So what I want to emphasize
is that this segregation of women’s suffrage
leadership by race and age was not natural or inevitable
or even really accurate, but it was artificial,
constructed, and a misrepresentation
to be sure. One that was done for
political purposes to empower older white women. So a more accurate
image would include younger women and white
women as prominent leaders. It would emphasize Mott’s
connection to black women, including Harriet Tubman. In the 1880s and 1890s,
Tubman campaign for women’s suffrage and
fundraise to establish a home for elderly
African-Americans on her property in
Auburn, New York. She moved among
suffragists, black women’s reform organizations, and the
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, always
linking the vote to economic justice
for African-Americans. Interestingly, evidence suggests
that some white suffragists sought to find some
kind of day that could function for Tubman
the way a birthday did for white women. So in 1894, Edna Dowd
Cheney sent funds to Tubman describing the contributions
as quote “a gift to herself,” a birthday gift to herself. In 1901, the woman’s
journal printed an appeal asking for contributions
by December, so these could be
bundled and presented to Tubman as a Christmas gift. So you can see them
trying to present these dates as get give now. But the largest boost
to Tubman’s reputation came from black
women who invited her to attend the founding
meeting of the National Association of Colored
Women’s Clubs in 1896. The black feminist
theorist Brittany Cooper points out that
this organization sought to counter the
quote “civic unknowability” of black women. What I want to add here
is that celebrating Tubman enabled them to emphasize black
women as national leaders. So in women’s air under a
reprint of Tubman’s civil war portrait, Victoria Earl
Matthews wrote the fact that we know so little that
is credible and truly noble about our own people
constitutes one of the saddest and most humiliating phases
of Afro-American life. Matthews rallied black women
to come to the convention and meet them in person. In a grand spectacle of
intergenerational solidarity, Tubman took the stage at the
convention, holding an infant– the son of anti-lynching
activist Ida B, Wells-Barnett, as she stood there the hall
overflowed with emotion– as Matthews reported, the scene
was impressive and thrilling. It was the clasping of hands
of the early 19th and 20th centuries. Anthony’s 80th birthday in 1900
functioned in a similar way. The highlight of
the evening came when 80 children marched
across the stage, each handing her a rose. Now as far as I can tell from
press reports on this memorial portrait, all of the
children were white, but Anthony did invite
African-American suffragists to speak at her
public birthdays. And this I just
want to underline was really striking at a
moment in American history when almost all
public celebrations, even Lincoln’s
birthday celebrations, were racially segregated. So she is bringing black
women into the movement. At Anthony’s 80th, for example,
Coralee Franklin Cook spoke, and she praised Anthony as
quote “the courageous defender of rights wherever assailed.” Anthony, in turn, made a great
show of affection towards Cook, but this did not translate
into coalition building. A year earlier, Anthony
blocked a resolution that would have
condemned Jim Crow segregation on the railroads. So Anthony’s
birthday celebrations function to include black
women in the suffrage movement while simultaneously
pushing their leadership and their political
priorities to the margins. Anthony’s 80th birthday
staged a grand spectacle of generational succession in
which she represented the past. Middle-aged women took
power in the present, and white children
represented the future. This I think is a very early
presentation of an idea that we’ve come to know
as a feminist waves. So in the 1960s,
feminist coined the term “second wave” to both connect
themselves with and distance themselves from this
historical period. Then in the 1980s,
we got younger women saying they were a third way. We’re now on to a fourth,
fifth, maybe sixth way, depending who you talk to. Historians and
activists generally agree that it’s time to
let go of this metaphor, that it’s divisive,
that it’s inaccurate, but we remain very
trapped inside it. And I think it’s
in this moment– surprisingly in
celebrations for older women not the rebellion of youth
but in the celebrations for old women that we see
this idea taking form. OK, so after Anthony’s
event in 1900, many prominent women
had 80th birthday galas, and not all were suffragists. So in 1982, when Elizabeth Cary
Agassi, the first president of Radcliffe, heard
that supporters wanted to hold a concert
for her 80th birthday. She wrote in her diary
quote, “it is a lovely plan, but I have sworn that
I would never have one of these public birthdays. I must yield not without dread.” Her dread turned to delight when
on the morning of her birthday, she received a surprising gift. Does anybody know what
Agassi’s birthday gift was? Agassi house– Elizabeth Cary
Agassi on her 80th birthday received $116,000 to
build Agassi house. That is the equivalent of almost
actually more than $3 million today– quite a birthday present. Her son later wrote
that Agassi would quote “like a second
festival provided it could be as lucrative as the first.” So you can see that these
public birthdays are functioning very effectively to
channel resources towards women’s institutions
and women’s causes to publicize the
achievements of older women and to inspire young women. And this is all an achievement
and so really effective in a lot of ways. The amount of money
raised, of course, vary. The same year that Agassi
received $160,000 birthday gift, Tubman’s
supporters struggled mightily to raise
1,700 as a Christmas gift that would pay off the
mortgage on her old people’s home. So in many ways,
these celebrations didn’t alleviate
that exacerbated existing inequalities. OK, what about political power? Did women suffragists succeed
in convincing Americans outside their movement to
take older women seriously as national leaders,
to view them as potential congressmen
and senators and presidents? Boiler alert– not so much. So as Christian
Hopkinson points out in our study of the
Spanish-American war, expansionists label the
anti-imperialist aunties to render their leadership
illegitimate and absurd. So cartoonists targeted
old white women in particular as a
threat to male potency. Here prominent anti-imperialists
are dressed as busy old women pulling down a
statue representing the administration,
the army, and the Navy. Older African-American women
had to contend with a different stereotype– aunt as loyal servant
more dedicated to her enslavers
family than her own. This bogus idea took
off in the 1890s when the RT Davis
Mill Company began to market Aunt Jemima pancake
mix, one of the first branded and widely advertised
foodstuffs. The publicity
campaign dubbed this invented character quote “the
most famous colored woman in the world? And made up a
biography for her– the fake life of an
older black woman. An illustration claim to be a
truthful representation of Aunt Jemima feeding Confederates
after the gunboats destroyed the master’s plantation. Now whether consciously or not,
this precisely and insidiously erases Tubman’s
actual leadership navigating gunboats
during the Civil War, and I think we have
to read these images as a direct backlash
against efforts to empower older women
during this period. Now if this was all that
suffragists had to fight– these misogynistic and racist
images in popular culture– that would have been difficult
enough, but by the 1910s, they also had to contend with
women’s suffrage leaders who began to market youth. I know, right. It’s subtle. So white suffragists focused on
appealing to white male voters, and this is how they did it. They prettier, conventionally
attractive women out front as the face of the movement. This is actually my favorite. Beauty brigade in canvas
for votes for women. So these beauty brigades are
part of this massive propaganda campaign that mobilized
the techniques of modern advertising, public
spectacle and celebrity– all of which turned
on circulating images of conventionally
attractive white, often quite wealthy women. None of these women are over 35. Old women remain
active in the movement. They join these massive
suffrage parades, but they were put
behind the beauties, set apart in motor cars,
and treated as curiosities. Their birthdays continued
to receive attention, but young women had become
the face of the movement. Black women adopted
this strategy too. The journalist Pauline Hopkins,
editor of The Colored American magazine here in
Boston, wrote often about the leadership
of mature black women, including this really
important profile of Tubman. But the visual culture of
the magazine as a whole centered on picturing young
black women as glamorous, as modern, as beautiful. And I want to underline that
this is really important too. A lot of Americans felt that
black women weren’t beautiful and claiming them as beautiful
is political, is powerful. Even for white suffragists
who face the charge that political activism
would make them unattractive, this was important to say
that suffragists could be beautiful and glamorous. But what drops out of
this effort entirely is the connections
between maturity and power that women were drawing
in the late 19th century. So beauty sells. And suffragists
took up advertising, and then advertisers
appealed to suffragists. And this marketing accomplished
what Anthony and her supporters had been unable to
achieve, the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Now we should not describe
this as the winning of women’s suffrage. It just removed
sex as a barrier. State governments used
literacy tests, poll taxes, and identity verification to
disenfranchisement many people. And in fact, the
voter ID laws that are being passed in state after
state today are a continuation of this strategy. So voting is not a secure right. It’s a privilege that
states can regulate, and voting is also very
different than running for office or getting elected. So after 1920, American
women did not effectively organize to elect women to
national office and progress in this phase has
remained remarkably slow, which brings us back to the
construction of Susan B, Anthony as a great statement,
equivalent to the most beloved president. So after 1920, members of
the National woman’s party gather every year on February 15
in the crypt of the US capitol where there was this
statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott,
and Susan B. Anthony. It’s the closest suffragists
have to a national monument. They gather. They lay flowers. They give speeches. Black women continue
to attend these events. So that’s Mary Church
Terrill, the first president of the National Association
of Colored Women’s Clubs in the lovely fur collar. She talked about how Anthony
was an abolitionist as well as a suffragist just trying to
keep alive these connections. Rose Arnold Powell whose
papers are at the Schlesinger campaigned relentlessly
to turn Anthony’s birthday into a national holiday. That Anthony had
been born in February was a happy accident she used
to promote the idea of three great emancipators. So Washington freed his country. Lincoln freed the slaves,
and Anthony freed women, or so the story went. Powell wrote every calendar
company in the US year after year urging them to list
Anthony’s birthday February, along with Washington’s
and Lincoln’s. A few states, including
Massachusetts, did turn Anthony’s
birthday into holidays. As far as I know, this
is no longer a thing, but it was briefly. Massachusetts had a holiday,
but we still in this country have no national holiday that
honors a woman as a leader. And what about Tubman? African-American women named
a number of social service organizations in her honor,
including the Harriet Tubman House here in Boston founded
when Thompson was still alive, and she was actually
present at the dedication. This clipping from
the Delta Sigma Theta papers at Schlesinger
shows schoolchildren celebrating the 50th anniversary
of the Tubman home in 1959. So even though Tubman
didn’t have a birthday, these institutions named after
her could have anniversaries and rallied people
around her memory. Under President Obama,
the Treasury Department planned Tubman’s face on
the redesigned $20 bill. Trump’s Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that
this plan is on hold. In 1978, Tubman did become
the first black woman to be put on a postage
stamp, and Pauline Murray, the civil rights lawyer
an Episcopal priest, read a beautiful
benediction at the day of this year’s ceremony. The point I want to
make here is that we know about Anthony and
Tubman because women worked to convince people that they
were national leaders as worthy of recognition as white men. Now most Americans
never accepted the idea that these women were on a par
with Washington or Lincoln, but that we remember
them at all is an important legacy of black
and white women’s organizing. That white women like
Powell downplayed the contributions of black women
is also, of course, a legacy. But what I want to
leave you with today– what I want to draw
your attention to– is another facet of
this memorialization, and that is how white women
remembered Anthony’s age. By the 1930s, Anthony’s
longevity was a curiosity. Ripley’s Believe It or
Not for February 15, 1938, read Susan B. Anthony
died at the age of 86. Her mother died
at the age of 86. Her grandmother died at 86. Never change the style of
her hair dress in 70 years. It’s true. You could look at the photos. Soon a much younger
Anthony began to appear in popular culture. So this Wonder Woman comic
is my favorite example of a particularly
fresh-faced Anthony. In this comic,
she does grow old, but her supporters all
remain remarkably young. In 1939, a year after
the Ripley’s cartoon, Ethel Adamson of the national
woman’s party planted– the word she used– this picture in newspapers
for February stories on Anthony’s birthday. It shows Anthony at age 48. Adamson explained
to Powell quote “we all love Susan at every
age, but a little youth does seem more
attractive for a change.” Powell agreed. She thought schoolchildren
would relate more to this image, and this is the
image that stuck. So here’s Anthony on her
126th birthday looking younger than she did when
she first celebrated her birthday in 1870, and
she’s still young in 1971 when the National
Organization for Women joined the birthday
celebration ritual. And again, on the
coin minted in 1979. By the 1970s,
Anthony had undergone one of the greatest anti-aging
treatments in American history. The result is that
we can remember her without engaging in the
politics of age and power that her generation
was so concerned with. So look again at this
image that I started with. Anthony at age 80– she’s posed against
a black cloth that emphasizes her white hair
in harsh light showing every wrinkle. This image was on a calendar
that suffrage just before and hung in their homes. As they use the
calendar, they may have planned their
own time in new ways, looking forward to
growing older themselves, certainly looking
forward to the day when Americans would
recognize a woman like Anthony as having demonstrated
the political skill and experience to be elected
president of the United States. To get to that point to
elect a woman president, we will need to innovate
a new politics of women’s midlife empowerment– one that somehow resists
the tendency to divide women by age, race, and
class and instead finds ways to build
political coalitions that work across divides
for shared purposes, and this won’t be easy. We can just hope
that young women will do this work on their own. Middle aged and older women need
to work with them and for them in particular movements,
and young women will need to partner
with their elders. If we can understand that
age itself has a history, a history deeply connected to
gender, race, class, and power, we may be able to
generate better strategies– at least that is
my hope in talking to you today. Thank you so much for listening. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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