‘The Pleasures of Age’: Old Women and Political Power in the Suffrage Movement

From the 1830s, when antislavery activists first began to claim a public voice for women, through the final push for suffrage in the 1910s, influential suffragists argued that women would never achieve political power in democratic governments unless ordinary citizens stopped denigrating and patronizing older women and instead recognized gray hair and wrinkles as signs of competence, authority, and charisma.

Lecture Description

On the occasion of her seventieth birthday in 1885, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered a speech on “The Pleasures of Age” in which she declared that “fifty not fifteen is the heyday of woman’s life.” Sojourner Truth, touring the country in the 1870s, turned her embodied performance of old age into a political claim for financial reparations owed formerly enslaved people. By the 1890s, white suffragists hailed Susan B. Anthony as the “grand old woman of America” and compared her favorably to presidents Lincoln and Washington. In this talk, I will explain why woman suffragists in the nineteenth century demanded respect and security for older women as an essential dimension of political empowerment and why these hopes remain largely unrealized over a century later.

CATEGORIES

Old Age Women's Rights, Activism, and Suffrage

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