Corinne T. Field is an Associate Professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on the political significance of chronological age and life stage in US history. Her current book project, "Grand Old Women: How Abolitionists and Feminists Transformed Aging in America," considers how nineteenth-century activist women insisted that "old maids" and grandmothers should not recede into the background or try to look younger, but instead step forward as national leaders who were undeniably and gloriously aged beyond youth. Field's research explains how these women pushed back against stigma that we would now call "ageism," how they theorized the intersections of age, race, and class in women's lives, and how their persistent activism opened new possibilities for women's security and fulfillment in old age. Her next project, tentatively titled "Looking Old: A U.S. History," will consider the aesthetics of oldness across hierarchical relations of gender, race, and class. With LaKisha Simmons, Field is co-editing an interdisciplinary anthology on the global history of black girlhood. She is the author of The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America (2014) and co-editor with Nicholas Syrett of Age in America: Colonial Era to the Present (2015) as well as a roundtable for the American Historical Review on "Age as a Useful Category of Historical Analysis." During the 2018-2019 academic year she was the Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and she has held fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society, the Huntington Library, and Virginia Humanities.
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.