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Dear Readers,


You know how some years seem a lot longer than others? Well, this last year has been so for me.  It seems incredible that I’ve neglected this column for such a long spell. But in the last twelve months I’ve had major surgery, written a book, finished rebuilding my home (you may recall, it was lost in Hurrican Dennis), furnished it and moved in. I feel like I’ve lived five years in just that one. And to top off that feeling, I’m writing a new book–on aging!


Perfect, I thought. I will do a column on what women have been saying and are saying about the subject of “Age, Aging and Ageism.” It’s a subject that has fascinated me every since I wrote Breaking the Age Barrier in 1981.  I was only 40 years old at the time of that writing. Now, approaching the subject once again from the viewpoint of a 66-year-old, my perspective has changed somewhat.  But my central thesis hasn’t changed: both in the earlier book and the new one, I propose that chronological age is just the tip of the iceberg.  We have many ages within us, just as we have multiple intelligences.  A vigorous 45-year-old may live in the body of a healthy 30-year-old.  A reclusive, pessimistic 30-year-old probably has the emotional age of a four year old.  But don’t get me started–that’s why I’m writing the book.


My studies have shown me that not all societies treat their elders the same. Attitudes range from scrap-piling older folk to revering them. And life expectancy differs vastly, not only depending upon living in the developed world, as one might suspect, but upon diet and lifestyle. There are pockets of agrarian cultures whose populous typically live to be 100!


So fascinating has the subject of aging been to women throughout the ages, I will once again, as I did with religion, be presenting this column in two parts–there are just too many good quotations for one column!  I hope you will find this new column stimulating and useful.


In sisterhood,

Elaine Bernstein Partnow, Editor


Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet

In this short life that only lasts an hour

How much–how little–is within our power! – No. 1287, The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., 1955


Enid Bagnold (1889-1991), English playwright, scenarist; w. Lord Jones

I shall continue to explore–the astonishment of living. – The Chalk Garden, 1955


Eda Le Shan (1922-2002), American writer, columnist, TV host, family counselor, educator

Someone once said that middle age is like rereading a book that you haven’t read since you were a callow youth. The first time around you were dazzled by impressions, emotions, and tended to miss the finer points. In middle age you have the equipment to see the subtleties you missed before and you savor it more slowly. – The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age, 1973


The highest compliment we can be paid today is to be told we don’t look our age. Men and women spend millions of dollars every year on trying to remain youthful and glamorous–untouched by life and aging. – Ibid.


Elizabeth Janeway (1913-2005), American author, literary critic, sociologist, lecturer; Pulitzer Prize, 1971; w. economist Eliot J-

We are in a double bind. We are expected to feel inferior not only as women, but because we are old. - Between Myth and Morning, 1974


Nadine Gordimer (1923- ), South African writer, lecturer; Booker Prize, 1974; Nobel Prize, 1991

Time is change; we measure its passage by how much things alter. – The Late Bourgeois World, 1966


I'm forty-nine but I could be twenty-five except for my face and my legs. -- "Good Climate,  Friendly Inhabitants," Not for Publication and Other Stories, 1965


Mavis Gallant (1922- ), English/Canadian writer

Success can only be measured in terms of distance traveled... - Green Water, Green Sky, 1959


Janet Harris (1915- ), American educator, civil rights activist, writer; one-time official of both official of NOW and CORE

The first crisis of middle age is within the psyche itself, as the values and aspirations of youth come up for examination in the light of the experience and knowledge which we have gained through living. – The Prime of Ms. America, 1975


Quite a few women told me, one way or another, that they thought it was sex, not youth, that’s wasted on the young. – Ibid.


One searches the magazines in vain for women past their first youth. The middle-aged face apparently sells neither perfume nor floor wax. The role of the mature woman in the media is almost entirely negative. – Ibid.


...with the beginnings of the middle years, we face an identity crisis for which nothing in our past has prepared us.   -- Ibid.


Jane Harrison (1850-1928) English archaelogist, classical scholar, writer

Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing.  It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then  you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator. . . . – "Conclusion,” Reminiscences of a Student's Life, 1925


Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) American actor

I want to grow old without face lifts. They take the life out of a face, the character. I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made.  Sometimes, I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but you'd never complete your life, would you? You'd never wholly know yourself. - Interview, n.d.


Elinor Wylie (1885-1928) American poet, writer; w. William Rose Benét (1886-1950; writer, editor), s.-in-law, Stephen Vincent B- (1898-43, writer)

In masks outrageous and austere/ The years go by in single file;/ But none has merited my fear, And none has quite escaped my smile. –"Let No Charitable Hope," St. 3 (1923), Collected Poems, 1932


Susan Sontag (1933-2004) American cultural critic, essayist, screenwriter; National Book Critics Circle Award,  1978; MacArthur Fellowship, 1990; National Book Award, 2000

Growing older is mainly an ordeal of the imagination–a moral disease, a social pathology... - Illness as Metaphor, 1978


Most men experience getting older with regret, apprehension.  But most women experience it even more painfully:  with shame.  Aging is a man's destiny, something that must happen because he is a human being.  For a woman, aging  is not only her destiny . . . it is also her vulnerability. --"The Double Standard of Aging," Saturday Review, October 1972


George Sand (1804-1876) French writer; w. Baronne Dudevant

One wastes so much time, one is so prodigal of life, at twenty!  Our days of winter count for double.  That is the  compensation of the old. --Letter to Joseph Dessauer (5 July 1868), Correspondence, Vol. V, 1883


It is quite wrong to think of old age as a downward slope. On the contrary, one climbs higher and higher with the ad-vancing years, and that, too with sur-prising strides. Brain-work comes as easily to the old as physical exertion to the child. One is moving, it is true, towards the end of life, but that end is now a goal, and not a reef in which the vessel may be dashed. –(1865), The Intimate Journal of George Sand, 1926


One approaches the journey's end. But the end is a goal, not a catastrophe. -- Ibid., Final Comment" (September 1868)


 George Eliot (1819-1880) English writer

In the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them much in the  same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and  alter the world a little. --Bk. 2, Ch. 15, Middlemarch, 1871-72


The years seem to rush by now, and I think of death as a fast approaching end of a journey–double and treble reason for loving as well as working while it is day. - Letter to Miss Sara Hennell (22 November 1861), George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals, 1900


            Few women, I fear, have had such a reason as I have to think the long sad years of youth were worth living for the  sake of middle age. -- Ibid., Letter to Mrs. Peter Taylor (31 December 1857)


Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) American writer

So we die before our own eyes; so we see some chapters of our lives come to their natural end. – The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, 1896


Margaret Mead (1901-1977) American anthropologist, museum curator, writer’ w. Gregory Bateson (1904-80, anthropologist), d. Mary Catherine Bateson and Edward Sherwood —; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1979

In this country, some people start being miserable about growing old while they are still young. –Quoted by Grace Hechinger in "Growing Old in America," Family Circle, 26 July 1977


There are far too many children in America who are badly afraid of older people because they never see any. Old people are not a regular part of their everyday lives. -- Ibid.


            If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos,  you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life. -- Ibid.


Ursula K. Le Guin (1929- ) American writer; Nebula and Hugo Awards, 1969; NBA, 1973

Almost everything is double like that for adolescents; their lies are true and their truths are lies, and their hearts are broken by the world. They gyre and fall; they see through everything, and are blind. --“Stone Telling, Pt. II,” Always Coming Home, 1985


             Virginity is now a mere preamble or waiting room to be got out of as soon as possible; it is without significance.  Old age is similarly a waiting room, where you go after life's over and wait for cancer or a stroke. The years  before and after the menstrual years are vestigial: the only meaningful condition left to women is that of  fruitfulness. --"The Space Crone," The Co-Evolution Quarterly, Summer 1976


Margaret Atwood ((1939- ) Canadian novelist, poet, essayist; W. Graeme Gibson (writer); Governor General's Award, 1966, 1986; Radcliffe Medal 1980;  Guggenheim, 1981; Booker Prize, 2000

I've never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It's probably because they have forgotten their own. -- "Hair Jewelry," Dancing Girls, 1982


 Coco Chanel (1883-1971) French fashion designer

Youth is something very new: twenty years ago no one mentioned it. -- Coco Chanel, Her Life, Her Secrets, Marcel Haedrich, 1971


Judith Viorst (1931- ), American writer, journalist, poet; Emmy, 1970

Growing up means letting go of the dearest megalomaniacal dreams of our childhood. Growing up means knowing they can't be fulfilled. Growing up means gaining the wisdom and the skills to get what we want within the limitations imposed by reality -- a reality which consists of diminished powers, restricted freedoms and, with the people we love, imperfect connections. -- Ch. 11, Necessary Losses, 1986


But it's hard to be hip over thirty/ When everyone else is nineteen,/When the last dance we learned was the Lindy,/And the last we heard, girls who looked like Barbra Streisand/Were trying to do something about it. --It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life, 1968


Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) American poet, playwright; Pulitzer, 1923

Youth, have no pity; leave no farthing here/For age to invest in compromise and fear. -- "Fatal Interview," XXIX, Fatal Interview, 1931


Was it for this I uttered prayers,/And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,/ That now, domestic as a plate,/I should retire at half-past eight? --"Grown-Up," A Few Figs from Thistles, 1920


Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English writer, literary critic; d. Sir Leslie Stephen (biographer, ciritic, scholar); w. Leonard W- (economist, publisher, writer); with Leonard, founder and operator of Hogarth Press, 1917; with brother Thoby Stephen, founder of Hyde Park Gate News, 1891-1895

One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them. --"Hours in a Library," Times Literary Supplement (London], 30 November 1916


I don't believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one's aspect to the sun. Hence my optimism. --(2 October 1932), The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4, Anne O. Bell, ed., 1982


Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) American humanitarian, government official, writer; w. Franklin D. R- (1882-1945, politician; 32nd U.S. President, 1933-45), m. Alice R- Halsted, n. Theodore R- (1858-1919; war hero, politician; 26th U.S. president, 1901-09), Corinne R- Robinson, cousin of Edith Carow R- and Alice R- Longworth; U.S. delegate to United Nations, 1945-53, 1961; United Nations Prize, 1968

A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.   -- It Seems to Me, 1954


Rita Rudner (1956- ) American comedian, writer

"Oh, my God. I've just told you how old I am. Nobody knows how old I am. I'm going to have to kill you now." -- Pt. III, "The Stuff Dreams Aren't Made Of," Tickled Pink, 2001


"No hanky, no panky.  At my age, foreplay is brushing my teeth . . . when I can remember where I I put 'em." -- Ibid.


I don't plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face-lifts until my ears meet. -- Attributed


Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) English poet, essayist, letter writer; d. Evelyn Pierrepont (marquess of Dorchester and 1st duke of Kingston) w. Edward W- M- I, m. Edward W- M- II (writer, traveler)

A woman, till five-and-thirty, is only looked upon as a raw girl, and can possibly make no noise in the world till about forty. --Letter to Lady Rich, (20 September 1716), Letters, 1767


Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001) American writer, poet, aviator; w. Charles L- (1902-1974; American avaitor); d. Elizabeth Reed M-

Perhaps middle-age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. -- Gift from the Sea, 1955


Doris Lessing (1919- ) English novelist, playwright; Nobel Prize, 2007

...she was thirty-nine. No, she did not envy her eighteen-year- old self at all. But she did envy, envied every day more bitterly, that young girl's genuine independence, largeness, scope, and courage. --"Between Men,” A Man and Two Women, 1958


            You are young, and then you are middle-aged, but it is hard to tell the moment of passage from one state to the  next. Then you are old, but you hardly know when it happened. -- The Summer Before the Dark, 1973


            The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body   changes, but you don't change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion. -- Sunday Times: Books (London), 10 May 1992


Agnes Repplier (1858-1950) American writer, social critic

Who that has plodded on to middle age would take back upon his shoulders ten of the vanished years, with their mingled pleasures and pains? Who would return to the youth he is forever pretending to regret? --"Some Aspects of Pessimism,” Books and Men, 1888


Marguerite Blessington (1789-1849) Irish writer, novelist, salonist; d. Edmund Power, w. Capt. Maurice St. Leger Farmer (1) and Charles John Gardener, first earl of Blessington (2)

Tears fell from my eyes -- yes, weak and foolish as it now appears to me, I wept for my departed youth; and for that beauty of which the faithful mirror too plainly assured me, no remnant existed. -- The Confessions of an Elderly Lady, 1838


Sara Gruen (1976?- ) American novelist

            Age is a terrible thief. Just when you think you're getting the hang of it, it knocks your legs out from under you  and stoops your back. -- Ch. 1, Water for Elephants, 2006


             Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work but important. Anyway, I'm not really addled. I  just have more facts to keep track of than other people. -- Ibid., Ch. 5


I try to brush the hairs flat with my hand and freeze at the sight of my old hand on my old head. I lean close and  open my eyes very wide, trying to see beyond the sagging flesh.// It's no good. Even when I look straight into the milky blue eyes, I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me? –Ibid., Ch. 8


Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) American writer, editor, abolitionist

The old men gazed on them in their loveliness, and turned away with that deep and painful sigh, which the gladness of childhood, and the transient beauty of youth, are so apt to awaken in the bosom of the aged. -- Ch. 8, Hobomok, 1824


Childhood itself is scarcely more lovely than a cheerful, kind, sunshiny old age. -- Letter 37 (March 1843), Letters from New York, Vol. II, 1852


Colette (1873-1954) French writer; first president of Goncourt Academy

It's pretty hard to retain the characteristics of one's sex after a certain age. -- "My Mother and Illness,” My Mother's House, 1922


You'll understand later that one keeps on forgetting old age up to the very brink of the grave. -- Ibid.


            But at my age there's only one virtue: not to make people unhappy. -- Ibid.


Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power, or a pin the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: ..."Let me not forget that I am the daughter of a woman who bent her head, trembling, over a cactus, her wrinkled face full of ecstasy over the promise of a flower, a woman who herself never ceased to flower, untiringly, during three quarters of a century." – Break of Day, 1928


Golda Meir (1898-1978) Russian/American/Israeli politician; Israel's first minister of labor, 1949-56; foreign minister, 1956-66 and prime minister, 1969-74

Being seventy is not a sin. -- Quoted by by David Reed "The Indestructible Golda Meir" in  Reader's Digest, July 1971

...old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you're aboard, there's nothing you can do. You can't stop the plane, you can't stop the storm, you can't stop time. So one might as well accept it calmly, wisely. – Quoted by Oriana Fallaci in L'Eurepeo, 1973


Maggie Kuhn (1905-1995) American civil rights activist, author; founder of Gray Panthers, 1970

            Men and women approaching retirement age should be recycled for public service work, and their companies should  foot the bill. We can no longer afford to scrap-pile people. -- Quoted in "Gray Panthers Versus Ageism," Ms. (New York), July 1973


One reason our society has become such a mess is that we're isolated from each other.  The old are isolated by  government policy.  So we have all sorts of stereotypes floating around about blacks, old people, and women. --Quoted in "How to Forget Age Bias," Ms. (New York), June 1975


I'm having a glorious old age. One of my greatest delights is that I have outlived most of my opposition. -- Speech, Vermont state legislature, 1991   


Old age is not a disease -- it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses. –Quoted by Ken Dychtwald in "Liberating Aging,", New Age, February 1979


Aging begins with the moment of birth, and it ends only when life itself has ended. Life is a continuum; only, we -- in our stupidity and blindness -- have chopped it up into little pieces and kept all those little pieces separate. -- Ibid.


 Our technological society scrap-piles old people as it does automobiles. . . . -- Ibid.


I think of age as a great universalizing force.  It's the only thing we all have in common.  It doesn't begin when  you collect your social security benefits.  Aging begins with the moment of birth, and it ends only when life  itself has ended.  Life is a continuum; only, we -- in our stupidity and blindness -- have chopped it up into  little pieces and kept all those little pieces separate. -- Ibid.


            There are lots of people and programs that have purported to serve us but instead treat us like wrinkled babies,  powerless and dependent.  Our goal should be responsible adulthood.  We're the elders of the tribe, and the elders  are charged with the tribe's survival and well being! -- Ibid.


            Arbitrary retirement at a fixed age ought to be negotiated and decided according             to the wishes of the people involved. Mandatory retirement ought to be illegal. -- Quoted by by Carol Offen in "Profile of a Gray Panther," Retirement Living, December 1972


Ageism is any discrimination against people on the basis of chronological age -- whether old or young.  It's  responsible for an enormous neglect of social resources. -- Ibid.


            We want to give old folks a new sense of power and worth.  We've been brainwashed by the youth cult to keep up  youthful appearances, and to be ashamed of our age. –Ibid.


Phyllis Diller (1917- ) American comedian, pianist

You know you're getting old, when your back starts going out more than you do. -- Earl Wilson's "Broadway" column, 8 September 1978


 The older I get the funnier I get. . . . Think what I'll save in not having my face lifted. --  (1961), Quoted in "The 1960's to the 1980's," Women in Comedy by Linda Martin & Kerry Segrave, 1986


Susanna Centlivre (1667/69?-1723) Irish/English playwright, actor; w. Joseph C-, Yeoman of the Mouth to Queen Anne (i.e., the cook)

Tis the defect of age to rail at the pleasures of youth. -- Act I, The Basset-Table, 1705               


Bette Davis (1908-1989) American actor; Academy Awards, 1935, 1938; Emmy, 1979

If you don't work, what the hell do you do? Sit around and rot! The retirement age of 65 has killed millions. Luckily, I'm in an industry with no retirement. They only retire you if you don't make money for them. –Quoted by by Dotson Rader in "The Story of a Winner," Parade Magazine, 6 March 1983


Fanny Burney (1752-1840) English playwright, novelist; d. Charley B- (noted musicologist); Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte (1786-91)

"If Time thought no more of me, than I do of Time, I believe I should bid defiance, for one while, to old age and wrinkles, -- for deuce take me if ever I think about it at all." -- Letter LXXVII, Evelina, 1778


"How true is it, yet how consistent.that while we all desire to live long, we have all a horror of being old!" --  Bk. II, Ch. 3, Cecilia, 1782

Return to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page

Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years, Elaine started working on the first edition, way back in 1974 when she was making the transition from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition. The Quotable Woman has become the standard book of quotations for women's studies programs and organizations all over the English-speaking world. She also wrote The Female Dramatist a few years back, and has recently come out with a new collection, The Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine has marveled at how her work in women's history has changed who she is and how she is. Ever eager to share that experience with others, she merged her two passions - acting and women's studies - and began, in 1984, to present living history portraits of notable women to civic and educational institutions. To date she has given more than 400 such presentations to upwards of 50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A., but in Mexico and even China! You can find out more about Elaine by visiting her web site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.


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