Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The life & age of woman - two 1840s lithographs

I found these two interesting lithographs depicting the stages of a woman's life in the 1840s.  Dated at approximately a year apart they both look very similar in appearance.  However the rhymes underneath the stages of womanhood convey quite a varying viewpoint, especially towards the elderly.  It is also interesting to see the portrayal of dress for each stage of life, seeing what was considered "age appropriate" at the time.

A particular stanza from the 1848 version reminded me of an incident when I was researching my family tree.  My Great g. g. g. grandmother Archer Betman was born in 1772 and married and agricultural labourer Robert Hood. Over the course of 20 years she gave birth to at least 11 children, her last when she was 50 years old (Mardline who did not survive infancy). In 1845 Robert died at the respectable age of 74 leaving Archer as a 73 year old widow.   At some point between the death of her husband and the 1851 census Archer became a pauper and with non of her family prepared or able to look after her she entered a workhouse.  Archer died on the 23rd September 1868 at Elham Work House at the age of 96, she was survived by at least four of her children.  "A useless cumberer on the earth, From house to house they send her forth"

The Life and age of woman, stages of woman's life from the cradle to the grave. New York : James Baillie, c1848. wikimedia commons

In swaddling clothes behold the bud,
Of sweet and gentle womanhood.

Next she foreshews with mimic plays,
The business of her future days.

Now glorious as a full-blown flower,
The heart of manhood feels her power.

A Husband now her arms entwine
She clings around him like the vine.

Now bearing fruit, she rears her boys
And tastes a mother's pains and joys

Like sparkling fountain gushing forth,
She proves a blessing to the earth.

A busy housewife full of cares,
The daily food her hand prepares.

As age creeps on she seeks for grace,
Always to church and in her place.

Now second childhood loosens all her tongue,
She talks of love and prattles with the young

A useless cumberer on the earth,
From house to house they send her forth.

Chained to her chair by weight of years,
She listless knits till death appears.

 "The Life & Age of Woman - Stages of Woman's Life from the Cradle to the Grave", a ca. 1849 wikipedia

1) Infant in cradle:
A wailing infant, first she plays,
Unconscious of her future days.

2) Young girl with doll:
Her girlish pastimes reveal for show
The cares which woman's life must know.

3) Late teen girl in grownup clothes:
Her ripened beauty all confess
And wonder at her loveliness.

4) Bride in white dress and veil:
A husband's arms, in hope and pride,
Enclasp her now, a lovely bride.

5) Young mother holding baby:
A mother's anxious love and care
With toilful(?) heart is hers to share.

6) Dressed to go outdoors:
Now to the poor her hands dispense
the blessings of benevolence.

7) Middle-aged woman (first declining step):
Absorbed in household duties now,
The weight of toil(?) contracts her brow.

8) In black bonnet and holding handkerchief :
She now resigns all earthbound care
And lifts her soul to heaven in prayer.

9) Old, wearing spectacles:
At eighty years, her well-stored mind
Imparts its blessings to her kind

10) Bent over, using cane:
The hoary head, us all should bless,
Who abound in ways of righteousness.

11) Sitting in chair, knitting:
The body sinks and wastes away,
The spirit cannot know dismay.

You can view larger versions of both these lithographs by clicking on the source links.


  1. These were so neat to read! Thank you for sharing this!