Old Yankee Women: Life Histories and Cultural Significance
Tydings, Judith Church
Caughey, John L.
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Responding to the notion that old age is like a foreign country, this study explores a small portion of this understudied terrain by examining the lives of eight old New England women (four primary subjects and four supplemental participants). In keeping with current ethnographic and life history practice, this cultural study of these American women in late life uses a journey format with the researcher engaged in exploration along with the other project participants. After a comprehensive review of the various literatures on aging women, this study provides detailed cultural portraits of the project participants who ranged in age from 60 to 92 when their participation in this ten year study began. By a close reading of their writings, by in depth life history conversations, and by participant observation, including living with each participant for a brief period of time, this study illuminates how these women in old age see themselves, the choices they have made or resisted in late life and what gives their lives meaning. This study is intended to illustrate the usefulness of the person centered life history method as a lens through which to examine the complex ways in which women negotiate aging. Old age, as this study shows, is experienced quite differently by each of these individual women; the old are far from a homogenous group. Even within this small group of white New England women of similar class backgrounds, many factors differentiate their experiences. One key factor has to do with their different cultural meaning systems. Using a "cultural traditions" model in conjunction with contemporary life history methods and ethnographic participant observation techniques, and informed by nascent age studies perspectives, this research examines how and to what extent the old age experiences of these women are affected and influenced by the particular cultural orientations of key cultural traditions these New England women bring with them into old age and how the aging process affects the ways they work with these traditions.