March 10, 2022, by Melissa Lindberg
Being a woman of a certain age myself, I recently began to wonder how and where older women are depicted in Prints & Photographs Division collections.
Naturally, even in embarking on such an exploration, one has to acknowledge certain caveats: “Older” is a relative term in any culture and, unless original captions indicate how a person’s age was regarded, it’s hard to know whether an individual was considered older in their own time.
Moreover, minus captions that give ages in years, one can only estimate on the basis of certain physical traits (wrinkles, white hair, stooped posture, to the degree these are visible, particularly in black-and-white pictures) that a person had lived many years, while recognizing that some of those characteristics might be determined by genetics and the rigors of work and living conditions.
Nevertheless, my odyssey through three collections (Popular Graphic Arts, Panoramic Photographs, and the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection) produced some interesting finds and stimulated plenty of questions about the visibility of older women in pictorial representations of various types and in their communities, in general.