The Coronavirus and Ageism
Meltdown Monday

A TGB READER STORY: Ladies of the Silent Generation

By Elizabeth A. Rogers

I was born in 1937--smack in the middle of the so-called “Silent Generation” that arrived before WWII and at the end of the Great Depression. I speak as a middle-class white female member of that group.

We are Ladies of the Silent Generation, who reached young adulthood in the 1950s. We were - with notable exceptions such as Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O’Connor and Eleanor Holmes Norton - silent. Ours is the era venerated by the current president at his MAGA rallies.

Yes, it was a great time if you were a white male! Women lived in the shadows of social constraints and the men in our lives, first our fathers and brothers, then our husbands.

If we were married and desired to open a bank account, our husband’s signature was required - even if we were employed full-time. If we voted, we probably voted in accordance with our husband (or said we did).

The primary goal for young women was to marry well, with the most popular college degree being an “Mrs.” Our life was expected to revolve around cooking and housekeeping, raising children and perhaps doing volunteer work through the PTA or a women’s charity group.

We Ladies of the Silent Generation rarely had dinner in a restaurant without a male companion. We were taught to defer to men and not raise our voices in opposition to the status quo.

For the most part we spoke our truth only in pleasantries regardless of what was actually happening in our lives (alcohol, Miltown and later Valium often helped to suppress those truths). Being submissive, taking a back seat and not rocking the boat were prized female traits, while laying waste to the potential of a generation of women.

These traits probably set the course for the so-called imposter syndrome which impacted me professionally and affects some women in the workforce even today.

I began to question the status quo around 1960 and rejected much of it entirely by the mid-1970s. I started learning to speak my truth. I was divorced twice and subsequently escaped an abusive relationship. Eventually, I met and married a man who has always valued me as a capable, autonomous adult equal. He is totally atypical of the Depression-era and Silent Generation men I grew up with.

My truth today: I have openly expressed my dislike of getting old. However, dislike does not equate with non-acceptance. Refusal to accept the fact of ageing is futile and ridiculous. At 83, I am old. Although I am fortunate to be basically functional so far, I can no longer do many of the things I once enjoyed and did easily. Physical pain is now a constant presence. The possibility of needing long-term care is worrisome.

While these facts are only part of who I am, they are nonetheless facts. They are not automatically offset by “wisdom”, the “joys of quiet contemplation”, the “rewards of grandchildren” and similar platitudes often used to applaud advancing age.

I understand that many - if not most - old people believe that life is worth sustaining at any cost despite the loss of health, independence and personal agency. That is their absolute right, although I am decidedly ambivalent.

Many also extol the upside of being old and dismiss or minimize the downside. Again, that is their absolute right and must be respected since the larger society does an excellent job of denigrating old age. Still, the prevailing view seems to be that, given the many exterior social negatives surrounding old age, we (old people) must always be uniformly upbeat and positive.

However, that is not my truth, and as a Lady of the Silent Generation, I claim the hard-earned right to articulate what is true for me. I wasn’t all in with Pollyanna as a child. I’m still not.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

Love this. Speak your truth. I try to share these thoughts and my truth with the kids and grandkids (several grandgirls) so if they make it this far they won't be surprised.

I, too, love this. I'm four years older than you and agreed with every word and sentence, well, I was married only once which did not last. But it all brought back those years (a lifetime actually). Thank you for the trip back in time and the food for thought.

Yes! I love this, too. My 'thinking' didn't start clearing up (about women's roles) that early, but I'm clear on them now. Thanks for articulating this so well. I enjoyed the post.

Even those of us younger, I was born in 1952, experienced similar hurdles- I had to get my husband's signature to get a credit card. Then, when we were separated for many years and I gave birth to another man's daughter, I had to get my ex to sign off that the child wasn't his- they would not take my word for it, nor issue her birth certificate until he signed. So I forged his name, as always. 😊

This is a brilliant Reader Story, thank you so much. It makes me wonder who might be being silent now?

Come to think of it, I too can identify with Silent Generation. Never used the label before. Thanks for the recognition.

I am also a product of the Silent Generation (born in 1936) who was raised to see MRS as my terminal degree. When I was married at the age of 22, my husband surprised me by opening a bank account in my name in which he instructed me to deposit half of the money we had received in wedding gifts, saying "I don't want you ever to feel you don't have money." I didn't know what he was talking about. But he had seen his mother beg his father for money and decided that his wife would never be in that demeaning position. His moral , financial ,and physical support continued with partnering the care of our two small children through all of my graduate school education culminating in the PhD and full time employment in the profession of my choice. He applauded when, in 1977, I, tired of signing my name (Mrs) Roy Weiss, reclaimed my "maiden" name and created the hyphenated one that serves me to this day. No - he did not sacrifice his own ambitions or hold himself back in any way to make my star shine; he just knew - long before the Women's Movement - what it meant to be a man. He is gone 10 years now. The tears have long passed but not a day goes by that I don't remember his wisdom, his kindness, and feel his strength within me. Lucky? Grateful? You bet!!!!

I read this blog often just to see if Elizabeth Rogers posts. Her truth about ageing reminds me of Judi Dench. “There’s nothing good about being my age. Someone said to me, ‘You have such a wealth of knowledge,’ and I just said ‘I’d rather be young and know nothing, actually.’ Bugger the wealth of knowledge.”

There's too much of the opposite, the "Ashton Applewhite" view of aging with a silly positive spin even on dementia, "My memory’s never been any good, so maybe I won’t notice if I develop Alzheimer’s disease." You would never say to a cancer patient, "I have always been susceptible to chest colds, so maybe I won't notice if I develop lung cancer."

My neighbour is the same age, but being a man, he was basically handed jobs and promotions over more qualified women his entire life. So things like becoming a bank manager trainee at 21 when the more qualified "spinster" women were passed over. He still doesn't "get it," even when I point it out to him.


I was born in 1943, the tail end of the Silent Generation. Raised to be a proper young lady, just as Elizabeth described. I went to college because I was in an educated family, but the thinking was to train for some field "just in case" I ended up not marrying. Well, I did end up marrying. Twice. And moved about 15 different times. But through it all, there's one thing I learned: An education is something no one can ever take from you.

Excellent view even though I'm of the boomer generation when women’s rights and freedoms were beginning.

However, I see a slippage backwards now...let’s hope it temporary and only with a certain mindset on the right.

Thank you for sharing your "truth," Elizabeth Rogers. Although I was born in 1950, I can identify with it. I've been watching Mrs. America on Hulu, and marveling over all I've forgotten about "the good old days." I'm thankful to the pioneers from your generation who were fighting for our rights in 1972 when I was a 21 year old housewife with 2 babies, unaware of my repressed longing for "more."

As for being old, we can each make of it what we choose. Some days I mourn my youth, some days I manage not to think about it. But I am grateful to have the opportunity to BE old, when others I loved never made it to this age.

And Ann Burack-Weiss , you were truly blessed to have such a wise husband!

Thank you for your clarity, honesty and straightforwardness.

Good for you, Elizabeth! Getting old is awful, not because of the loss of beauty, which our society focuses on, but because of the loss of function and daily pain that no young person can possibly imagine. And the attitudes toward women make me so angry that I try not to think about them. I just make sure that everyone hears ME.

My second husband was a man who liked women, and he was a revelation to me! My son recently was made aware of his white male privilege in a course he was taking, and was stunned by how much of it he just took for granted. We may be making some progress, though Me Too makes me think that women haven't changed at all.

I would like to join with everyone else and say how much I appreciated this post. The idea of needing a husband's signature for banking even post-WWII is amazing to me.

I am "only" 73 and my mother was born in 1917. She was far from "silent" (in fact she verged on being a shrew -- sorry if that is an offensive term, but you had to be there : ) Despite having been a brilliant college student, fluent in French and Spanish, she married during WWII and stayed home producing seven children with two miscarriages towards the end. As a committed Catholic, she regarded birth control with something close to horror, while venting her frustration and anger on us and on our father. When things went badly at home, she enforced a family regime of kneeling in prayer to say the Rosary, which (guess what?) didn't actually help at all. I wish she had had some Xanax!

I got an advanced degree and a tenure track job, then got married at 35. At my wedding, she took me aside and said, "I'm so glad that now you can quit that job of yours." She saw "that job" as the obstacle to my natural calling of having children and returning to the Church. She lived to be 96 and never did understand what had happened to her many children.

A great essay. So many truths. This was my favorite phrase “while laying waste to the potential of a generation of women”. I saw it happen to my mother & the frustration that affected her & therefore affected her family.

My mother was born in ‘21, and while she was always a willing helpmate to my father, the family breadwinner, I know it galled her to her dying day that she needed his signature to buy a car (in the 70’s) with.her.own.money. So happy that some things have changed!

Excellent column. I was born in 1949 . My father told me college money was more important for my brother because I would have a husband to support me. He also told me teaching was the perfect job for a woman because you got out early and had summers off. So I left home. Married twice and neither husband supported me. One was an artist and the other was a responsible Dad who paid most of his salary in alimony and child support.
No one would count my income or give me a credit card when I was young because I could become pregnant. Didn’t matter that I was the breadwinner.
In the twilight of my Dad’s life and I was his caregiver sometimes used to ask him when he thought that husband who was going to support me would come along. He would tell me maybe he was wrong about that.
Thank goodness I could support myself. My father was a wonderful man but a product of the patriarchal society of his generation.
I fought like hell for change in the 70’s and we made a lot of advances which the current group of old men running the White House and Senate would love to strip away.
Young women need to keep pushing for equal rights and opportunity.

I’ve been reading the posts of Elizabeth Rogers for years, recognizing in her a kindred spirit for so many things, not least of those being her attitude toward the vicissitudes of aging. Born in 1935, I got married and had children instead of going to college. I was the primary breadwinner as my husband went to college on the G.I. Bill. Even though I spurned the PHT (Putting Hubby Through) degree generously offered by my husband’s college, I still hadn’t absorbed the lesson. Although after a divorce I was still the one supporting my family, I sought the safety of marriage a second time.

Then in 1968, I woke up and enrolled in university, an act of independence which killed the marriage. After earning a couple of degrees, I started up the career ladder and never looked back. But of course there were numerous attempts at slapping me down which I won’t go into. One occurred early in my career, when I applied for my first credit card and was turned down because of my marital status. Upon learning that one of the several men whom I supervised, one who earned much less than I, had just been given a card from the same bank, I stormed down the street, lectured the bank officer, and got my credit card. Even though there were many other fights for my rights over the years, I never again meekly accepted being treated as a lesser person.

Oh, boy! Where to start? Great piece, Elizabeth A. Rogers, thank you so much! I too was born in 1937--83 next month. Upper middle-class family, a mother born in 1903, whose mother (born in 1876) always lived with us). My mother's father had told her that she would have to find a man to take care of her, and that's what she did. She apparently told friends it was a marriage of convenience, but she never told my father that. He thought it was a love marriage. I'm sure she was very frustrated with her lot, but I don't think she had any idea that she might've had some sort of choice. Additionally (or as a result, you pick, nature or nurture), she had what I can now clearly see was malignant narcissistic personality disorder.

This was a good thing, actually, because I became a flaming alcoholic before I was 20. I had no idea what I should strive for in my life, because my mother always made it clear to me that I was a conceited brat, incapable of being a real adult. Good thing I turned to drinking, too, because, by the time I'd squeaked through college and spent a dozen more years struggling to see what kind of adult I could imitate, I had symptoms so debilitating that I couldn't ignore them--unpredictable, unemployable, often impossible--and I went to a recovery program, the oldest. It not only saved my life, but gave me the support, love, and tutelage I hadn't ever gotten at home. If I hadn't had the drinking problem, I would've just muddled through, lost and directionless. But learning how to live sober transformed my life.

I did marry, at 37, but I hadn't been brought up to pick out healthy partners, and the marriage only lasted a few years. I'm a bit sorry now that I never had a child, but I do have friends, and though my children--four-legged and covered with hair--won't support me in my old age, they'll never deal dope, and they make wonderful company.

I can see now (largely thanks to Trump's example) that my mother was seriously ill, and had little choice in her behavior. I thank God every day that I don't have that same illness. Given my upbringing, I could never become what I might have been had I had more ideal circumstances in which to develop, but I have come to have more freedom and a wider array of ways to deal with what life sends my way. I've been able to help quite a few alcoholics on their beginning steps of sobriety; I've returned to the piano, and have, at 75+, finally given a handful of recitals, I've learned how to garden, quit smoking, learned how to train a dog, joined two of the world's great religions, have written a variety of essays and poetry for publication, and learned a LOT about human nature and the fact that I have a place in the human family and am obliged to make some human-sized useful contribution.

Thank you for the positive comments--they are very much appreciated! I'm glad to hear that I speak for at least a few other women of "The Silent Generation". We muddled through, didn't we? And some of us were fortunate to find a life partner who valued us as fully participating adult human beings. (Too bad we now have a president that doesn't, but we have a chance to fix that--soon.)

Loved ths story. And the comments. YES, we must speak our truth. Women deserve every inch, and more, of the progress that's been made. Now we need mothering honoured and valued - with money, so mothers can raise their children if they want to.
I've been blessed in my life, being a slow developer, it's improved the older I've got. The major blessing in my life was having parents who believed that education was extremely important, and their encouragement in that direction, although they did not have to pay for much of it. I'm pretty contented now, at 73, prefer knowing more to being younger - I didn't enjoy being young, so little power, and so little knowledge, of myself as well as the world.
However this probably has everything to do with being healthy my whole life. So far. And having a husband who was attracted by my independence, and from whom I gained enormously - physically, emotionally, spiritually and economically. He died 3 years ago, and I hope he gained as much from our marriage as I did.

Thanks for saying out loud what many people don't want to hear.

Absolutely loved this!

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