At What Age Did Russian Women Become Old Women?

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At What Age Did Russian Women Become Old Women?
At What Age Did Russian Women Become Old Women?

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Now the age of a woman in Russia is perceived subjectively and depends on her health, wealth and medical care. But this was not the case before. From ancient times in Russia, girls were given in marriage early, at the age of 20 the girl was already considered an "old maid", and Count Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov fined the parents if the daughter was not married at the age of 15.

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In the 19th century, the situation changed. According to the data presented by the authors Arseny Mikhailovich Sitkovsky and the philologist Sergey Sergeevich Galiev in the work "Demography in the Russian Empire", in Russia in the 19th century, the average age of marriage for girls was the lowest in Europe and reached 20.7 years. The youngest brides were in the Black Earth province - here the average marriage age was 19.3 years.

At 28 - old or young?

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov in his novel Princess Ligovskaya writes that "a girl at 17 is as reasonable as a man at 25," but he calls a "maiden" of marriageable age, who is already 28 years old, "an old woman." True, at the time of writing the novel, the author was only 22, and the woman "under thirty" probably seemed old to him.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky defines the "old woman" differently, for whom the old woman-pawnbroker in the novel "Crime and Punishment" is a woman of age: she is already sixty.

Most died young

But what was the life expectancy in Russia? Perhaps they really did become old women early, and Lermontov is right?

The Belarusian biologist Olga Antonovna Emelyanchik, having studied the remains of the burials of wealthy residents of the city of Polotsk in her article "Anthropoecological characteristics of the population of Polotsk in the 17th-18th centuries", came to the conclusion that the maximum mortality rate of residents of the cities of Polotsk and Gora during the 17th-17th centuries was among children under the age of six years and was 27%, then there was a decrease in mortality up to 20 years, and then the number of deaths increased, and every next ten years the mortality rate was 16.1% of the population, and after fifty years the remaining 13% died. Moreover, the dynamics of the life expectancy of residents of the Mogilev province at the end of the 19th century remained the same, there are few changes. At the same time, the biologist revealed that the population did not suffer from a lack of food, signs of anemia were detected in a few, but taking into account child mortality, the average life expectancy was only 25 years.

The conclusions reached by Emelyanchik do not contradict the already known data on the demography of Russia - they are similar. True, this also clarifies little - they died early and young, there were few old women, but they were still there. So it was not Lermontov who was right, but Dostoevsky? And the old woman in Russia was called those who, according to the biblical king David: "The days of our years, in them more than seventy years, but even in the strength, eighty years"?

When all the feminine is left behind

The historian Vladimir Borisovich Bezgin brings a little clarity in his book “Peasant Everyday Life. Traditions of the late XIX - early XX century”, where he writes that a Russian peasant woman gave birth from seven to nine times in her life. The average number of births in the Tambov province was 6.8 times, but there were also “record holders” who gave birth to 17 children each. Records in the obstetric departments of the province indicate that by the age of 40–45, some peasant women gave birth 14 or 16 times. But were they old women? Probably not. Perhaps they did not look as attractive as young girls, but they gave birth and nursed children, carried the burden of housework and caring for their husbands. Therefore, most likely in Russia, old women began to be considered those who, in Biblical words, “all feminine has ceased,” that is, women during menopause, after 50-55 years, when they could no longer reproduce children, lost interest in their husbands and began to age rapidly, weaken and could not perform the entire volume of work.

What was it like to become an old woman in Russia?

When a woman moved into this age group, changes took place not only in appearance or in physiology.In the villages, old women began to wear deaf, dark clothes like a sundress without shoulder straps, zapony - aprons with sleeves, they tied a scarf in a special way, stopped sewing new clothes for themselves, wearing old ones, and stopped wearing jewelry, - the historian Zinara Zievna Mukhina writes about this in his work “Social and age groups in the traditional Russian peasant society”. Some old women stayed in the house for a long time as elders, others were considered useless - this depended on their health. Everywhere and always, old women were assigned the main roles in holding weddings and funerals. The old women were protected by the Christian faith, which commanded respect for their parents, and if the children began to behave disrespectfully, they could be pulled back by the peasant community court. Nevertheless, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there were many poor elderly women among the poor.

A special place in the age group was occupied by noble women, many of whom “retired”, leaving the capitals for the villages or began to write memoirs, thanks to which it is now possible to understand at what age a noblewoman became an “old woman”. For example, Countess Varvara Nikolaevna Golovina, who lived at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, wrote in her memoirs that a woman becomes an old woman at the age of 60. She then recalled a certain "old flirt of sixty years", then described another "sixty-year-old woman, whose arm and leg were excessively swollen on one side," then she wrote about the fact that one old woman could hardly move for herself, but for others she was always active ", and called her close relatives "old women." The inhabitants of the capital represented old age. as a time when a woman needs help and "repose" from her family and children, - writes about this anthropologist Anna Valerievna Belova ("Perception of old age by Russian noblewomen").

Meanwhile, old noble women were often very active, equipping their homes and children's homes and starting new businesses. They perfectly understood their age, but often instead of the word "old age" they used the expression "in the declining years." So, as we can see, in the old days women became “old women” a little earlier than now - by the age of 60.

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