Comments on: A CALAMITOUS DAY unto me! http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Mon, 22 Sep 2014 19:47:12 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1655707 Fri, 13 Sep 2013 10:48:21 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1655707 Thanks, MB! I do need to consult Chudacoff–thanks for the reminder.

However, I’ve found lots of 18th C evidence that birthdays and specific ages are things that were noted and remembered, especially for younger people: the few women’s diaries we have record the birthdays of their children; women especially (like Martha Ballard) are highly age-conscious on behalf of their children. And there are loads of civil and church laws related to ages 12-21 (Holly Brewer’s book, By Birth or Consent) that suggest that many parents and children were aware of significant milestones and even civil responsibilities that come with age.

I think that when it comes to adults, “about” an age was probably a popular concept. After 21, and before the birth of the welfare state, there really aren’t any milestones to look forward to!

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By: MB http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1655005 Fri, 13 Sep 2013 00:22:08 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1655005 Historiann, I’ve just seen this. . .people in the 17th c did not know (or mark) their birthdays. See Howard Chudacoff’s book, How Old Are YOu? for details.

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By: Susan http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1627882 Wed, 28 Aug 2013 04:44:21 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1627882 I have a beginning of the academic year birthday (this past weekend) and it will, for the rest of my career be around the start of classes. I come from a family that is very liturgical (small l), and which observes these things. So I tend to have a nice dinner, or some times I will throw myself a pot luck party. My husband’s birthday was just before mine, our anniversary a week after, so we always did at least one *really* good dinner around the end of August. For several years, I had dinner with a colleague on my birthday, and this was a lovely tradition. This year I left town to go to the big city, have a nice dinner, and go to a museum. The friends I was staying with had bought a pie, and then the next day we stopped for tea and I had cake. All in all, a nice day. Next year is 60, and I have to think about how I’ll observe that.

Fortunately, my mother rarely recites the tale of my father being off drinking with his brothers when she went into labor with me (she was ironing!), or that the ob-gyn was at the movies and arrived just in time to deliver me. I do not contemplate being a “Ignorant, sinful, miserable Creatures: Children of wrath, Children of the Devil, and Heirs of Hell.”

As for my 17th C subjects, I don’t think many of them think about birthdays, and they think vaguely about age. I suspect it has to do with the fact that age was a pretty irrelevant category for most of them. The date recorded in parish registers was, of course, the date of the baptism: close to the birth, but not usually the same day.

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By: Janice http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1627434 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 21:44:36 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1627434 Happy birthday, dear H’ann!

I have no birthday traditions – my family prompts me to provide gift suggestions, so I receive gifts. There’s usually a nice meal somewhere around my birthday when most of us can get together. It’s not philosophy, it’s the time of year (end of term and coinciding with big conferences as well as other events). I refuse to be a dour birth-day party-pooper as with your Mr. Foxcroft: I just have more fun with other people’s birthdays.

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By: Dutchie http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1627118 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 17:57:13 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1627118 I’m probably an outlier on this but since my mother recited her 12 hour labor story—and the resultant “frank breech” delivery of me, her first child, in gruesome detail every year, I think “calamitous” fits the bill. Being a good New Englander with a good education, she might have even read and been influenced by this quoted passage. Who knows?

On historical knowledge? I’ve seen enough “c.1704″ and “about 15 years” on all sorts of records prior to 1820 or so to make me think that people were often unclear on at least the precise year they were born but often seem to know the month if not the exact day in that month.

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By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1627029 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 16:33:33 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1627029 I did the job candidate dinner thing (as the candidate) on Valentine’s day once. It was pretty weird, but what wasn’t weird about being a candidate? A big table with five people talking about research strategy and teaching techniques and no candles, surrounded by ten small tables with candle-lit couples, no big whoop.

I’ve always liked having a birthday “aligned” (to get admino-demic about it) with the onset of the school year, at least back before Labor Day became fall break. I think it gets the personal biorythms harmonized with the hermeneutical-semestrial phases, plus the air often has a more pleasant feel. No self-flagellation at all.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1626969 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 15:41:26 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1626969 Thanks FA for that info on birthdays in Scotland. I imagine your adults were engaged in what people who study these things call “age heaping,” or the tendency to report one’s age as an age ending in a 0, 5, or a 6.

Katherine: that’s a drag. For some reason, we always seem to have job candidates in town on V-day, and it’s a challenge to find a restaurant that can take 4-6 people. (One of my dinners as a job candidate here was on Valentine’s Day, too.)

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By: Katherine http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1626682 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 11:54:54 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1626682 My birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so unless I make plans months in advance, I can’t get a dinner reservation, and even then, most people have other plans with their sweet-hearts. Last year I had dinner with a speaker–I didn’t tell them it was my birthday. In previous years, I have cooked an indulgent meal for myself and usually grade papers as it is the middle of the semester.

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By: Feminist Avatar http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1626569 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 10:40:41 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1626569 Petition and representation of John Mcandrew, labourer, Stix, explaining why he upset the gig when driving to overtake the post with Lord Glenorchy’s letters: ‘he was sent to Achmore, and upon his arrival found the servants celebrating Lord Glenorchy’s birthday. The petitioner mingled with them and was in a manner forced to drink rather too much’ (1807)

My sense on 18thC Scotland was that many people knew their Birth DAY, but not always the year. Celebrating birthdays with drinks, toasts and other celebrations can be found from the 17thC, and you can find examples of many people, especially men, who know their age and celebrate special birthdays (like 50 or whatever). But, equally, there is a lot of evidence that people only know roughly what age they are, and age is judged a) by how old you look (which has an interesting class dynamic), and b) by what events you can remember in childhood. Many people report knowing their age based on their mother’s reports, but have no other record and/or can’t be sure how accurate that was. Unsurprisingly, heirs to estates often have a record as it was legally important to know when they are ‘age’, but younger children and women not so much. Amongst the poor, I suspect this ambiguity around age was deliberately used to advantage when necessary.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2013/08/26/a-calamitous-day-unto-me/comment-page-1/#comment-1625960 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 03:28:45 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=21758#comment-1625960 ProfSweddy: that is awesome!

(But I will give up cake every time in favor of a bonus cocktail, which is probably harder to swing at 8 a.m. with a roomful of students. So cake is probably the way to go.)

Dr. Crazy: you must have been born on the Assumption of Mary. A feast day, for ye child of wrath!

Tenured Radical: You are correct that enslaved people especially didn’t know their birthdays, or even birth years, although there are colonial records kept by masters that are pretty exact in specifying the ages of their human property. Age was very important for free Euro-American boys and men, less so but still important for girls and women, as there were all kinds of customs, rights and responsibilities that attended specific ages (the responsibility for one’s confession; ability to convert to another religion; legal right to refuse repatriation after a war ends; jury duty, voting, the right to marry, etc.)

So, free people paid attention to this stuff, even if they didn’t necessarily share that information with their slaves & even though enslaved people weren’t entitled to any of the rights or responsibilities I listed above.

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