The Extremely AgeD: Exceptional Longevity

Emma Leach: An Astronomical Diary, or Almanack (New London, 1771)


While aging is an ongoing biological process, a body is socially determined to be elderly or aged. Reproductive capacity, physical functionality, and role in a family unit can all be used to establish when a person has reached old age. These definitions held particular weight before chronological age became the standard barometer of elderliness, a shift which occurred in conjunction with chronologically based state benefits such as pensions.

“Sylvia Hardy, the Maine Giantess,” in The American Phrenological Journal, vol. 21 (May, 1855).

Hurlburt Triplets

Both Alice and the Hurlburt triplets were notable for their physical and productive capabilities, in spite of their old age. Women in the Victorian era were considered elderly when they entered menopause, while men were characterized as old based on their productive capabilities. Measuring age biologically for women and by capability for men reinforced the notion that male and female bodies were fundamentally dissimilar.