We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Never Married Women

Barbara Simon

Publication Year: 2010

"[Simon] deals seriously and perceptively with lives almost never granted such respect—those of the 'spinster,' the 'old maid.' ...There is also a particular ironic energy." —The Nation "Nothing is more ridiculous than someone who says, upon learning that I never got married, ‘Oh, you would like my Aunt _____ ! She never got married either. You two would have a lot in common.’ "—from an interview, August 1984. In this timely and provocative study, Barbara Levy Simon interviews fifty American women, born between 1884 and 1918 who were never married, and examines their emphatic refusal to be "yoked by wifing," as one woman expressed it. A spirit of independence pervades these compelling self-portraits as the women describe the day-to-day activities, options and adaptations, as well as the stigma that shaped lives that defied the spinster stereotype. Simon explains: "I have written this book about them because I want others to learn, as I have, about the diversity of their experiences and perspectives. It is only by immersion in this variety that one can begin to comprehend the discrepancy between popular notions of ‘old maids’ and the actualities of single women’s daily lives.... Though women who have never married have often been judged, they have seldom been studied.� With care and empathy, the author presents women who lived at a time when not being married and being financially independent were considered deviant. From a variety of ethnic, religious, educational, and social groups, and ranging in age from sixty-six to one hundred and one years old, these women discuss the work they have loved or hated and their relations with family and friends. The autobiographical reflections provide insights about the symbolic and material worlds of never-married women and comparisons to the lives of single career women today. In the 1980s, a significantly higher proportion of American women are foregoing marriage than at any point in the past one hundred years. Simon confronts head-on the image of the passive and unhappy old maid, presenting instead a group of independent and self-actualizing women who, in many cases, chose to remain single. "With women choosing to be single in greater numbers than at any other time in this century, a study of single women is most timely.... Although considered deviant by the greater society, these women all manifest a feisty, independent spirit that defies conventional stereotypes of ‘old maids’ or ‘spinsters.‘ ... Maybe you should give your mother a copy of this book the next time she asks." —New Directions for Women "An important work on a segment of the female population that has remained single for at least six decades in a society that expected its women to marry and bear children [Simon] evaluates the actualities of these women’s lives versus popular images and stereotypes..." —Choice "By offering concrete examples of how the nuclear family is oppressive to those who stand outside of it, Never Married Women breathes life into critiques of the family articulated by...other feminist theorists. And by focusing on the lives of elderly single women, Simon aptly illustrates the injustice of our over reliance on the family—instead of the state—to care for the dependent elderly." —Contemporary Sociology "This book is a paean to women’s resilience, adaptability, and courage to live with the consequences of their own decisions." —Readings: A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health

Published by: Temple University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (11.3 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (39.5 KB)
pp. ix-x

Never Married Women explores the lives of 50 women who have in common an uncommon marital status. I have written this book about them because I want others to learn, as I have, about the diversity of their experiences and perspectives. It is only by immersion in this variety that one can begin to comprehend the discrepancy...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.8 KB)
pp. xi-xiii

In preparing this study, my chief debt is to the 50 women who so willingly discussed their pasts and presents with me. Their generosity and curiosity make this book possible. So does their courage. I thank, also, three teachers. Professor Alice Rossi's dual passions for feminist political action and interdisciplinary women's...

read more

One: Being Marginal: The Single Woman as a Caricature

pdf iconDownload PDF (737.4 KB)
pp. 1-28

In Anglo-American culture, the never-married old woman is a stock character, a bundle of negative personal characteristics, and a metaphor for barrenness, ugliness, and death. Her obvious undesirability forms the basis for the children's card game, "Old Maids;' in which each player tries to avoid coming to the end of the...

read more

Two: Being Single

pdf iconDownload PDF (856.3 KB)
pp. 29-62

Clifford Geertz, a leading scholar / explorer of peoples and cultures different from his own, has set as a goal for himself and his discipline of anthropology the determination of "how . . . people . . . define themselves as persons, [and] what goes into the idea they have . . . of what a self . . . is." He proposes not only an aim but...

read more

Three: Family

pdf iconDownload PDF (668.5 KB)
pp. 63-88

A commonly held prejudgment of single old women is that their families kept them from living fully or that the women themselves hid behind their families to escape men, sex, work, children, or the unexpected. The 50 autobiographical stories presented to me suggest that the problem of overprotection was encountered by only...

read more

Four: Intimacy

pdf iconDownload PDF (555.0 KB)
pp. 89-110

Enthronement of the family has made the construction of intimate interdependence among unrelated or unmarried people difficult but, happily, not impossible. Friends outside the family, particularly in Western, industrial, and postindustrial cultures, have proved to be vigorous competitors with relatives throughout the...

read more

Five: Work

pdf iconDownload PDF (788.3 KB)
pp. 111-141

Whether domestic workers, factory workers, clerical workers, sales people, professionals, or managers, most of the women I interviewed emphasized three themes in their work life: (1) how badly they had been paid; (2) how few were the choices of occupation open to them when they were young, searching for first jobs and...

read more

Six: Aging and Retirement: A Study in Continuity

pdf iconDownload PDF (1023.9 KB)
pp. 143-182

After retirement, the lives of these 50 never-married women closely resemble their lives before retirement. Indeed, many saw their retirement as a chance to capitalize on the "free time" never before available to them as adults. This meant furthering relationships and activities they had long enjoyed, but in forms more...


pdf iconDownload PDF (288.3 KB)
pp. 183-192


pdf iconDownload PDF (265.7 KB)
pp. 193-198

E-ISBN-13: 9781439905401

Publication Year: 2010