The Aged Single Woman
OLD AGE IS A PERIOD of quiet happiness and peace for some single women. The possibilities of the "end of life" as an integral and vital part of life's span seemed to have been realized in the way in which a fortunate few were living the years of their old age.
Two sisters who had retired from school teaching near the age of sixty were seen at their home in a rural village six years after their retirement. They mentioned their leisure as the beginning of a new phase of living for them, filled with new interests and happiness. For the first time in twenty years, since their family had been broken up by the death of their mother, they were able to afford their own home when their insurance annuities reached maturity. They had employed a local architect, a former pupil, to carry out the plans which they had been developing in their thinking for over twenty years. A large study on the second floor, planned to allow the most varied possibilities in lighting, contained their choice books accumulated through the years of teaching. At the north end was a large open fireplace flanked by two chairs of deep comfort and furnished with brass and-irons and tongs handed down to them from several generations. The south windows overlooked the gar-den which reproduced in miniature the larger one which they had known and loved in childhood. The large and many-windowed living room on the floor below faced south toward the garden which provided the chief interest and activity for the younger sister. In addition to the flowers there was a vegetable garden which was cultivated with the assistance of a neighboring farmer. The older sister did the housework and the cooking which she had deyeloped into an art. These two sisters were proud of their home and of their activities, their peace seemed unruffled, and their detached but friendly interest in village affairs had made them accepted and respected members of the community.
Another single woman who had retired from government service after thirty years was alone at the time of her retirement since none of the members of her immediate family were living. She had looked forward to a period of leisure for a number of years, however, and her plans had been made. Her life as an office worker, which had extended over so many years, had given her a wish for a more active participation in community life than had previously been possible.
Measures of social reform which had occupied the center of her interest and her leisure-time activity for many years became increasingly important to her when she was able to devote her full energies to them. She became an active and effective advocate of legislative measures which were vital to her work, and various organizations of women welcomed her services and her leadership. After ten years of retirement this woman remained active and vitally interested and effective in the work which she was doing and about which she was glad to talk. Her range of acquaintances and friendship was wide and she had remained actively interested in meeting new people, in coming to know them, and in enlisting their support for the legislative measures which she favored.
But it is obvious that an old age of peace and security and happiness is the exception among single women as it is among all other elements of the population. For the single woman faces all the financial, mental and spiritual problems of providing for old age and of planning for it that confront other employed people and in addition some other problems which seem peculiar to her status as a single woman. That these problems are serious is indicated by the fact that the single woman in the lower economic group is almost three times as likely to become dependent on public support in her old age as is the married woman, and that others of her problems seem intensified also. But many of the factors which produce dependency and maladjustment on the part of the aged single woman appear to be due directly to a lack of a realistic approach to her situation both on her part and on the part of her family and of the community.