Monday, September 06, 2010


You probably know that I like looking at old photos.  I enjoy the detective work, as I'm sure so many of you do too, but another aspect that I really enjoy is that it feels like you have a little window into the past.  I remember first seeing the Margaret Eaton photo in a collection at the Library of Congress and immediately wondered why she was there.  There are certainly fewer photos from this time period of older women, so it took me quite by surprise when I noticed the photo was titled, "Margaret O'Neill Eaton."  I recognized the name from the Jacksonian Era, but it was interesting to see that she was still alive as an older lady.

Another thing that captivated me was that this was the lady who so captivated Washington people were falling all over themselves.  I don't know if you clicked on the image to get a closeup look, but for someone known for her beauty and quick charm, the skin seemed pretty wrinkled and the stare was rather vacant.

Now I'm not trying to sound agist and sexist here, but for all I read about the Petticoat Affair, there was something a little sad about how people got so worked up over something so temporary like beauty.  Then again as I was looking at her large glassy eyes, they certainly seemed like they could have been pretty, and the curly hair looked pretty even in her old age.  From all I've read, Margaret must have been quite a interesting person to have been around - and not just for her beauty, but since there are no videos from this era, her personality is lost to us.  I almost wish someone would do one of those Photoshop style age regressions on the photo to give me a better feel for what she would have looked like earlier in life.

A couple years ago, I remember seeing a Photoshop contest where the goal was to age progress celebrities.  The winner had aged the singer Gwen Stefani.  I wonder what my students would think if I showed them these pictures.  Perhaps I'll check next week.

I guess my final thought is that it's really too bad that so much value is placed on beauty in women at the exclusion of other attributes.  Although I also think that much of this is focus originates with women themselves.

Anyone else have thoughts on the matter?


Judi said...

Your posts are so interesting, Nate. Thanks for the great history lessons with contemporary tie-ins.

Astrocrabpuff said...

Generally it seems that the importance of beauty for women features heavily in cultural sources (stories, images, etc.) not only currently but also historically from practically all over the world. I'd say that this isn't something that women enforce on other women per se, but something that is emphasized as an important characteristic of women culturally.

This is a subject that could be expanded and use up tons of bandwidth, discussing the power of beauty; whether it is covered up or simply coveted, it remains prized and retains primacy over many other characteristics and gives the illusion that the beautiful person/woman has many other positive characteristics simply based upon looks alone.

Anonymous said...

Well, one thing about I noticed about the photo is that Margaret seems to be comfortable being photographed even when her beauty had slipped away. That's a positive, I think. No plastic surgery and the illusion of eternal youth for her. That's a positive, I'd say. I agree that we cannot really understand Margaret's appeal from this photo, I am sure she had a spritely and attractive personality that does not come through in the photo. I believe in those days people were discouraged from actually smiling when they posed for the camera. But I like it when people are comfortable with aging, it happens to us all and is actually a beautiful thing. :)

Astrocrabpuff said...

Well said, Joan!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Perhaps the men were not interested in her beauty...perhaps it was her quick whit or sense of humor that had half of Washington fawning over her? :)

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