Retirement history II – put me out to pasture and plow me under (parenthetically speaking)

Good news! I was neither eaten nor chloroformed to live another day and tell about Part II of the:

The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P.

By MARY-LOU WEISMAN for the New York Times


“It was the world-renowned physician William Osler who laid the scientific foundations that, when combined with a compelling economic rationale, would eventually make retirement acceptable. In his 1905 valedictory address at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he had been physician-in-chief, Osler said it was a matter of fact that the years between 25 and 40 in a worker’s career are the ”15 golden years of plenty.” He called that span ”the anabolic or constructive period.” Workers between ages 40 and 60 were merely uncreative and therefore tolerable. He hated to say it, because he was getting on, but after age 60 the average worker was ”useless” and should be put out to pasture.” (I’m 70, that means put out to pasture . . .  and . . .  plowed under . . .  for the next crop)


By 1935, it became evident that the only way to get old people to stop working for pay was to pay them enough to stop working.  A Californian, (Of course California . . . where else . . . ) Francis Townsend, initiated a popular movement by proposing mandatory retirement at age 60. In exchange, the Government would pay pensions of up to $200 a month, an amount equivalent at the time to a full salary for a middle-income worker. Horrified at the prospect of Townsend’s radical generosity, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Social Security Act of 1935, which made workers pay (and pay and pay and pay) for their own old-age insurance.


“What used to mean going to bed suddenly meant banishment to an empty stage of life called ”retirement.” If people were not going to work, what were they going to do? Sit in a rocking chair? Eleanor Roosevelt thought so. ”Old people love their own things even more than young people do. It means so much to sit in the same chair you sat in for a great many years,”  she said in 1934. But she was wrong. (Yes, she was wrong. I sit because it’s too hard to get up) Most retired people wished they could work. (That’s because we are scared of being eaten or plowed under) The problem was still acute in 1951, when the Corning company convened a round table to figure out how to make retirement more popular. At that conference, Santha Rama Rau, an author and student of Eastern and Western cultures, complained that Americans did not have the capacity to enjoy doing nothing.” (the verdict is still out, I’ll let you know)


“The publication in 1955 of Senior Citizen magazine was the first widespread use of the euphemism (If Senior Citizen is an euphemism – “OLD-WOMAN” is a swear word) that, while intending to reconfer respect, instead made a senior citizen sound like an over-decorated captain in ”The Pirates of Penzance.” Its merely partial success may also be linked to the fact that there is something inherently suspicious about an age group that has to offer its potential members discounts to induce them to join.”


In 1999, The American Association of Retired Persons, once the Welcome Wagon of retirement, dropped the word ”retired” from its name and became The American Association of R****** Persons. This change was effected in recognition of a basic reality — many of its members are not retired — and in anticipation of the baby boomers’ threat never to stop wearing Lycra, turn gray, stop carrying around bottled water or retire. (I have the Lycra, grey hair and bottled water  . . .  now to find me a job)

Part I of Retirement History

"I can't believe what she's saying"

“LYCRA!  I do not want to look”

My Retirement – be eaten or worshipped. Do I have a choice? (parenthetically speaking)

(Since this is the first time I’ve ever retired it’s important to understand what lies ahead . . . and behind.   I hope history doesn’t keep repeating itself even when I do.)

The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P.

By MARY-LOU WEISMAN for the New York Times

“In the beginning, there was no retirement. There were no old people. (Very true – in the beginning I was much younger) In the Stone Age, everyone was fully employed until age 20, by which time nearly everyone was dead, usually of unnatural causes. Any early man who lived long enough to develop crow’s-feet was either worshiped or eaten as a sign of respect.” (I’ll take the worship and pass on being respected)

“Even in Biblical times, when a fair number of people made it into old age, retirement still had not been invented and respect for old people remained high.  In those days, it was customary to carry on until you dropped, regardless of your age group — no shuffleboard, no Airstream trailer. When a patriarch could no longer farm, herd cattle or pitch a tent, he opted for more specialized, less labor-intensive work, like prophesying and handing down commandments Or he moved in with his kids.” (I have no kids to hand down my commandments to so I’ll concentration on prophesying)


“As the centuries passed, the elderly population increased. (Very true – as time has passed I’ve increasingly gotten more elderly) By early medieval times, their numbers had reached critical mass.  It was no longer just a matter of respecting the occasional white-bearded patriarch. Old people were everywhere, giving advice, repeating themselves (I’ve always repeated myself, my occupation has been giving advice that is worth repeating), complaining about rheumatism, trying to help, getting in the way and making younger people feel guilty.”

Hanging on

Hanging on

“Plus they tended to hang on to their wealth (I hang on to the fantasy of being wealthy) and property.  This made them very unpopular with their middle-aged sons, who were driven to earn their inheritances the old-fashioned way, by committing patricide. (. . . a few benefits to having no wealth) Even as late as the mid-18th century, there was a spate of such killings in France. In 1882, Anthony Trollope wrote a futuristic novel, ”The Fixed Period,” in which he foresaw retiring large numbers of old men to a place where they would be encouraged to enjoy a year of contemplation, followed by a peaceful chloroforming. (ANYTHING peaceful at my age is appealing) But this was hardly an acceptable long-term strategy.”

 . . . to be continued . . . if I live long enough . . .

Part II of Retirement History