Guest Post: “young appearance”: Assessing Age through Appearance in Early America

Holly+Headshot_2bw[2]Today’s guest post comes from Holly N.S. White (Ph.D., College of William & Mary) who is an assistant editor of Publications and Digital Projects at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and an assistant producer of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast about Early American History. She specializes in the history of age, childhood, and youth as well as the histories of gender, family, and law in the early America. Her research focuses on the definition and negotiability of age in early American law and society, which is the subject of her forthcoming first book, Negotiating American Youth: Age, Law, and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Children and adolescents are regularly described as big for their age, small for their age, or mature for their age– but what purpose does it serve to judge a person’s age against their appearance? Today, with birth certificates to prove our age it doesn’t actually mean much. But in early America, where no such formalized, institutionally supported forms of record keeping existed, appearing young or old relative to one’s age could have significant ramifications on a person’s life. Continue reading