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Age in AmericaThe Colonial Era to the Present$
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Corinne T. Field and Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781479870011

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479870011.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use.date: 06 July 2022

A Birthday Like None Other

A Birthday Like None Other

Turning Twenty-One in the Age of Popular Politics

(p.86) 4 A Birthday Like None Other
Age in America

Jon Grinspan

NYU Press

This chapter explores the significance of young Americans’ twenty-first birthdays from the 1830s to the 1880s, arguing that for youth of both sexes and a variety of backgrounds and political persuasions, turning twenty-one was a watershed moment. For young men, especially during an era of widespread political participation, turning twenty-one represented the achievement of adulthood, the moment when they were now eligible to cast a ballot. Young women, by contrast, acknowledged the significance of the age for their brothers and male friends, and some bitterly railed against the ways that sex kept them from enjoying suffrage. In an era when the age of first marriage was increasing, when finding a job and entering upon a career were fraught with uncertainty and often felt beyond the control of many, the absolute certainty of this unearned promotion from boy to man was of immense importance to young men who turned twenty-one. Relying on letters and diaries, and in contrast to scholars who have claimed that Americans did not value age until later in the nineteenth century, Jon Grinspan demonstrates that the age of twenty-one was of great significance to the young men and women who celebrated that birthday every year.

Keywords:   twenty-one, politics, suffrage, youth, adulthood, birthdays, letters, diaries

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