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Findings from the Miscellaneous Personal Name Collection: Aging and Death in 19th Century America


90 year old Isaac Bell writing in 185790 year old Isaac Bell writing in 1857This 1857 poem was written by a nonagenarian named Isaac Bell. It’s impossible for me not to admire his optimistic, confident attitude toward turning 90 in an era when geriatric care was considerably more primitive than today. I have included an image of the entire poem and would recommend that anyone take a minute to read it.

The thin folder containing Isaac Bell’s poem was filed after a folder labeled “Alexander Graham Bell.” My initial excitement of seeing that famous inventor’s name quickly dispelled as the folder revealed only secondary documents, such as newspaper clippings. However, going on to read Bell’s confident embrace of advanced age was one of the more inspiring discoveries today.

Detail of N. Goodwine letter containing quote belowDetail of N. Goodwine letter containing quote belowWhile Bell defied 19th century life expectations to write his upbeat poem, more common to this period are reports of health failures or death. In this 1827 correspondence, N. Goodwine of Hartford, CT informs Timothy Barnard that his brother’s death is imminent: “During his whole illness, your brother has been an affecting memento of the frailty of our nature. It does, indeed, now seem, that to him, the “inevitable hour” is near at hand: but from his having gone downward, thus far, so very gently, the physician thinks it possible he may linger a few weeks longer.”


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