“To write my autobiography and get myself in focus genetically”

G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence (1922)


  • Gemma Carney Queen's University Belfast
  • Leonie Hannan Queen's University Belfast






In this paper, we analyze G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence: The Last Half of Life (1922) as a personal narrative and scientific account of aging in the long nineteenth century. We approach the text with a critical perspective on the decline narrative in aging studies, but also by engaging with Hall’s narrative in the form of life review. Our analysis is contextualized by a historical perspective on Hall’s academic career, his views on women, and his Social Darwinism. We focus on three main narratives—embodied aging and delaying decline, old age as personal experience and a category for social analysis, and the emergence of retirement as a socioeconomic institution. In doing so, we contextualize Hall’s work by attending to the social and intellectual currents of this time. We observe the enduring influence of narratives of aging in the nineteenth century, particularly the underlying assumption of Senescence—that aging equals decline and loss, which still holds sway in mainstream gerontology research today. We argue that Senescence offers the reader a complex and often meandering narrative which reveals the experience of male aging in the long nineteenth century as well as scientific thinking on aging at the time. We conclude that Hall shows us that old age (and death) are part of life, and that as much can be learned from the experience of living through old age as can be gleaned from academic studies of social statistics or physiological decline.

Author Biographies

Gemma Carney, Queen's University Belfast

is a Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast in the field of social policy and critical gerontology. She is a member of the ARK Ageing team at the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work. Gemma collaborates with other scholars to investigate what it means to live a long life with a particular focus on gender. Projects include the Lively Project and Dementia in the Minds of Characters and Readers. Her work has been published in leading journals, including Journal of Aging Studies, Gender & Society, and Ageing & Society. Her latest book, Critical Questions for Ageing Societies, co-authored with Paul Nash, University of Southern California and published by Policy Press, challenges readers to question their assumptions about Gemma is a member of the editorial board of Ageing & Society and served on the national executive of the British Society of Gerontology 2015-20.

Leonie Hannan, Queen's University Belfast

is a Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, in the field of social and cultural history. Her historical work focuses on themes of gender, intellectual life, and histories of home and she works collaboratively with scholars from other disciplines on subjects including material culture and experiences of aging. She published her first monograph, Women of Letters: Gender, Writing and the Life of the Mind in Early Modern England, in 2016. Leonie has edited collections on gender and material culture, object-based pedagogy and the history of communication, and co-authored a research guide, History through Material Culture. Leonie has a professional background in museums and heritage and is interested in the creative potential of using objects in a variety of research and learning contexts.


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How to Cite

Carney, G., and L. Hannan. “‘To Write My Autobiography and Get Myself in Focus genetically’: G. Stanley Hall’s Senescence (1922)”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 5, Jan. 2021, pp. 1-23, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v5i.130995.