A 108-Year-Old Woman Recalls What It Was Like to Be a Woman in Victorian England

The per­ils of old age—demen­tiaeco­nom­ic inse­cu­ri­tysocial iso­la­tion—are receiv­ing a lot of atten­tion these days.

How refresh­ing to spend three min­utes in the com­pa­ny of a sharp-wit­ted 108-year-old, who, respond­ing to a ques­tion about what life was like for women in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, acts out a cou­ple of social­ly rel­e­vant, peri­od Punch car­toons, delib­er­ate­ly draw­ing atten­tion to her shock­ing­ly well-pre­served ankles in the process.

Flo­rence Pan­nell was born in Lon­don in 1868, 3 years after the US abol­ished slav­ery and eleven before the advent of the elec­tric light­bulb.

Her appear­ance on Thames Television’s Mon­ey-Go-Round pro­gram appears to be her only pub­lic record­ing. The Kens­ing­ton Post cap­tured her leav­ing her polling place, after cast­ing her bal­lot in a 1971 elec­tion at the age of 102.

It’s a pity there’s not more of an online pres­ence, as this cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ry­teller clear­ly rel­ish­es the oppor­tu­ni­ty to revis­it the past.

A pity too, that she was stuck with a dud of an inter­view­er, Joan Shen­ton, who has gone on to find fame as a promi­nent AIDS denial­ist.

The AIDS cri­sis is one event of glob­al his­tor­i­cal impor­tance that Mrs. Pan­nell missed—barely—she died in 1980, a few months shy of her 112th birth­day.

We learn that she found­ed a suc­cess­ful beau­ty care busi­ness that took her to Paris for a time, but oth­er than that, the details of her pri­vate life are left to our spec­u­la­tion. She was mar­ried. Did she have chil­dren, and if so, did she sur­vive them?

Did she ever get the chance to go up in an air­plane? As of 1977, she hadn’t, but was open to the idea, imply­ing that the risk had out­weighed the poten­tial thrill in the ear­ly days of avi­a­tion.

Most strik­ing is her hearty reply con­cern­ing the biggest change she had wit­nessed over the years:

Every­thing! Noth­ing is the same! Everything’s changed!

Some of the mile­stones she was alive for, as not­ed by var­i­ous YouTube and Red­dit com­menters:

The coro­na­tion of the five mon­archs to fol­low Queen Vic­to­ria: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Eliz­a­beth II (whose 93 years on the plan­et she makes seem mar­gin­al­ly less impres­sive)

Jack the Ripper’s ter­ror­iza­tion of Lon­don

The sink­ing of the Titan­ic

Both World Wars

The Great Depres­sion

The tele­phone


The hip­pie move­ment

The moon land­ing

Star Wars

Anoth­er com­menter sug­gest­ed that it would have been math­e­mat­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble for Mrs. Pan­nell to have heard sto­ries about Napoleon at her grandpa’s knee.

Read­ers, what are you bog­gled by, with regard to the sig­nif­i­cant events tran­spir­ing with­in this woman’s life­time?

(And for those curi­ous as to her for­mi­da­ble accent, there’s a wealth of lin­guis­tic infor­ma­tion here.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Inter­ests Grad­u­al­ly Wider and More Imper­son­al”

You’re Only As Old As You Feel: Har­vard Psy­chol­o­gist Ellen Langer Shows How Men­tal Atti­tude Can Poten­tial­ly Reverse the Effects of Aging

Meet Vio­la Smith, the World’s Old­est Drum­mer: Her Career Start­ed in the 1930s, and She’s Still Play­ing at 106

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Novem­ber 4 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Louise Jor­dan Miln’s “Woo­ings and Wed­dings in Many Climes (1900). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (2)
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  • E says:

    It’s too bad this is such a short clip––it cuts out in such a way that it seems like­ly there’s more footage some­where.

  • Cheryl says:

    Fas­ci­nat­ing lady, with a won­der­ful per­spec­tive on life! In ref­er­ence to the sto­ry’s list of his­tor­i­cal events she lived through, I do feel com­pelled to point out that Edward VIII did not have a coro­na­tion because his reign was so short.

    Start­ing with the coro­na­tion of George IV in 1821, coro­na­tions of the mon­archs of the UK have cus­tom­ar­i­ly been held approx­i­mate­ly 12 to 18 months after a new monarch begins his or her reign. This is because since some­what before that time, mon­archs have nor­mal­ly suc­ceed­ed to the throne due to the nat­ur­al death of their pre­de­ces­sors, usu­al­ly a close rel­a­tive of the new monarch, and it has been con­sid­ered inap­pro­pri­ate to hold a major cel­e­bra­to­ry event (such as a coro­na­tion) dur­ing a time of mourn­ing.

    Edward VIII became king in Jan­u­ary 1936, and his coro­na­tion was sched­uled for the 12th of May, 1937, about 16 months after his acces­sion. The coro­na­tion was well along in the plan­ning stages when he abdi­cat­ed in Decem­ber 1936. The plans for the coro­na­tion were far enough advanced at that point that in order to avoid waste, it was decid­ed that Edward VII­I’s suc­ces­sor, George VI, would be crowned on the date orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled for Edward VII­I’s coro­na­tion. There­fore George VI has been the only UK monarch since George III to be crowned less than a year after his acces­sion.

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