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History of Spinsters

The Spinster Myth Lives, Even If No One Says It

It took one day to point out that Kate Middleton, at 29, will be the oldest first bride of an English king-in-waiting. Only Camilla, who married Prince Charles at 57, and possibly Eleanor of Aquitaine, a divorcée who married Henry II around age 30 (nobody knows her age for sure), were older.

So, of course, the word spinster is being used to describe 28-year-old Kate. Although, she'd need another decade to qualify according to old English law, which considered "spinster" a legal term for unmarried women 38 and over until 2005.

So where did this ominous word originate? Find out below.

Its origin is actually benign. Spinster was a term for girls and women who spun wool — one of the few occupations women could earn a living from. Being unmarried was synonymous with virginity, and thus purity, which was respected in Catholic-dominated Europe. It remained so until Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door and said sexiness is next to godliness. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is no virtue in celibacy and marriage is the best way to serve God.

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By the 18th century, the spinster was a cautionary tale. She was in poetry, novels, plays, and paintings and was forever awkward, clumsy, nearsighted, and gossipy. Though early feminists planted the idea that it was OK to be picky, it was not a reality for most women until the latter half of the 20th century.

Today spinster is rarely uttered, and it's a joke when it is. But with books like Marry Him advocating an end to pickiness, settling seemed to make a comeback in 2010. Even in pro-female shows, like Sex and the City and 30 Rock, the anxiety of being single at a certain age fills entire episodes. So just because we no longer say spinster, does that mean the myth is extinct?


Image Source: WireImage
Join The Conversation
zeze zeze 6 years
lol if marrying the most eligible man in the world makes her a spinster, then call me a spinster....
weffie weffie 6 years
I think the word could be hurtful to some people... but certainly not to a princess-to-be who has had a hot rich bf throughout most of her 20s.
GTCB GTCB 6 years
Oh come on. Are we to suffer through a half-year of "articles" about Kate & Willy like this?
TheEnchantedOne TheEnchantedOne 6 years
29? That's silly. If that's how it is then we are looking at a bunch of spinsters on every street. People are silly, we like making each other feel bad with the choices we make, whether it be being single or getting hitched.
lickety-split lickety-split 6 years
I think it's kind of a joke really. I really hope that my girls are careful in their relationships, and don't get married because of social pressures. At least we're past the days of the shotgun weddings. Women have choices.
RoaringSilence RoaringSilence 6 years
Ehh I don't know if I'd call her a spinster, even if she was older, because being single is a main characteristic of the word. I don't know of anyone who uses that word, and I guess it's not such a big thing any more because so many women choose to be single at any age, simply because now they have the opportunity of working and providing for themselves. However, for older women who have never been married but would like to, I'm sure that term can be very hurtful. I know a lot of people who got divorced after their 40th birthday and are now single and happier than ever.
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