Le hundred-up club

census of centenariansIn August 1895 the Paris correspondent of the Daily Telegraph reported the results of an unusual survey:

A census of centenarians has been taken in France, and the results, which have been published, show that there are now alive in this country 213 persons who are over one hundred years old. Of these 147 are women, the alleged stronger sex being thus only able to show 66 specimens who are managing to still “husband out life’s taper” after the lapse of a century. The preponderance of centenarians of the supposed weaker sex has led to the revival of some amusing theories tending to explain this phenomenon. One cause of the longevity of women is stated to be, for instance, their propensity to talk much and to gossip, perpetual prattle being highly conducive, it is said, to the active circulation of the blood, while the body remains unfatigued and undamaged.

That joke evidently sent in by Mike Giggler (via email).

More serious theorists or statisticians, while commenting on the subject of the relative longevity of the sexes, attribute the supremacy of woman in the matter to the well-known cause, namely, that in general she leads a more calm and unimpassioned existence than a man, whose life is so often one of toil, trouble, and excitement.

I doubt many working-class women of the time would have agreed that their lives were devoid of toil and trouble.

Setting aside these theories, however, the census of French centenarians is not devoid of interest in some of its details. At Rocroi an old soldier who fought under the First Napoleon in Russia passed the century limit last year. A wearer of the St. Helena medal—a distinction awarded to survivors of the Napoleonic campaigns, and who lives at Grand Fayt, also in the Nord—is one hundred and three years old, and has been for the last sixty-eight years a sort of rural policeman in his native commune. It is a rather remarkable fact in connection with the examples of longevity cited that in almost every instance the centenarian is a person in the humblest rank of life.

Interesting; my immediate conclusion was that the rich were all gorging themselves on cheese and booze, while the poor lived a healthy lifestyle with lots of green vegetables and simple grains.  The closing paragraph slightly undercuts that idea:

According to the compilers of these records, France can claim the honour of having possessed the oldest woman of modern times. This venerable dame, having attained one hundred and fifty years, died peacefully in a hamlet in the Haute Garonne, where she had spent her prolonged existence, subsisting during the closing decade of her life on goat’s milk and cheese. The woman preserved all her mental faculties to the last, but her body became attenuated to an extraordinary degree, and her skin was like parchment.

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