Nestled deep in the Calvary Cemetery in North Seattle is the gravestone of Helena Kelly. Smile, we are told, to her memory and to the memory of the infant son who lies by her side. Dedicated in 1889 the Calvary Cemetery reflects over a century’s worth of Seattle’s inhabitants. But what do these graves tell about the people who lived here? Can the inscriptions preserved within the boundaries reveal anything about gender roles? The answer, as in the case of Helena Kelly, is clearly yes. A clear pattern of acknowledging professional roles among men and domestic roles among women is evident in many of the graves we looked at. In fact, approximately a third of the graves display gender specific referencing; about 31% of the male graves indicated profession, and about 36% of the female graves indicated domestic status.
Specifically, of the 16 men listed in our survey, 5 referenced profession, and only one mentioned domestic status. These graves acknowledged activities outside of the home that contributed to that individual’s experience. They also reflect the mindset of those who are memorializing their loved one, and it speaks to how gender concepts inform decisions like epitaphs. Clearly, professional status is considered an important enough factor to feature prominently on male gravestones.
Female graves, on the other hand, often describe their owner’s as “wife” or “mother”. These domestic labels reflect a focus on familial roles, and say very little as to the other activities that these women inevitably engaged in. Of the 11 women listed in our survey, there were no references to profession, and a total of 4 references to domestic status. This starkly contrasts to what we saw reflected on male gravestones. The way that these women are memorialized indicates something about their value in life; they were honored and revered as wives or mothers before they were acknowledged as anything outside of that narrative.