Gendered Death Frequency At Calvary Cemetery

McGough family 1

As the final analysis of  the data our team gathered at Calvary Cemetery I plotted the death frequency against bins of five year intervals. Here I created a bar graph displaying the relationship between male and female interments over time.  Although our sample size is quite small there is one spike in the data that stands out markedly. The interval between 1900 and 1910 produced seven male burials relative to a total absence of female grave. I would venture the guess that this predominance of male burials may actually reflect an unevenly gendered population. U.S. Census data shows that in 1900 Washington state had 142.2 male to every 100 female residents.

There are also two other five year periods were male graves outnumber the females’. This is from 1940 to 1949 and from 1950 to 1954. Both of these time frames cover the times of the second World War and the Korean Conflict respectively. Further analysis of a larger data set if definitely suggested in order to test the hypothesis that national involvement in military conflict might be exhibited by a gender differentiated analysis of death frequencies as observed in cemeteries.

 Death Frequencies Graph


Sex Differences in Gravestone Shape/Size?

While gravestones are created to memorialize the dead, they are also potent cultural symbols that reveal prevailing attitudes held by the living about death and the status of the deceased. During our recent visit to Calvary Cemetery in Seattle, my team recorded the shape, size, and inscription of approximately 30 gravestones. Using these data, we evaluated whether the sex of the interred individual translated into observable differences in gravestone morphology and volume.

The graph below illustrates average gravestone volume by sex of the interred individual. At first glance, the grave markers of females appear to be considerably larger than those of males. Indeed, the largest standard marker we recorded, obelisks, marked equal numbers of male and female graves yet were larger on average for those of females. If we interpret gravestone size as a measure of status, this difference may point to greater social standing for females among those represented in the cemetery. Given the small sample size, however, this conclusion remains tentative at best.

Perhaps status differences were expressed in terms of gravestone shape rather than size. The graph below illustrates differences in shape according to sex of the interred individual. Again, the small sample renders drawing concrete interpretations difficult, even for the greatest observed difference within the graph; namely, the graves of males were more often marked by horizontal slab than were those of females. Not represented by this graph is the date at which these markers were erected. Our data indicate that in recent years horizontal slabs have become the most popular gravestone shape at the cemetery. That our sample is biased toward female graves in earlier periods–which saw a more diverse range of gravestone types–and male graves in later periods is likely driving the disparate distribution of horizontal slabs.

Memorialization of the deceased through gravestones is a complex social process that reveals as much, if not more, about the living than the dead. While individuals’ sex certainly had implications for their status and role in life, our data do not reveal any obvious difference in the way they were memorialized in death. This is not to say such differences do not exist–I am sure they do–but these patterns are not apparent in our small data set.

Exploring a Historic Cemetery

Gravestones and Gender
Is there a marked difference in gravestone styles between the men and women interred at Calvary Cemetery? This was a question that I considered during the last lab assignment, in which my team and I analyzed more than 30 gravestones for diachronic stylistic changes. Since our preliminary analyses did not include a gender component, I proceeded to conduct my own. I wanted to know if there was a significant difference in the shape and material of gravestones between the sexes, and if this could be explained at all my previous gravestone seriation.
Frequency tables of material and shape by sex show some clear associations between gender and gravestone style. For example, men are more likely to have a horizontal slab or obelisk (34% and 10%) than women (at nearly 14% and 7%; table 1). If you are a women, you are more likely to have a gravestone made out of marble, while men are more likely to have a gravestone made out of granite (see table 2). Gravestones for men are more diverse in the material used, with 13% of male gravestones being limestone or stone, while the majority of female gravestones are limestone.
 There is likely a correlation between temporal periods and the materials used, but the small sample size used for this lab limits any conclusions that could be drawn regarding diachronic stylistic changes for each sex.
Table 1. Gravestone shape by sex.
Sex      1      2      3      4      5      6      7      8      9
  F 0.1379 0.0690 0.0345 0.0345 0.0000 0.0345 0.0000 0.0345 0.0345
  M 0.3448 0.1034 0.0000 0.0000 0.0690 0.0345 0.0345 0.0000 0.0345


Table 2. Gravestone material by sex.
Sex      1      2      3      4      5      6
  F 0.0345 0.1724 0.0690 0.0345 0.0000 0.0690
  M 0.1379 0.0690 0.2069 0.0345 0.0345 0.1379
1 horizontal slab, 2 obelisk, 3 round column, 4 vertical slab, 5 square column, 6 tablet, 7 other, 8 pillow, 9 monument
1 Limestone, 2 Marble, 3 Granite, 4 Mixed, 5 Slate, 6 Stone