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Friday, February 15, 2013

BACK-COUNTRY WOMEN REMEMBERED

Thinking of March and the fact that it would soon be Women's History Month, my thoughts floated to an old hilltop cemetery I was passing along a country road. It was very small and one that meant driving up an incline to a pocket of woods. 

Once there I viewed an undisturbed landscape with a small pond off to the west. A very serene and quiet area. So many of the small cemeteries I visit in the back-country have this quietude that settles within you.

Old gravestones among the weeds. Many of the stones illegible.

My intent was to visit the women who were buried here. To pause a moment to give thanks for their commitment to their families. The gravestones were very historic -- so many of these old stones were weathered with indistinguishable names.

My thoughts were to meditate on the women buried here who worked hard and difficult jobs that were thankless. Let me be frank -- men are almost always the ones who are honored in our history books. Women who grew kitchen gardens, canned,  prepared and served food,  made soap and churned butter, tended children and the sick, milked the cows, wove cotton and wool, made scrap bed-covers,  scoured the dishes, floors and windows with water from streams and wells -- and more --  go unappreciated by most of our historians.  

So I began reading the legible stones for women's names.

Sarah

Here we have Sarah -- her dates tell us she lived until she was seventy-two. A fancy stone compared to  the others that stood nearby. A half circle appears with her name --  its meaning lost.  She might have had a fancier stone than the rest but she was still in the same boat as the other women in the cemetery -- they never had the right to vote.


"Gone Home," reads the epitaph of Sallie E.
( not to scrub floors I hope)


A name illegible from weathering -- hand-carved long ago -- a name and face lost -- perhaps forever. 

Even today I feel that women, for the most part, go unrecognized for their contributions to their families and community. The spoken word is still weighted in favor of men.

But positive change is slowly happening!

17 comments:

  1. Very interesting posting. I agree our foremothers haven't been given the recognition they deserve. As long as we change our names when we get married to that of a man's - we're continuing to make it difficult to trace ancestors through a mother's lineage. I also enjoy looking at old cemeteries and the stones, and the wonderful names.

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    1. Barbara -- As I have been slowly putting my family history together I can say it would have been helpful to find certain folks if the women in my family had kept their maiden name. I find small country cemeteries intriguing places. I learn something about their social/cultural patterns every time I visit one -- usually having different patterns even though they may only be a small distance from each other -- thanks -- barbara

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  2. My grandmother died this past fall at the age of 96. She lived a very hard and very poor life here in KY. She told me many stories of growing up and raising her children. Though she shared her life stories with me, I never heard her complain about any of it. Some of her life work I just cannot imagine trying to get accomplished in our times.

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    1. Michelle -- What a piece of history you must have stored in your memory with the stories your grandmother told you.I hope someday you put it all into some form of writing especially for your children. I would love to read a story of her on your blog. thanks -- barbara

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  4. This is a beautiful, beautiful post, Barbara. I have been reflecting on the lives of women in history recently, since a book group discussion. A lot of change has happened, but there is so much that has not been righted yet, especially for women in developing nations & for native American women. The lovely photos of markers with your narration evoke strongly the women who spent unrecognized lives. In college I was the 1st to interview a woman for Maine's oral history project. She indeed had cooked & cleaned, knit mittens & had helped her mother deliver babies rather, than like the other men subjects that had been interviewed, work in lumber camps. Thank you, Rita.

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    1. Sketchbook Wandering -- Oral history projects are needed in so many areas of our country and around the world. Our cultures are changing so fast that much wisdom and ways are being lost. Nice that you participated in Maine's oral history project. Your comment has peaked my interest in oral histories for this area. Your city of Portland in Maine sounds so vibrant. I vacationed in beautiful Maine forty plus years ago -- I am sure it has changed considerably since then. thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  5. This is an excellent observation and the old cemetery illustrates it perfectly. I love visiting these places, so much silent history there... A very good post.

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    1. Teresa -- I used to live next to an old cemetery in small town Michigan. I used to take walks through it as I loved the big mature maples that were there. Then I realized how calming and serene such places could be. Now when I see these small cemeteries (and some large ones too) I stop and walk them usually with some thoughts to be resolved. And usually I can resolve my thoughts -- funny how it works that way. -- thanks -- barbara

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  6. Thought provoking post and sad....I do not like that women lose their identity with marriage. I love having my husbands last name but over time we lose touch with our school friends when they marry...sometimes more than once.

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    1. Dee -- That is a problem -- tracking down old friends that now go by their married name. I remember my high school Spanish teacher telling us that in Spain a woman's maiden name remains legally as part of her name and the married name is then tacked on the end. She told us that after a few generations the names became wery long. I always thought that would be better than nothing, meaning -- the loss of ones last name altogether. thanks -- barbara

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  7. I love old cemeteries, and can lose myself for hours in one, trying to imagine the people buried there, and what they and their lives were like. There were many old family burial plots on the long, unpaved road through the woods to my grandparents farm in Waterboro, ME - the homesteads long gone, and no hint of any cemetery - I'd just stumble onto them during my explorations in the woods.

    The realization of justice for all beings seems to come so painfully, awfully slowly. And just when you think you can celebrate some advances, you see the news story a week ago about a young woman in Papua New Guinea being tortured and burned for being a witch, or are reminded what women and girls in places like Afghanistan are forced to endure. I think we've given the patriarchy paradigm a try for enough millennia, and it's time to bring back the sacred feminine, the goddess energy, that represents half of all life on this planet!

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  8. Let's hope they had loving families to hold them.

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    1. Birdman -- I hope so too. -- thanks -- barbara



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  9. Laloofah -- Yes, there is no question about it -- we do need justice for all. With justice women can become who they want in their culture. Perhaps a doctor, teacher, engineer, or biologist etc. Women have had to fight against the patriarchal paradigm all their life. I bet everyone of us could personally recite an incident about a patriarchal injustice.

    I have been impressed by the women in politics right now. Elizabeth Warren for example, is articulate and not afraid to speak out. Some day we will have women that will be great leaders in all fields just like men are today. I think we will have a better society to live in when that all comes together. thanks -- barbara

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  10. Interesting. Our rural cemetaries have a simlar pull for me though our in southeast Minnesota rarely go back much before the Civil War. As to history, no arguement there. Still the pace of change is quickening and surely will continue. When I taught American History I always focused on people & and their stories above dates and places. Abigail Adams was a favorite of mine and my students as well....:)

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  11. troutbirder -- I wish I had a teacher like you for history. The teacher I had in high school had us read the text and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. But I was lucky, my father was an Irish man that collected family stories and oft repeated them so I really got a great feel for history. Yes, the pace of history is quickening -- what will it bring? thanks -- barbara

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