It is doubtful that a man could imagine going through life known simply as someone’s spouse. In days gone by, though, that was often the case for women in the Delta. My own mother was commonly known to the customers of our little country grocery store as “Mrs. George.” Farther down in the country, in my grandmother’s neighborhood, there were so many women named Gracie that they were identified by their husband’s name, i.e. “Ned’s Gracie,” Calvin’s Gracie,” “Newt’s Gracie,” or even “Papa’s Gracie.”
It worked I suppose. I can’t remember that anyone ever got two of them mixed up.
It was common, in even more genteel circles, for women to identify themselves by their husband’s name, especially if the husband happened to be a physician or a judge. Even Charles Dicken’s character Pip, in “Great Expectations,” recalled his mother’s tombstone epithet as “Also Georgiana, wife of the above.”
So it was no surprise coming across a cemetery in the Delta in which a number of women were identified for eternity as “the wife of …” There is no way of knowing whether the honorees planned it that way or had the identifiers bestowed upon them post-mortem. At any rate, some might say it robbed them of some degree of posthumous stature.
Given all of the little country cemeteries in this part of the world, just a touch of imagination could make us wonder how many potential Marie Curies, Ella Fitzgeralds, Helen Kellers, Zora Neale Hurstons, or Jane Austins may rest in those quiet groves, identified solely by whom they married.
Times have changed. It’s hard to image a modern day woman who would settle for such a final tribute. That includes even Brenda, wife of The Blogger.
“Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor...”
- Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard"