Monday, March 23, 2020

Graveyard Reverie

One hundred years ago yesterday, March 22, 1920, the State of Washington ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Washington was the thirty-fifth state to ratify, and ratification by only one more state was needed to enable women to vote in the presidential election in November 1920. That happened on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

By coincidence yesterday afternoon, while I was walking Joey in Cedar Park Cemetery, I paid a visit to one of my favorite tombstones--that of Mary R. Thomas, who died on December 19, 1906, just days short of her 94th birthday.

Since first discovering this tombstone, I've been intrigued by Mary Thomas. Who was this woman whose tombstone bore her maiden name and identified her only by her relationships to men? Wife of John Whitbeck; daughter of Caleb J. Thomas, "Soldier American Revolution."

Returning from our walk in the cemetery, I decided to renew my Ancestry subscription and find out what I could about Mary R. Thomas. What I discovered was that she graduated from the Albany Female Academy in the Class of 1835. The academy was founded in 1814 "on the then-revolutionary principle that girls and women are deserving and capable of higher education and socially engaged lives" and continues today as the Albany Academy for Girls.   

Soon after graduating from the Albany Female Academy, Mary Thomas married John Whitbeck. Census records indicate that the couple lived in Livingston. In 1850, John Whitbeck's occupation was given as "Merchant," but in 1860, his occupation was "Lawyer." Mary and John had two children: Richard, who was born in 1838, and Nancy, born in 1849.

John Whitbeck died in 1877, at the age of 65, predeceasing Mary by almost thirty years. John is buried in the churchyard at Claverack Reformed Dutch Church

In 1880, three years after her husband's death, census records show that Mary was living in Catskill. Mary was listed as the head of the household, and her two children, Richard, whose age is given as 40 and occupation as "School Teacher," and Nancy, whose age is given as 30 and occupation "At Home," are living with her. City directories indicate that by 1888 Mary and her children were living on Green Street in Hudson--first at 54 Green Street, now the site of the First Reformed Church, and later at 65 Green Street, in the house shown below. 

It was here, at 65 Green Street, that Mary was living, with Richard and Nancy, then 68 and 57 respectively, when she died in December 1906.

Somehow, during the 100th anniversary of a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle of women to achieve equality, the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it seemed oddly fitting to contemplate the life of a woman who, after living for nearly a century, the last three decades of which as a widow, was acknowledged on her tombstone only as a wife and a daughter.

1 comment:

  1. American women were still treated as chattel, voting or not, and were defined by their roles as wives and mothers. What surprises me about her is that she reverted to her maiden name after her husband's death.