Social Status In The Tombstones And How Wealth And Long Life Are Connected

Trends in longevity and inequality

In history, it’s been important to honor the dead. This is done by placing headstones, which are often personalized. During the 1800s and 1900s life expectancy was considerably lower. In 1842 “the average death age for gentlemen engaged in occupations and families was 45″; for tradesmen it was 26, and for mechanics it was 16”. In this essay we will examine the relationship between wealth and life expectancy, as also the material and height of tombstones according to social status. George Davey Smith’s “Socioeconomic disparities in mortality: evidence in Glasgow graveyards”, as well as actual samples from Old City Cemetery are used to illustrate the stories the dead have told about their health and wealth.

Visits to Old City Cemetery (Tallahassee) in Florida for the purpose of collecting data to write this essay allowed me to examine the differences in height, material, and extravagance as they relate to the wealth of each individual grave, dating back to 1829, the year the cemetery was founded. George Davey Smith also set out “to determine whether taller, more ornate obelisks would be associated with a longer lifespan between 1801-1920”. The taller gravestones were associated with wealthier families. And as predicted, they had more space between their dates. “A uniform design of commemorative gravestones found in Glasgow can help explore this issue. These obelisks vary in height, but their shapes are standard. Since the height influences the cost of an obelisk it makes sense to assume that the descendants of wealthy people would be honored with taller monuments. Smith’s theory is backed up by the photos collected at Old City Cemetery. The essay included 43 photographs of headstones. Out of those 43, 16 were created from sandstone. Smith states that granite is the most pricey of the materials. The photos indicate that 70% were made out of slate or sandstone for headstones erected before 1960. Marble and granite tombstones become more common as time progresses towards the 2000s. Prices may also have decreased. In the 1960s people with slate and sandstone gravestones had shorter life expectancy than those with granite or marble.

Victorian Age brought new business and technological advances that pushed the market to new heights. With these advancements came a new attitude towards children. In the Victorian Age, children were given a more innocent look than ever before because of the greed, opportunism, and dishonesty that was shown in business. “As innocents, babies are protected from external influences?” It was as if the babies were not even a part. If they did die, they would be depicted differently in cemeteries than if their parents had raised them. Photos taken at Old City Cemetery confirm this. The 43 photographs included 12 photos of gravestones for children. It is clear that the gravestones were much more colorful than those of adults at the time. “The shapes and props these gravemarkers used, placed them firmly within the realms associated with childhood–a world totally separate from that of adult men and businesses.” Children in cemeteries remained young forever, and their deaths were more noteworthy than their short life spans (Meyer).

It is important to note that in Victorian times, men were often the business owners, active workers, and the glue holding society together. It is reasonable to assume that the gravestones of men would be larger and more elaborate. The Old City Cemetery did not have this pattern, but the placement of “wife” after a lady’s last name on 90% of the gravestones of women was very common. Some gravestones had other titles, such as “loving Mother”. Dates on tombstones can be used to infer that women often lived shorter lives than men. Women did not receive adequate healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth. Women were second in line to their husbands for food consumption, and so they often went hungry. This increased the risk of death from health problems. The Victorian Age saw yellow fever as a serious health concern. It was more prevalent among women during the Victorian Age because they were less nourished in poorer families and therefore had a weaker immune system. It’s common knowledge that Victorian society had a class obsession. Burial arrangements were a reflection of respectability, aspirations for social standing and economic status” (Smith). The women’s status in society is likely to be due to the husband’s.

Some men’s stone headstones link them to specific organizations. John R. Duval was one of the most striking. The name of John R. Duval was listed as “First Grandmaster of the M.W. Grand Lodge F. & A.M. Of Florida Born June 8th 1790 Died December 4th 1854 Erected By The Grand Lodge”. These titles signify that he’s a free Mason. A fraternal organization, it was founded to promote networking and foster relationships. Freemasonry is a secretive organization with elaborate rituals and traditions. Your gravestone title is your permanent status and demonstrates your commitment to an important organization. Other gravestones included phrases such as “village ironworker”. Public debates are often dominated by the notion of attachment. This includes family, work, neighborhood, and community. The sense of non-identity and rootlessness in a particular community is linked with social disintegration and crime. It also leads to a loss of family and regional loyalty. It is fascinating how important a simple affiliation to a particular parish or group is to the society. This is displayed even on gravestones.

This could be due to two factors. “Either a higher socioeconomic standing, as indicated by the heights of obelisks, is linked to longer lifespans, or living for a long time results in greater assets that are exchanged, in part, for a bigger memorial after death”(Smith). Old City Cemetery had a very obvious feature: the taller headstones were associated with wealthier families. Certain cemeteries have regulations and rules that dictate the size of each memorial. Yellow fever was an outbreak in Tallahassee, which forced the cemetery’s land to be divided into equal sections to accommodate the dead. This cemetery was segregated. Whites were buried east of the African Americans, and vice versa. There was no noticeable difference between the two sections.

Many times, the headstones of cemeteries are all that is left to memorialize certain people in history. Old City Cemetery contains gravestones of many people that helped Tallahassee grow and become what it is now. The height and design of the gravestones still reflect their social status. “Cemeteries are a way to remember people who have passed away. We should not only remember who is buried where, but also try to understand the reason why. The titles on gravestones are an important part of our society. They have been proven to reduce crime, and bring society together so we can collaborate more throughout history. Many gravesites were built to commemorate children in this cemetery and many others between the mid-1800s and 2000s. They never had the chance to become adults and see and experience the horrors of the modern world. These memorials are a powerful way to express the sadness of a child’s passing. For some cemeteries are depressing or sad, but for others, they’re outdoor museums filled with history.


  • calvinmerritt

    Calvin Merritt is an educational bloger who specializes in writing about educational topics. He has been writing for over a decade and has written for a variety of different platforms. His work has been featured on various websites and he has also been published in various magazines.