The following tombstone inscription is in the Grove Street cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut:
In memory of Mrs. Chloe, late wife of Mr. Peter Johnson and daughter of Capt. Andrew Tuttle deceased. She was a dutiful child, a faithful wife, a tender mother, a friend of the distressed and a lover of virtue. Died, 1773, age 34. She is gone we trust to inherit the promises…
The rest was unreadable.
Chloe Johnson died before the Declaration of Independence was penned. As a subject of King George III, she probably never heard of George Washington. I dare say that for centuries her memory has been entirely lost on the world, until now.
One day, I noticed Chloe’s humble tombstone and felt moved to copy down the message above that honored her memory with adjectives like “dutiful”, “faithful”, “tender”, “friend” and “lover”. Her character qualities, inscribed in stone, made me say; “Wow!”
Throughout the consecrated ground on Grove Street, near Yale University, women are honored for noble choices. Many beloved women resting beneath the grassy turf were admired with epitaphs using words like integrity, virtue, duty and faithfulness. One stone simply says, “What a woman!” Legacies of love abound in the countless tributes to women of times past on stones still standing in their memory. Women were praised for their tireless devotion to family, church, community, friends and the needy (men were often noted for military offices, public service or vocational accomplishments). The selfless service of women, when laid to rest, did not go unappreciated in the so-called “olden days” and old cemeteries convey this with profound eloquence.
Life was hard and opportunities were few for women and men in centuries past. I am grateful for our progress over time. But if you have the impression that women long ago were not well loved and honored, exceptions notwithstanding, then you have been misled by angry agenda historians. Old cemeteries (and countless other primary resources) prove my point. Actually, it was not so much “men” or “women” being honored in such primary sources, but virtue! Virtue transcends gender.
Today, Chloe Johnson would make a boring guest on daytime TV. By current standards (or lack of), her love of virtue alone would disqualify her. But even today, if women became steadfast lovers of virtue in greater numbers, men would reform–rushing toward kindness and character– as fast as you can say, “Chloe Johnson.” I wonder if women realize how much their love motivates men. As virtue lovers, women today would decimate ratings for daytime trash TV. Exploitation entertainment would vaporize under the sunlight of feminine admiration for better things. What enormous power!
Chloe Johnson could have chosen another legacy. She could have mocked virtue. She could have sought pleasure over purity, might over right, feeling over faith and consequences over truth. Instead, she chose a legacy of love—REAL love. Such legacies never come easy or by accident. They require a lifetime of tough choices.
Women, more than men, have long been known to make more room in their lives for family. Thus, home erosion often hurts women more. In her book, Choices, Mary Farrar wrote, “The well-being of women has always been tied to the well-being of the home.” Protect the family and you stand tall against the vulnerability of women (of all ages) to the things that hurt them most. Do we admire women enough for their sacrificial pro-family choices? Not lately.
The home-enriching choices made by the Chloe Johnsons of the world rarely bring fame or fortune. Sometimes, you have to visit old cemeteries to see such women praised. I often see it at church too. But in a celebrity culture bent on glitter, glory, glamor, wealth, power, pride and pleasure, we rarely see such virtues as selflessness and humility being actively praised and pursued in public.
What if the epitaph for Chloe Johnson went like this?
She graduated summa cum laude from Yale, organized humanitarian aid for millions, owned a thriving business empire, served on the Supreme Court and became the first female president of the United States.
I would be greatly impressed. But I wouldn’t be any more impressed than I already am with the legacy inscribed on Mrs. Johnson’s tombstone. I fully support any woman’s right to develop her gifts and make her own choices. I respect a wide variety of alternative options. Virtue can be well lived and loved under widely diverse circumstances. Cookie-cutter virtue is not the point. Nevertheless, a woman’s freedom to make great choices is hindered when old legacies of love, like those of Chloe Johnson, are forgotten or dismissed.