The Gendered Language of Gravestones: A Comparative Study of Central and Northern Appalachian Cemeteries

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Cemeteries are cultural landscapes that reveal key details about their communities. The gravestone-its architecture, epitaph, iconography, and positioning within a cemetery-is a rhetorical device that reflects social and economic values of a particular era within the community. This qualitative study examines the gravestones of two public Appalachian cemeteries: one in a western Pennsylvania township of Northern Appalachia and the other in far southwestern Virginia in Central Appalachia. The data suggest gendered rhetorical patterns in how men and women have been represented in death from the late nineteenth century to present day. These patterns can be linked to sociocultural shifts in Appalachia in the past century and suggest that Appalachian cemeteries also function as sites of rhetorical power for the living.