What Well-Behaved Women have Done


Written by Cat Aboudara and researched by Carol Yaster and Rachel Wolgemuth

“Well-behaved women rarely make history”

Citation from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s 1976 article on Puritan funeral services.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Professor at Harvard and a Pulitzer Prize winning American Historian, studied and lectured about the often overlooked early American history of women. Her approach to history gave tribute and a voice to “the silent work of ordinary people.”

Ulrich’s Book expanding on the original citation

When Ulrich originally wrote the now famous quote, “well-behaved women seldom make history” she didn’t mean that women should misbehave in order to be memorable, which is how her quote is often interpretated. With the weight of her research, she was lamenting how so many women who made positive impacts on society were and still are overlooked in the annals of history. Relatively few women have their names remembered correctly or at all. Her citation is even misattributed to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

When Laurel Hill Cemetery was founded in 1836, women could not own their own property, work, nor have any voice in the politics of their new country. The rising division over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War in the 1860s made equality a constant topic of discussion.

As many Northern men became abolitionists, women became involved and thus were exposed to politics and social reform. This was an early equality movement that women used as inspiration for the women’s movement and suffrage.

Two women found that putting their energy into war efforts allowed them to rise outside of their station while in service during the first and second world war.  

Grave of Dr. Maude Kelly at Laurel Hill
Croix de Guerre

Dr. Maude Mary Kelly (1877 to 1928) is buried in the X section of Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Dr. Kelly studied medicine at the Women’s Medical College and after graduating, became staff at the college as well as at Philadelphia General Hospital. She entered World War I as a nurse in the American forces because she wasn’t allowed to practice as a doctor. She remedied this by serving with the French allied troupe as part of a group from Smith College. They treated French civilians who were affected by the war. She is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in her French Army uniform.  Along with being decorated by the French government with the Croix de Guerre and Service de Sant, she also held the rank of a major in the French Army.

Aimee Ernesta Drinker Barlow (1892 to 1981) is buried in the Summit section of West Laurel Hill. As an adult she went by her middle name, Ernesta. She first married U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt, Jr. in 1916 and they spent most of their marriage in Paris. In the summer of 1924, they divorced and she moved to New York City, where she changed her name to ‘Ernesta Beaux’ after her famous aunt and noted painter Cecilia Beaux. She married her second husband in 1928, composer, pianist and art critic Samuel L. M. Barlow and took his name, Ernesta Barlow. She was a writer, artist, and traveler in her own right and these skills came together to create her alter ego “Commando Mary.”  

Ernesta Drinker Barlow’s Grave in West Laurel Hill Cemetery

During World War II, she delivered 137 weekly broadcasts on NBC radio as ‘Commando Mary,’ encouraging housewives to participate in the war work effort. She traveled around the country talking to women who went from housewives to war heroes as employees of the war effort. In her first broadcast on June 21, 1942, she interviewed Mary Anderson, the Director of the US Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and from there interviewed women from all walks of life, reporting on the jobs for which they were needed around the country.

Two other women embraced the traditionally feminine role of being a caregiver to advance their roles as well as women’s rights.

Marion Madeira from the University of Pennsylvania Archives

Marion Clark Madeira (1868-1938) is buried in the section 10 of Laurel Hill Cemetery. Her obituary was published in the Dec 14, 1938 New York Times.  Her husband was a coal operator and her family and her husband’s family were both prominent in Philadelphia. The Clark and Madeira family papers are housed in the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center. Her biography concerns her husband and children in detail but information specifically about her life is brief: “Marion dedicated her time to social causes. She contributed greatly to University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work.” More specifically, she was one of the founders of the Welfare Federation and president of the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania.  She was also very active with the Nicetown Club for Boys and Girls as well as the Council of Social Agencies but little information is noted on these incredible accomplishments.

Ruth Eni better known as ‘Momma Dietz’

Ruth, Eni better known and loved as “Momma Dietz” (1925 to 2019) is buried in the Franconia section of West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Eni was the Chairwoman for Dietz and Watson and the face of their marketing campaign “Momma Dietz.” The tagline for the brand? “We’re the mother of all meats!” Asked once to name a signature career achievement, Eni told a food industry trade publication that she was most proud of her role in the ad campaign, which featured her likeness on billboards and her voice in radio spots. “The thing is, I am a real mother,” she said at the time, “I juggled a career at the helm of a large family business along with being a real mom and grandmom. I am very proud of that.” This video featuring Ruth Eni and her family shows both sides of the woman who juggled being a mother and business women. She was best known by the public as a mother but she was also the family’s matriarch and inspired the women in her family.  

Three out of four of these women were adults when they were given the right to vote, even though the 13th Amendment abolished slavery a half century before in 1865. The 19th Amendment noting gender secured a women’s vote in American politics. It was passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920. Dr. Kelly was 43, Ernesta Barlow was 28, and Marion Madeira was 52.  Ada Ruth Eni, who passed away two years ago in 2019, was born five years after women voted in their first presidential election. In most of the research about these four women and many other women buried at Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill in the 18th and 19th centuries, their own accomplishments are greatly overshadowed by their fathers, husbands and sons. As Women’s History Month is coming to a close, it is still so important to find the voices of women as so much of early American women’s history is still unknown. Well-behaved women of our past rarely made history because they were only seen through the accomplishments of men in their families.  This is what Ulrich was determined in her life’s work to rectify by researching these early American pioneers in the women’s movement.

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