Buried stories: Historic mothers of Oakwood Cemetery

ByHeather Leah WTVD logo
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
"She blessed us" says this gravestone at Historic Oakwood Cemetery - Raleigh. Did you know the founder of Mothers Day is resting right here in Raleigh?

'"Mother" is the most common word at Historic Oakwood Cemetery," shares director Robin Simonton. Although women are sometimes left out or forgotten in the history books, she adds, it's comforting to see that women and mothers are so highlighted in the cemetery, where final histories come to rest. With epitaphs like, "She blessed us" and "Her children will rise up and be blessed," it's clear that mothers played as big a role in Raleigh history as they do in our own homes.

Here are four extraordinary stories of Raleigh Mothers, whose memories remain alive and well at Oakwood Cemetery.

Raleigh's Historic Oakwood Cemetery.

Co-Founder of Mother's Day: Madeline Jones Procter (1894 - 1975)

The co-founder of Mother's Day rests in Oakwood Cemetery, her grave a gentle reminder of the true meaning of this national holiday. In 1909, Procter joined Anna Jarvis in her mission to establish one day a year dedicated to showing gratitude to our mothers. However, their vision of Mother's Day was distorted over the years. Originally, the purpose of the day was quite simple: Sit down and write a heartfelt, hand-scribed letter or poem to your mother once a year to show your appreciation for all her work and sacrifices.

"When the holiday became commercialized, hyped up with expectations to buy flowers, dinners, and store-bought cards," explains Simonton, "Procter continued to advocate for the power and meaningfulness of writing a simple letter to your Mother."

Now, her family continues her legacy.

War Mother: Frances Brown Riddle (1888 - 1981)

Mothers often endure great personal sacrifice for the sake of their children. Some mothers, however, sacrifice to protect the children of the entire nation. They are called "War Mothers." Frances Riddle was honored as a War Mother during World War II for watching seven of her eight sons go off to battle. Simonton explains, as we pass the Riddle family plot, "If you had a boy off at war in those days, you would put a flag with a star in your window. Her flag had seven stars on it, showing the depth of her service."

Amazingly, all seven of her sons returned home again. Decades later, her courage--and the courage and sense of duty and community instilled in her sons--are worth honoring on Mother's Day.

Haywood House for Rent: Martha Hawkins Bailey Haywood (1890 - 1969)

During the Great Depression, even the wealthiest Raleigh families were struggling. As one of Raleigh's most renowned and successful families, it was considered shameful for the Haywoods to resort to renting rooms to boarders in their beautiful and historic family home. However, Mrs. Haywood realized that during those difficult financial times, there was a very real danger of losing their home completely.

In order to protect their fortune and house so that her son could inherit it one day, she endured Raleigh's gossip and did the unthinkable, opening their wealthy home to renters. "This would have certainly caused all the Raleigh socialites to gossip and whisper about them, but she held her head high and did what it took to protect her son's future."

Today, Mrs. Haywood's large headstone overlooks the smaller plot for her son -- still together, resting at Oakwood Cemetery.

Raleigh's Mother: Annie Louise Wilkerson, M.D.

Raleigh's Mother: Annie Louise Wilkerson, M.D. (1914 - 2005)

Sometimes, a mother doesn't have biological children; instead, she's a mother to an entire city. Annie Louise Wilkerson, M.D. was a great mother of Raleigh, delivering over 8,000 babies and ushering thousands of women into motherhood. She was Raleigh's first woman to become a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, paving the way for modern female doctors today.

"Everytime I give a tour here, at least one person in the group says they were delivered by Dr. Wilkerson," says Simonton.

Raleigh's first female obstetrician delivered over 8000 babies during her time as a doctor at Rex Hospital.

"She was known as being very strict; she was firm and honest -- and she was well-loved by the new mothers she helped." Wilkerson described herself as being "married to her job," and although she never had her own children, she was a favorite aunt to her many nieces and nephews. This Mother's Day, Wilkerson is a testament to the strong women who contribute maternally to our community without being actual mothers. They, too, should all be honored.

Heather is an ABC11 Community Influencer. Read more of her work on her blog .

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