Dedria Humphries Barker
'Half-Orphan' a Term for Memorial Day
The Memorial Day holiday remembers members of the military who gave their lives to serve the United States. Sometimes we forget that these service men and women are young people, and parents. While researching my book, Mother of Orphans: The True and Curious Story of Irish Alice, a Colored Man's Widow, I learned an interesting term borne from war and death of soldiers. It is from the Civil War.
President Abraham Lincoln was all too aware of the families who lost their men. He remembered the women and children in his second inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1865. Lincoln said:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the batter and for his widow and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
In 1865, except for those boys and women masquerading as men to enlist, the military was restricted to men, so Lincoln's use of the pronoun "his" hits the mark. HIS widow, HIS orphan. The children still had a mother, but since Biblical times, it was the father that counted. Lamentations 5:3 says, "We have become orphans, fatherless."
This thinking gave rise to the term, half-orphans. It meant a child with one parent. their mother. Half-orphan was a term used into the 20th century, when my story takes place in Ohio.
Half-orphan is a term that dismisses the mother's ability to provide for her child. That was not her fault. Society wanted women, and mothers as dependent on others as her child. She was little more than a child.
First Lady Michelle Obama famously championed the families of service men and women. She was the first to recognize mothers. Thank god, things have changed for women and their children.