|History of U. S. Traditions
History of Funerals in the U.S.
In early America, home funerals were the practice everywhere, and each
community had a group of women who came in to help with the "laying
out of the dead." Visitation was held in the front parlor followed by a
procession to the church and cemetery.
Until the mid 1800’s most families cared for their own dead. They
prepared, dressed, and displayed their loved ones within the confines of
their own home. Early American houses often did not have parlors,
however as houses grew, and national mannerisms became more set,
proper families made sure they had front rooms filled with their finest
possessions, quality furniture, portraits, sterling silver and often a piano.
Because these rooms were usually clean, closed off, and quite formal,
people often used them when someone died as a place to lay out the body
and allow funeral visits. The body was usually displayed in a casket that
was made or even purchased at the General store.
Most grander homes of the 19th century had a false, or "death door"
placed off of the formal room, that led to the outside without steps to
remove a deceased family member. It was considered improper to
remove a body through the door, the living crossed to enter, also, it was
considered bad form to carry them out feet first. Later a grave was dug, in
the family cemetery.
Since home parlors, have been largely replaced by funeral homes, the
formal front room, or parlor has been turned into the modern family living
Caring for your own dead began to change dramatically during the Civil
War. Soldiers were dying on the battlefield, and their families would
want them sent home for burial. This is when the practice of embalming,
for shipping bodies over a long distance, first began to take place. Dr.
Auguste Renouard (1839-1912), a
U.S. Physician, was one of the early leaders in the field, laying the
groundwork for present day embalming methods.
During this time period, the family
graveyard was moving towards the
more park like settings of the local
cemetery. Also, the United States,
established a number of national
military cemeteries, where members
of the armed forces were and continue
to be buried.
Soon after came the Undertakers, who
undertook this duty for the families at a time of need. It was not long
before this became the normal way for families to take care of their dead.
Over time, Undertakers become known as Morticians and Funeral
Directors. In the beginning of the 1900's, the newly formed National
Funeral Directors Association was pressing its members to consider
themselves "professionals," not tradesmen as the earlier coffin-makers
had been. Regular use of embalming was encouraged, and the new
"professionals" used it to suggest they were keepers of the public health.
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