Abstract: “To Put a Mass of Putrefying Animal Matter into a Fine Plush Casket”: The Development of Professional Knowledge among Morticians, 1880-1920

Kelly Arehart


The "peaceful-looking" remains of the embalmed Civil War dead masked the tumultuous creation of a new profession. While this "new" method of corpse preservation was touted as a "blessing of the war," embalming did not become a mainstay of the American funeral until the 1880s and 1890s. Americans were ambivalent about handing their dearly departed over to a group of men who were seen as less prestigious (and honest) than the common plumber. Undertakers attempted to recast themselves as "funeral directors" and "embalmers" through the development of the three S's: sympathy, sanitation and science. This paper is part of a large work-in-progress on the development of the death care industry in the period 1790-1930.