Date of this Version
Focusing specifically on the years 1609 to 1899 in the United States, this thesis examines how middle-class women initially controlled the economy of preparing the dead in pre-industrialized America and lost their positions as death transitioned from a community-based event to an occurrence from which one could profit. In this new economy, men dominated the capitalist-driven funeral parlors and undertaker services. The changing ideology about white middle-class women’s proper places in society and the displacement of women in the “death trade” with the advent of the funeral director exacerbated this decline of a once female-defined practice. These changes dramatically altered women’s positions within death culture. As women no longer participated directly in the death economy, they became active in shaping public mourning rituals and policing mourning etiquette and fashion. Coinciding with larger shifts in American society, specifically the professionalization of once laymen pursuits, industrialization, and urbanization, these changes reveal that with each transition, women’s culture or ‘way of life’ was altered, and accordingly, so was the culture of death.
Adviser: Jeannette Eileen Jones