You might be surprised to know that at one time, women primarily took care of their deceased family members. When a death occurred in the family, women were called upon to wash the body, dress their loved one, and to prepare them for burial. They did most of it at home because most people passed away at home back then.
So how did funeral service become the male-dominated industry that it is today? Men started to control death care when funeral service became modernized and a formalized profession in the mid-1800s. Some of the reasons persist as stereotypes against women in funeral service. For example, some people still consider women too emotional or too physically weak to perform the duties of funeral service or they simply prefer a “gentleman’s touch”.
But women are more than capable of providing exceptional professional service and they bring so much to the profession. And today, women are entering the death care business at unprecedented numbers. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, more than 60% of mortuary science students in the United States are women. Some mortuary colleges report even higher numbers with upwards of 75% to 80% of their students being women. Like all mortuary students, these trainees are often attracted to the vast set of skills needed in funeral service: organization, event planning, chemistry, family care, and so on. The face of funeral service is changing—and she’s a woman!
Despite such impressive changes, the vast majority of funeral directors in the United States are still men. How can that be with the growing number of female mortuary students? It’s because it will take time for those changes to be seen at funeral homes. Further, the leaders in individual funeral homes remain overwhelmingly male and many of those owners are hesitant to hire women because of lasting stereotypes.
Brookins Funeral Home is a rare exception. It is one of the few funeral homes in Chicago owned and operated by an African American woman, Andrea L. Brookins. blog,In the next blog we will hear from Andrea about her experiences as a pioneering woman in funeral service.