Ladies United for the
2004 Holiday Party
a salute to
Jane Ferguson Wood
first woman in
a Mortician's License
"Women and children should be embalmed
and prepared for burial by women. Such is the 19th century judgment of
every intelligent person. To meet this requirement Mrs. Jennie Wood, of
3802 Forbes street, Pittsburg, has graduated from the United States College
of Embalming in New York and has already built up a large business."
To be a mortician in the late 1800s was to be part of a brand new profession. 18th and early 19th century American families cared for their own dead and it was the women of the family who would clean and prepare the body for burial. Social changes wrought by the Civil War, the continuing industrialization of formerly agrarian areas, and the mobilization of the American population due to the railroads, all worked together to enter the United States into an era where many facets of everyday life became "profession- alized." Much as factories started to make clothes and medical doctors displaced "untrained" midwives, so undertakers gradually took over those last rites traditionally performed by the women of the family. Concurrently, cemeteries established outside city limits started displacing family burial grounds on farms and churchyards in towns. The W.H. Wood Company was one of many livery stables that evolved into an undertaking establishment, first by providing hearses for funerals and gradually adding various goods and services to their list of funerary provisions
The Civil War was a deciding factor in this change in death rites as it was the first time in America's history when so many died so far from home. Embalming, a necessity during wartime, became desirable for the dead back at home after the war. The expertise necessary for embalming that gradually moved care of the dead from family to mortician. While the papers of the Ferguson Wood Funeral Home do not contain any quotes from Jane, an associate of the time deftly describes his work:
When we got to the house the first thing we asked for
Well into the 1930s, funerals were held in the homes of the deceased and funeral homes tended to be for those people who did not have homes appropriate for funerals. A quick but extensive look at the records of The Ferguson Wood Funeral Home (Historical Society of PA. Archives, MSS#260) reveal a majority of the funeral home's "customers" to be Greek, perhaps parishioners of the Greek Orthodox Church on Dithridge Street.
William Wood, Jennie's husband, died in 1927. After her death in 1938, The Ferguson Wood Funeral Home was run by her brother. The business was eventually sold to Oakland competitors, H. Samson and Son Funeral Home, in 1970.