Ladies United for the
Preservation of
Endangered Cocktails

2004 Holiday Party
a salute to

Jane Ferguson Wood
first woman in
Allegheny County
to obtain
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."

J.M. Kelly's
Handbook of Greater
Pittsburg, First Annual

In the late 1870s, Mrs. Jane Ferguson Wood became the first woman in Allegheny County to obtain a mortician's license. She worked alongside her husband at The W.H. Wood Company in Oakland, first on Forbes Avenue and then on McKee Place.

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 was the
ironing board. Then we would ask for a washbowl, slop jar,
bottle of water and towels...It must be remembered that
hospitals were used very little in those days and that there
were no trained nurses and some of the things we had to do are too
unpleasant to write about.
--Henry Samson, [Reminiscences In Regard to the History of Undertaking in this Community], Unpublished Manuscript, 1940

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.