Lady Mortician
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Since the 17th century in America, many things have changed but probably one of the most under-discussed aspects is the transformation in how we attend to the physical remains of the recently deceased.

Both the attitudes toward death and the methods of handling physical remains have changed much over the past 200-300 years and are interesting barometers which reflect society's shifting relationship with death.

Whereas the actual preparation of a body for burial had at one time been almost exclusively the responsibility of women, after more than 200 years those same "duties of death" gradually became a male-dominated role.

The book Lady Mortician examines the contrasts between early American women's experiences of death and our own current experiences by exploring such issues as the development of the business of death, the considerations of health and hygiene, an examination of customs and traditions, gender trends, and the birth of mortuary science.

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What was it like to be a woman in 17th-century America?

That, of course, depended upon one's social circumstances. The wealthier members of a community might live in a grand house by the standards of the day while the less prosperous families spent their lives in a small cabin or modest farmhouse. Life in the cities, too, was different than life in rural communities.

Either way, everyone shared in the effects of the high mortality rate. Death, though unwelcome, was nonetheless a frequent visitor. The specter of death didn't discriminate between the rich and the poor, claiming victims from each with equal disregard for social status.

And when death visited a household, the women of the family were naturally expected to tend to the lifeless body even as they grieved. Word had to be sent out to family and neighbors, the body needed to be measured so that the menfolk could build the right sized coffin, a shroud must be readied, the body to be cleansed, and so on.

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