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Rest in PeaceA Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America$
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Gary Laderman

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195183559

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183559.001.0001

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From House Calls to Funeral Homes: Changing Relations between the Living and the Dead

From House Calls to Funeral Homes: Changing Relations between the Living and the Dead

(p.1) 1 From House Calls to Funeral Homes: Changing Relations between the Living and the Dead
Rest in Peace

Gary Laderman

Oxford University Press

By the start of the 20th century, the relationship between the living and the dead in the United States had begun to change dramatically. In many ways, the intimacy that had connected the physical remains with a community of family and friends was gradually being supplanted by a gaping social divide. In large part, the divide was produced by three social factors: changes in demographic patterns, the rise of hospitals as places of dying, and the growth of modern funeral homes. Decreasing mortality trends, increasing longevity, and the rise of the hospital system allowed the funeral industry to take root, and flourish, in American society. The number of funeral homes around the country grew rapidly and funeral directors achieved an air of authority in mortal matters. Embalming became a standard in the preparation of the dead for disposal. Jessica Mitford was on the right track when she identified a “new mythology” emanating from industry rhetoric to legitimate business and ritual changes in the details of modern American funerals.

Keywords:   United States, Jessica Mitford, funerals, dead, intimacy, funeral homes, funeral industry, embalming, hospitals, funeral directors

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