Sex And Death

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Vinnie Rotondaro reports on the shifting landscape for female funeral workers:

Before the 1860s, caring for the dead was viewed as a woman's role. Death care tended to take place in the home, and the cultural perception of women as more intuitive and 
emotional made them an obvious choice for the job. Additionally, because women were the ones who helped deliver infants, and the infant mortality rate was highin 1850 it was 216.8 for every 1,000 live births among whites and 340 for every 1,000 live births among blacksdealing with deaths was seen as part of the birthing process. ... All this changed during the Civil War.

With thousands of American men dying far away from home, families began requesting that their loved ones be embalmed and shipped from the battlefields. Up until then, most Americans viewed the practice with suspicion. It was seen as unnatural, something that took place in medical schools. But the realities of war helped to soften attitudes about what would be acceptable to do to bodies for the sake of a ceremonial goodbye. And then, crucially, on April 15, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln died, top advisers decided that he be embalmed and toured on a funeral train. It proved embalming's shining moment.

(Image: Portrait of the Viewer (left) and Portrait of the Artist (right) by Rafa Jenn)

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