Funeral Etiquette in 1891
1891 Etiquette of Funerals
From Polite Life and Etiquette or What is Right and The Social Arts, written by Georgene
Corry Benham, published by Chicago : Louis Benham & Company, 1891.
The most solemn of all duties is that which we must perform to the dead. It is
only becoming in us to show in every possible way our deep sympathy on these
Ostentatious show at funerals is gradually becoming less, and by some discarded
altogether; pomp and ceremony does not properly illustrate the last journey of the
poor clay to its resting place, and the more quiet and simple the arrangement the
better; however, flowers are always in order and no better way to show our love
and esteem can be suggested.
It is the custom in large cities to give notice of death and announce the time of
funeral service through the newspapers, but for fear it may not reach all in time,
invitations are sent to personal and family friends.
Invitations are printed on fine small note paper with a heavy black border; and it is
a breach of good manners not to accept the invitation and attend when you receive
one. The following is a good form:
Yourself and family are invited to
attend the Funeral of
Mr. Leander Fox,
from his late residence, No. 488 South
Park Avenue, or from Plymouth Church.
To proceed to Graceland Cemetery.
The details of a funeral should be arranged by some relative or friend of the family,
or usually, the undertaker can be safely trusted to furnish every thing necessary to
prevent discord or annoyance; pomp and display should be avoided. The means of
the family should, of course, govern the expenses, and the limit be a prudent one.
HOUSE OF MOURNING
Upon entering the house of mourning the hat should be removed, and all loud
talking or confusion avoided. All differences and quarrels should be forgotten, and
enemies who meet at a funeral should treat each other with respect and dignity.
No calls of condolence should be made upon the bereaved family while the dead
remains int he house, and members of the family may be excused from receiving
any but their most intimate friends at that time. The bell knob or door handle is
draped with black crape, with a black ribbon tied on, if the deceased is married or
advanced in years, and with a white ribbon if young or unmarried.
If the services are held at the house, some near friend or relative will receive the
guests. The immediate members of the family and near relatives should take a
final view of the corpse just before the arrival of the guests, and should not make
their appearance again until about time for the services to commence. The
clergyman in taking his position should accommodate himself to the hearing of all,
if possible, but especially to the family and near relatives, who will probably be in a
room to themselves. In such case he should stand in the doorway. The guests will
have taken a last look at the corpse before seating themselves, and at the
conclusion of the services the coffin lid is closed, and the remains are borne to the
hearse. The custom of opening the coffin at church, unless the person is one of
distinguished prominence, is fast falling into disuse.
The pall-bearers, usually six, but sometimes eight in number, are generally chosen
from he intimate acquaintances of the deceased, and of nearly the same age. If
they walk to the cemetery, they take their position in equal numbers on either side
of the hearse.
The carriages containing the clergymen and pall-bearers precede the hearse,
immediately followed by the carriages of the nearest relatives, more distant
relatives and friends, respectively. When societies or masonic bodies take part in
the procession they precede the hearse. The horse of a deceased mounted military
officer, fully caparisoned and draped in mourning, will be led immediately after the
hearse. As the mourners pass out to enter the carriages, the gentlemen stand with
uncovered heads. No salutations are given or received. The person who officiates
as master of ceremonies assists the mourners to enter and alight from the
carriages. At the cemetery the clergyman or priest precedes the coffin.
CALLS UPON THE BEREAVED FAMILY
Friends may call upon the bereaved family in a week after burial, and
acquaintances within a month. It is the custom for friends to wear no bright colors
when making their calls of condolence. Short notes of condolence may be sent as
an expression of sympathy. Formal notes of condolence are no longer sent.
Custom prescribes some indication of one's bereavement in their dress. They who
choose to adopt this custom may do so with perfect propriety. The widow dresses
in mourning for life, or until a subsequent marriage. For the loss of a brother or
sister or son or daughter, six months or a year, as they may prefer.
When persons who have been in mourning wish to re-enter society, they should
leave cards on all their friends and acquaintances, as an intimation that they are
equal to the paying and receiving of calls. Until this intimation is given, society will
not venture to intrude upon the mourner's privacy. In cases where cards of inquiry
have been left, with the words "To inquire" written on the top of the card, these
cards should be replied to by cards with "Thanks for kind inquiries" written upon
them; but if cards for inquiry had not been left, this form can be omitted.
Of course there is a kind of complimentary mourning which does not necessitate
seclusion-that which is worn out of respect to a husband's relative whom one may
never have seen. But no one wearing a heavy crape veil should go to a gay
reception, a wedding, or a theatre.
Still less should mourning prevent one from taking proper recreation; the more the
heart aches, the more should one try to gain cheerfulness and composure, to hear
music, to see faces which one loves; this is a duty, not merely a wise and sensible
rule. Yet it is well to have some established customs as to visiting and dress in
order that the gay and the heartless may in observing them avoid that which shocks
every one-an appearance of lack of respect to the memory of the dead-that all
society may move on in decency and order, which is the object and end of the
study of etiquette.
A heartless wife who, instead of being grieved at the death of her husband, is
rejoiced at it, should be taught that society will not respect her unless she pays to
the memory of the man whose name she bears that "homage which vice pays to
virtue," a commendable respect to the usages of society in the matter of mourning
and of retirement from the world. Mourning garments have their use, that they are
a shield to the real mourner, and they are often a curtain of respectability to the
person who should be a mourner but is not.
PERIOD OF MOURNING
As for periods of mourning, we are told that a widow's mourning should last
eighteen months, although in England it is somewhat lightened in twelve. For the
first six months the dress should be of crape cloth, or Henrietta cloth covered
entirely with crape, collar and cuffs of white crape, a crape bonnet with a long
crape veil, and a widow's cap of white crape if preferred.
In America, however, widow's caps are not as universally worn as in England.
Dull black kid gloves are worn in first mourning; after that gants de Suede or silk
gloves are proper, particularly in summer. After six months' mourning the crape
can be removed, and grenadine, copeau fringe, and dead trimmings used, if the
smell of crape is offensive, as it is to some people. After twelve months the
widow's cap is left off, and the heavy veil is exchanged for a lighter one, and the
dress can be of silk grenadine, plain black gros-grain, or crape-trimmed cashmere
with jet trimmings, and crepe lisse about the neck and sleeves.
All kinds of black fur and seal skin are worn in deep mourning.
Mourning for a father or a mother should last one year. During half a year should
be worn Henrietta cloth or serge trimmed with crape, at first with black tulle at the
wrists and neck. A deep veil is worn at the back of the bonnet, but not over the
head or face like the widow's veil, which covers the entire body when down. This
fashion is very much objected to by doctors, who think many diseases of the eye
come by this means, and advise for common use thin nun's-veiling instead of crape.
It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crape veil, but so it is. It is the very
banner of woe, and no one has the courage to go without it. We can only suggest
to mourners wearing it that they should pin a small veil of black tulle over the eyes
and nose, and throw back the heavy crape as often as possible, for health's sake.
Mourning for a brother or sister may be the same; for a stepfather or stepmother
the same; for grandparents the same; but the duration may be shorter. In England
this sort of respectful mourning only lasts three months.
Mourning for children should last nine months. The first three the dress should be
crape-trimmed, the mourning less deep than that for a husband. No one is ever
ready to take off mourning; therefore these rules have this advantage-they enable
the friends around a grief-stricken mother to tell her when is the time to make her
dress more cheerful, which she is bound to do for the sake of the survivors, many
of whom are perhaps affected for life by seeing a mother always in black. It is
well for mothers to remember this when sorrow for a lost child makes all the earth
seem barren to them.
The period of mourning for an aunt or uncle or cousin is of three month' duration,
and that time at least should elapse before the family go out or into gay company,
or are seen at theatres or operas, etc.
House of Mourning
Calls Upon the
Period of Mourning
Letters of Condolence
The Body and Coffin
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LETTERS OF CONDOLENCE
We are often asked whether letters of condolence should be written on black-edged
paper. Decidedly not, unless the writer is in black. The telegraph now flashes
messages of respect and sympathy across sea and land like a voice from the heart.
Perhaps it is better than any other word of sympathy, although all who can should
write to a bereaved person. There is no formula possible for these letters; they
must be left to the individual's good taste, and perhaps the simplest and least
conventional are the best.
THE BODY AND COFFIN
We now come to the saddest part of our subject, the consideration of the dead
body, so dear, yet so soon to leave us; so familiar, yet so far away-the cast-off
dress, the beloved clay.
As for the coffin, it is simpler than formerly; and, while lined with satin and made
with care, it is plain on the outside-black cloth, with silver plate for the name, and
silver handles, being the most modern taste.
If our richest citizen were to die to-morrow, he would probably be buried plainly.
Yet it is touching to see with what fidelity the poorest creature tries to "bury her
dead decently." The destitute Irish woman begs for a few dollars for this sacred
duty, and seldom in vain. It is a duty for the rich to put down ostentation in
funerals, for it is an expense which comes heavily on those who have poverty
added to grief.
In dressing the remains for the grave, those of a man are usually "clad in his habit
as he lived." For a woman, tastes differ: a white robe and cap, not necessarily
shroud like, are decidedly unexceptionable. For young persons and children, white
cashmere robes and flowers are always most appropriate.
In the course of a month after a death all friends of the deceased are expected to
leave cards on the survivors, and it is discretionary whether these be written on or
not. These cards should be carefully preserved, that, when the mourner is ready to
return to the world, they may be properly acknowledged.
Expressions of joy are easily found; but this fountain of feeling being chilled by
grief, by the sudden horror of death, or the more terrible breath of dishonor or
shame, or the cold blast of undeserved misfortune, leaves the sympathizer in the
perplexity as to what to say and how to say it.
We sympathize with our friends; we desire to tell them so. We want to say, "My
friend, your sorrow is my sorrow; nothing can hurt you that does not affect me. I
cannot, of course, enter into all your feelings, but to stand by and see you grieve
and remain unmoved myself is impossible." All this we wish to say; but how shall
we say it that our words may not hurt him a great deal more than he is hurt
already? How can we lay our hand so tenderly on that sore spot that we may not
inflict a fresh wound? How shall we say to a mother bending over a fresh grave
(of perhaps her only child) that we regret the loss she has sustained in the death of
her child? Can words measure the depth, the height, the immensity, the bitterness
of that grief? What can we say that will not seem unfeeling?
She has heard and thought of all the Pagans and Christians say: "Whom the gods
love die young;" God does not willingly afflict the children of men;" but that is poor
consolation to that grief-stricken heart.
Shall we attempt to console her by telling her how good, how loving and brave,
was the spirit just separated from the clay? Alas how well she knows that! How
the tears well up as she remembers the silent fortitude, and the heroic patience
under that pain that was known to mean death! Ancient philosophers and modern
poets have dwelt at length upon death and the grave; all words seem meaningless,
the thoughts which fill our minds fail to frame words that will comfort, and yet the
simple and unpremeditated words are best. A distant friend (gay and fickle) once
wrote a most perfect letter of condolence. It ran thus: "I have heard of your great
sorrow, and I send you a simple pressure of the hand." It had for the mourner
The afflicted are never expected to answer letters. Notes of condolence should be
written as soon as possible; do not be afraid to intrude on any grief with a letter of
condolence. It is generally a welcome distraction, to read a letter; and those who
are so stunned by grief as not to be able to read or write will always have some
willing friend near them to read and file them.
Transcribed, and posted online, 2001, by Ann McRoden Mensch.
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