Gender and Division of Labor Associated with Dying, Burial, and Mourning in Early America


  • Rhenee Clark Swink Wichita State University


burial rites, death rites, gender roles, Colonial period, Early Republic, mourning, midwives, coffin makers, pall bearers, sextons


During the colonial period, and the years of the new republic, death most frequently occurred in the home. Members of communities engaged in a system of mutual aid by helping families at a time of loss. Women cared for the sick and dying and prepared the body for burial.4 Men built coffins, as an extension of the cabinet making trade. The local sexton dug the grave. On the day of the funeral, men transported the coffin to the burial site. Women participated in the funeral service by providing hospitality to mourners and taking part in the procession. Women and men participated in mourning rituals by donning attire and following mourning etiquette based on religion and social status. These gendered divisions of labor and social expectations represented the specified gender roles within colonial society. Although the rituals associated with death and dying particularly in functions outside the home were dominated by men, women still carved out their own place in these rituals based on gender roles of the time.