Flipping through a book of class pictures at the mortuary science program’s office makes it easy to spot a national trend mirrored at the University.
With each page turn, more women appear.
Only one female was pictured among the 41 graduates in 1973. Next year’s incoming class will be two-thirds female – the highest ever – mortuary science director Michael LuBrant said.
The national percentage of women enrolling in funeral services education has increased from approximately 5 percent in the 1970s to 51 percent in 2000, said George Connick, executive director of the American Board of Funeral Service Education.
Although there is no consensus on why more females are entering the field, students agree there are benefits to the increased diversity.
LuBrant said the mortuary science program admits the most highly qualified candidates, regardless of gender. He said he could not speculate on why more women are entering the field.
“I think women have maybe seen that we can do the job also and just as well as men,” said Jana Martin, a mortuary science senior.
Martin said she decided to get into the field after two of her grandmothers died within two years. Martin said one funeral director spent a lot of time with her family while the other was too concerned about himself to be sensitive to their needs.
Women’s personality traits might make them better suited for working in some areas of the field, mortuary science senior Jennifer Greeley said.
“Women tend to be more in touch with the emotional side or the relational side of people,” Greeley said.
It is the technical side of the work – embalming and preparing the bodies for viewing – that mortuary science senior Angela Purrman said she enjoys.
She said she likes helping give families the chance to see their loved ones for the last time.
Diversity in the field is beneficial, she said.
“The males and females complement one another, whether it is lifting the body or cosmetizing the body,” she said.
At St. Paul’s Anderson
Funeral Home, having a woman on staff can be especially
helpful for Islamic funerals, where the family often prefers that the person taking care of the body be the same gender as the deceased, said the home’s president and owner Ron Anderson.
Anderson said women are just as capable as men in the field and he thinks funeral services is one of many fields that was once male-dominated but is now an option for women.
According to one male in the University’s program, increasing female representation can benefit the males in the program and the field.
“It’s more interesting if you’re a man because most men like women,” said Kris Ryback, a mortuary science senior. “I think women bring more sensitivity to it. With men it has always been more of a macho thing.”