In 1875 William Staten Marvel opened his undertaking business in Delmar, Delaware. He had previously had a blacksmithing operation here and dabber a bit in cabinetmaking and coffin making. At that time funerals were no where near the elaborate ceremonies they are today. Usually the family would handle the entire affair and a simple burial in the family graveyard on the farm would do. As embalming became more accepted with burial in churchyards the funeral home became more prominent. They were called funeral homes because the undertaking business was on the ground floor and the family lived over top the business in their home. About 1900 William S Marvel, Jr. became head of the business. In 1902 he married Bertha Gertrude Sturgis (1882-1963). At first Bertha was content with running a dressmaking business from her home but as the business expanded she became more active in the operation. About 1920 Bertha became a licensed mortician in the State of Delaware. She was certainly the first female mortician in Delmar and one of the first ones in Delaware. It is unknown where she obtained her training. In that time period the Eckel College of Mortuary Science was in Philadelphia and many morticians in Delaware attended it.
Bertha became connected
with the undertaking business at a time when it was booming. A survey published in 1928 revealed that
between 1900 and 1920 the number of funeral directors grew by more than fifty
per cent. (The annual number of deaths increased by only 2.3 per cent in the
same period.) For most of the twentieth century, the majority of funeral homes
were family businesses that were passed from father to son—and rarely to a
daughter. In the seventies, ninety-five per cent of funeral directors were men,
and even by 1995 there were still almost twice as many male mortuary-science
students as female ones. Today,
sixty-five per cent of mortuary-school graduates are women.
William S Marvel, Jr. would
run the business with his wife until his death in 1941. At the time of his death a company was formed
called W. S. Marvel Company. It was
headed by Bertha and included her two sons; Charles W. Marvel and William S.
Marvel, III. In 1957 William S. Marvel,
III took over the company and Bertha retired from the business. As we know the Marvels sold the business in
1972 to Bill Short, Jr and in 2005 Bill
Short’s daughter, Amy, and her husband Tom Jewell took over the funeral home.
Bertha would pass away in
1963. Since this was before the internet
it will come as no surprise that she had been active in a number of organizations
in Delmar and the local area over the years.
Among them were the Eastern Shore Photo Club, The Business and
professional Woman club, The Delmar Century Club, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary,
The Delmar First Methodist church (St Stephens), and Order of the Eastern Star.
Bertha was born in
Whaleyville in 1882 and was the daughter of John W. Sturgis and Mary Jane
Parker. John W. Sturgis was in the
lumber business the same as his father Joshua Sturgis.
The Sturgis family lived between Millville and Pine Grove (North of Snow Hill) in what most old timers in Worcester County call “The Forest” . As can be seen Joshua Sturgis lived in a somewhat isolated farm between Millville and Pine Grove. Between 1886 to 1888 John W Sturgis and his wife, Mary Jane Parker died. In addition Joshua Sturgis’ wife and daughter also died in this period.
1877 Coulborn District
Worcester County Map by Lake Griffin and Stevenson. Joshua Sturgis about center right of creek
All three at one time or
another would live with their Uncle; William S. Parker (1850-1928) and his wife,
Elizabeth (Hastings) (1852- ) In Delmar.
William was a foreman in a lumber
mill in Delmar. It was during this time
that Bertha would meet William S. Marvel, Jr. and in 1902 married him.
Joshua Sturgis would die in
1905. He left extensive land holdings to
his daughter and granddaughters. Bertha
with her sisters would sell some of the land which would help with the family
Bertha’s sister; Edna L. Sturgis (1884-1911) would also
live in Delmar in 1902 with William S Parker but by 1910, with her sister Ethel,
they would run a dress making business in Snow Hill. In 1911 she became sick with cancer and at
the age of 28 would die at her sister’s Ethel home in Pocomoke. She is buried in the Bates Memorial Cemetery
in Snow Hill.