Friday, October 16, 2020

Bertha Gertrude Sturgis Marvel, The First Delmar Female Mortician

 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. 

above from 1877 Map collection

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

 John Sirman became guardian for Bertha and her two sisters Edna and Ethel.  John Sirman was the husband of Sarah Sturgis who was the daughter of Joshua Sturgis.  The three girls lived with their Grandfather and attend Coulborn School number two which was just south of the map shown above.   They would rotate around with relatives during the summer. 

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 finances.

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.

 Bertha’s youngest sister, Ethel D Sturgis (1885-1982) would marry Luther Glenmore Parsons and live in the Pocomoke area.  The names of her sons and daughters would reflect the names of her sister (Edna) and parents (John and Mary).  In 1900 she was living with the William Washington White Guthrie (1854-1925)  family in Delmar.   Edna and Ethel were also dressmakers as was Bertha.  In 1910 Edna and Ethel lived in Snow Hill and ran a dress shop.  Luther was from Pocomoke but was a friend of J D Dickerson who lived close to the Sturgis family so with frequent visits to his friend he would meet Ethel and in 1911 marry her.  



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