From the early sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, women examined, counted, and buried the dead in London. Initially, the women served as part of an early warning system to help Tudor monarchs and other elites flee from plague, and later, parish clerks published the numbers in bills of mortality. Despite criticism about lack of medical training, parishes expanded the women’s responsibilities and relied upon these “searchers of the dead” to determine all causes of death. Historians have assumed that Parliament established the General Register Office to supplant women searchers with medical men, acting as registrars. In this presentation, I will give an overview of the women’s work and explain how undertakers, rather than medical men, replaced the women as reporters of cause of death.
Presented by Wanda Henry, Brown/Wheaton Faculty Fellow in History
Thursday, February 18th
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
President’s Dining Room