Frazer Blog

The History of the National Funeral Directors Association

by | Nov 13, 2017 | For Families, Funeral Profession

A bunch of old photos laid out on a table

One of the coolest things at this year’s expo was the exhibit dedicated to NFDA itself. We got to learn the history of the organization. We also saw firsthand how NFDA has helped push the funeral profession forward, embrace change, and care for families.

So how did it all start? Let’s hop back to the beginning.

1880-1919: NFDA’s Beginning

It was during this period that the modern funeral traditions we recognize today took form. Alan Durfee, a funeral director from Michigan, helped form the NFDA.

In 1879, he suggested that funeral directors across Michigan hold a state convention. And by 1880, the first state convention took place. Afterward, there was a growing movement for a national convention.

Funeral directors from across the country came together to host the first convention in Rochester, New York in 1882. During the convention, the National Funeral Directors’ Association formed.

Alan Durfee, who served as a member of the executive committee for the first convention said, “The desire for a more rapid education improvement led me to believe that through meetings and associations much good might be accomplished…And so today, we have met in the beautiful city of Rochester, representatives [from] all part of our country, and we are to form a National Funeral Directors’ Association.”

The NFDA constitution also was drafted in 1882.

1920-1949: The Golden Jubilee and the War Years

This era saw the development of several NFDA projects. In 1924, the first issue of The Bulletin was published. It was a weekly newsletter, and its goal was to keep funeral directors up to date with the latest news.

This era also saw the creation of The Director magazine. The first issue came out in 1932. Its purpose was to inform and educate funeral professionals around the country. The magazine discussed trends, technologies, and the latest business happenings.

In addition to the above, other highlights of this time included:

  • Resources and publications for women entering the funeral profession. Many women started careers at funeral homes in response to WWII.
  • Another important development was the founding of the National Foundation of Funeral Service in 1945. The goal of the foundation was to “provide a forthright program of education for funeral service and the public,” according to founder George W. Olinger.

1950-1979: The Postwar Years

The postwar era saw the continued growth of NFDA. One of the biggest accomplishments during this era was the creation of the School of Management Ladies’ Course by the National Foundation of Funeral Service.

In addition to the above, other highlights included:

  • The establishment of the Beryl L. Boyer Library. It served as the most comprehensive library on funeral service.
  • The National Research and Information Center was established in 1978. The goal was to produce objective research focused on funeral service and families.

1980-1999: We’ve Come a Long Way

By 1982, NFDA celebrated their 100th anniversary. That’s 100 years of progress and education for funeral service. The 100th convention was held in Detroit, Michigan.

2000-Present: New Era of Funeral Service

Today, the funeral profession continues to change. And NFDA helps funeral professionals continue to adapt. Here are some of the organization’s most recent highlights:

  • In 2016, the NFDA and the Funeral and Memorial Information Council launched the national Have the Talk of a Lifetime Campaign. The campaign’s purpose is to inspire families to get more active in the memorialization process.
  • Additionally, in 2016 NFDA launched the It’s a funeral service e-magazine that educates mortuary science students.
  • In 2017, NFDA launched the Work/Life Resource program. It’s a free tool for NFDA members.


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