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NCBFS History

An Historical Overview: The NC Board of Funeral Service


The North Carolina General Assembly established the State Board of Embalming of North Carolina in 1901 to have authority over licensing and registering embalmers in North Carolina. The five-member Board was appointed by the NC State Board of Health and consisted of three [3] members from the State Board of Health and two experienced embalmers. Members served five-year terms and were eligible for reappointment. The Board’s inaugural meeting was held at the Atlantic Hotel in Morehead City, NC, on July 6, 1901, when the first officers were elected. As the minutes from that first organizational meeting are recorded, the following individuals accepted nomination and election as the Board’s first officers:

President: J. M. HarryCharlotte, NC
Secretary-Treasurer:      H. W. Simpson     New Bern, NC

The First Meeting of the Board, July 6, 1901

The first items of business by the new Board included a Committee with the “power to act, to purchase printed forms of License and Certificates.” Mr. Harry and Mr. Simpson further acted to create a committee “to draught By-laws, rules and regulations.”

Other members of the newly created State Board of Embalming and their terms of office are depicted in the reproduction of those first minutes from the 1901 meeting as shown to the right. In addition to Mr. Harry and Mr. Simpson, Board members included the following:

Dr. S. Westry Battle    Asheville, NC
Dr. Frances Duffy  New Bern, NC
Dr. R. H. Lewis Raleigh, NC


Prior to adjournment of that first meeting, the Board approved two motions which have been duplicated as written from the minutes book:

On motion it was ordered that the usual expense [of] $4.00 per diem of State Boards, traveling and hotel expenses be adopted for the Board of Embalming.

On motion the President and Secretary were empowered to purchase Seal and Select design.

Legislation provided that persons desiring to engage in the profession should apply to the Board and remit a five [5] dollar license fee. After passing an examination to determine if the candidate was of good moral character and possessed the necessary skills and knowledge, the Board could register the applicant as a licensed embalmer. Registration was renewable annually for a small fee. After January 1, 1902, any person practicing embalming who failed to comply with these conditions was liable to be fined between fifty [50] and one-hundred [100] dollars.

1900’s

The second meeting of the State Board of Embalming was held in Raleigh, North Carolina, on September 23, 1901, at 2:00 pm. The Board ordered that examinations for licensure be conducted orally. Thirty-one [31] individuals applied to the Board for examination by paying the $5.00 fee. They were then “examined as to their ability.” The Board approved thirty [30] applicants who “passed and were granted license to practice the art of embalming in the State of North Carolina.” The minutes record that five [5] applicants did not pass the oral examination, but there is no explanation for the discrepancy in the numbers of applicants passing and failing compared to the total number applying. Subsequent meetings of the Board in those early years focused on licensure and recording journal entries for receipts and expenditures.

On October 22, 1903, the Board convened a special meeting in “the parlors of J. W. Brown’s Emporium” to administer a licensure examination to Mr. J. W. Earp of Mt. Airy, NC. The minutes indicated that the Board assessed a fee of $25.00 to Mr. Earp to reimburse Board members for their travel to Raleigh “as it was called for his benefit.

The Board minutes for the June 8, 1904, meeting in Wrightsville, NC, show that sixty-seven [67] individuals were licensed as embalmers in 1904 and that eight [8] licensees from 1903 failed to renew their license for 1904. On June 5, 1907, the State Board of Embalming met in Raleigh, NC “at the undertaking establishment of the H. J. Brown Coffin Company” and heard from Mr. H. W. Simpson, Secretary, that ten [10] individuals were licensed since the last report including 4 who received a temporary license pending the Board meeting. Mr. Simpson further reported that two [2] licensees had died; one [1] had moved out of state; one [1] retired from the profession; and three [3] failed to renew from 1906.

When the Board met at the John H. Brown undertaking establishment in Raleigh, NC, on January 28, 1909, it passed the following resolution:

Whereas, it is the opinion of the State Board of Embalming of North Carolina, that it would be wise to employ some person, of known experience and ability to deliver lectures on Sanitation and give demonstrations in the art of embalming at the annual meetings of said Board.

Therefore, be it resolved by the said Board in regular meeting assembled that the President and Secty be and are hereby authorized and empowered to enter into negotiations and to employ some person of experience and ability to deliver lectures and to make practical demonstrations of the art of embalming at the regular meeting of this Board, and the Treasurer is hereby authorized to pay out of any money in his hands not otherwise appropriated, and proper drafts drawn upon him and signed by the President., and Recording Secty, in payment for such services.

In 1917, the General Assembly required newly licensed embalmers to have either a one-year special course in embalming at an approved school or two years of practical experience with a licensed embalmer. In 1919, the one-year requirement was deleted from the law.

1920’s

At its May 9, 1921, meeting in Salisbury, NC, the Board adopted the following resolution:

Resolved that all applicants for license to practice embalming shall have had a least one year of practical experience under some licensed embalmer in the state or some other state.

The following year, the Board adopted a suggestion from the National Selected Morticians that visitors would be excluded from the embalming room during the process of embalming. By 1929, the Board required that “an applicant must have as much as eighteen months practical experience under a licensed embalmer and six months course in a grade A School of Embalming. Applicant must also be a high school graduate or educational qualifications equivalent to same.”

Between the years 1925 and 1926, the Board’s minutes indicated a change in the name of the organization from the State Board of Embalming of North Carolina to the NC State Board of Embalmers though the minutes do not record any legislative or other official action authorizing the change in name. The minutes refer again to the State Board of Embalming in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

1930’s

By 1931, the General Assembly altered the membership of the Board and required all members to be licensed and engaged in the practice of embalming. That same year, the Board authorized payment of $1250 to the NC Funeral Directors Association to reimburse expenses incurred by their Legislative Committee. This payment represented “practically one-half of the expenses incurred in order to have laws enacted by the General Assembly of 1931.”

The Board also approved its first rule regarding reciprocity. On June 5, 1931, the Board passed a motion “that North Carolina reciprocate with states only that have equal requirements to North Carolina and that will reciprocate with us,” and “that no reciprocal license be granted unless applicant has been a resident of the state from which application is made for a term of three years or more.

The period 1931 to 1936 was an active time for the Board as it began adopting more stringent standards for apprenticeships and also began imposing sanctions against licensees who practice embalming without first completing the prescribed period of apprenticeship. In May 1936, the Board ruled that “unless all schools affiliate themselves with the Conference, the N.C. State Board of Embalmers will not accept any students graduating from those schools.” Again in 1936, the Board proposed late fees for those licensees who failed to pay what appears to be a renewal fee on time.

1940’s

When the Board met on May 13, 1940, members offered and approved a number of motions all pertaining to the licensure of individuals upon completion of an apprenticeship and examinations. The Board enacted the following rule:

Applicant must be 21 years of age, of good moral character and have attained a high school education. Applicant must have 18 months apprenticeship served under a licensed embalmer (this meaning he or she must be employed in an establishment where a licensed embalmer is employed full time, on salary, and work continuously under such licensed embalmer for the required 18 months). Applicant must register with the office of the Secretary and Treasurer of the Board when he or she starts serving said apprenticeship and notify said office when his or her apprenticeship has been completed. Applicant must be a graduate of a college of embalming, receiving no less than a nine months course, said college to be approved by the N.C. State Board of Embalming.

On May 4, 1942, the Board’s minutes record a number of motions regarding licensure and apprenticeships primarily granting additional time for completion due to the onset of World War II. The Board also authorized the Treasurer to purchase one [1] $500 defense bond each month for the next three [3] months.

In 1945, the Board was placed under the authority of the North Carolina Funeral Directors and Burial Association which assumed the right to elect members and to remove any member deemed unfit to serve on the Board.

In 1949, the General Assembly required that funeral directors should be regulated as well as embalmers. In response, the legislature created a seven-member State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors consisting of five [5] members which had to be licensed and practicing embalmers. The NC Funeral Directors and Burial Association selected all seven [7] members.

In May 1949, the NC Funeral Directors and Burial Association proposed that the Board appoint a 3-member Committee to join a similar Association Committee to study the feasibility of appointing an Executive Secretary and staff to set up and operate an Executive Office in Raleigh. Board minutes from that meeting also record a request from two individuals representing the forerunner of the Funeral Directors and Morticians Association of NC for representation on the Board. The Board moved forward with the establishment of an Executive Office by allotting in July 1949 the sum of $2385.59 for the new office but declined to extend membership to the organization that would become the FDMANC.

1950’s

In January 1950, the Board approved a clinic for all licensed embalmers in NC which would be conducted one day prior to the scheduled NC Funeral Directors and Burial Association Convention. The purpose of the clinic was for professional education. As noted in the minutes from a special meeting on May 1, 1950,

Our first clinic as held in Durham, NC, on May 1st, 1950 and was conducted by professor S. K. Carson of the Eckels College of Mortuary Science. This clinic was well attended by approximately 150 embalmers. It was decided to continue these clinics as long as they were well attended.

On September 25, 1951, the Board approved “regulations promulgated by the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors by virtue of Chapter 338, Public Laws of 1901, as amended by Chapter 174, Public Laws of 1931, and by Chapter 98, Public Laws of 1945, and by Chapter 951, Public Laws of 1949, and lastly, by Chapter 413 of the Session Laws of 1951, as codified in Article 13 of Chapter 90, Sections 90-203 to 90-207 of the General Statutes, and have the force of law.”

These regulations along with subsequent statutes would eventually become known collectively as the North Carolina Funeral Practice Act. These regulations set forth requirements for Board meetings; standards for Board examinations; qualifications for licensure including reciprocal licensure; conditions and requirements for apprenticeships including special provisions for members of the Armed Forces; and imposition of fees.

Beginning in the 1950’s, the Board became increasingly reliant on the imposition of formal disciplinary action compared to earlier years. Discipline included the imposition of probation, revocation of licensure, letters of caution, and punitive fees. The Board also frequently addressed issues from prospective licensees concerning apprenticeships including requests for waivers or extensions of time or permission to amend previously submitted reports documenting the time spent as an apprentice embalmer.

In 1951, the General Assembly imposed an educational requirement on embalmers which meant they had to complete a special course in an approved school and to acquire two [2] years of practical experience as a licensed embalmer.

In 1957, the legislature amended the laws governing the practice of embalming and funeral directing in North Carolina, and the President of the NC State Board of Health was recognized as an ex officio member of the Board. Applicants for licensure were required to be a North Carolina resident, at least twenty-one [21] years old, and a United States citizen. They must also have been at least a high school graduate. The amended law required apprentices to register with the Board and to pay an application fee, and it also imposed the same requirements and fees for funeral directors as for embalmers with one exception. Funeral directors were not required to have graduated from a school of mortuary science although they did have to pass a written examination.

1960’s

In 1965, the Board — now composed of five [5] licensed embalmers, two [2] licensed embalmers as prescribed by the 1949 legislation and the President of the NC State Board of Health resulting from the legislation in 1957 — were required to conduct annual elections to fill Board vacancies. Staggered terms for members were also set at five [5] years for embalmers and two [2] years for funeral directors.

1970’s

In 1975, the General Assembly authorized legislation changing the name of the Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to the North Carolina Board of Mortuary Science. Board membership remained as it was configured from the 1949-57 legislation described above, but the legislature approved an additional public member that the Governor would appoint. The President of the NC State Board of Health remained on the Board in an ex officio capacity but the position’s title changed to Chairman of the Health Services Commission. The legislation for the first time recognized a new category of licensed professional known as a “funeral service” licensee, and the Board dropped the title “embalmer” from its member composition. The Board was also granted the power to appoint funeral establishment inspectors and to issue subpoenas in consideration and pursuit of disciplinary action that it might impose.

Also in 1975, the Board set requirements for the two categories of licensees: funeral service and funeral director. Funeral service licensees were required to be at least eighteen [18] years old, a graduate of an approved College of Mortuary Science, and must have completed a twelve-month apprenticeship. Funeral directors were expected to satisfy the same requirements, but the Board required imposed a requirement for completion of at least thirty-two [32] semester hours in an accredited college or to have graduated from an approved College of Mortuary Science. Prospective licensees in either funeral service or funeral directing were required to pass a written examination prior to licensure.

In 1979, the General Assembly established a schedule of fees for licensees in funeral service or as funeral directors as well as trainees for application fees to begin their apprenticeships.

1980’s

In 1983, the General Assembly enacted legislation which changed the Board’s membership. The Board continued a seven-member composition, but four [4] members had to hold a funeral service license or licenses as both an embalmer and a funeral director. In addition, two [2] members were required to be licensed as either a funeral director or in funeral service. One [1] member would be considered a “public member” and would be appointed by the Governor. Board members were limited to three-year terms and could not serve more than two [2] consecutive terms.

1990’s – Present

In 1992, the legislature enacted legislation which resulted in the Board’s membership increasing from seven [7] members to nine [9] members. The two [2] additional members would be considered “public members” appointed by the Governor. That legislation outlined the Board’s primary duties:

  • License, regulate and inspect funeral homes;
  • Establish, regulate and control programs for resident trainees;
  • Approve schools of mortuary science for applicants pursuing licensure;
  • Grant licenses to individuals certified in other states; and,
  • Revoke licenses of individuals who fail to comply with NC laws or rules.

The General Assembly in 1992 also shifted the responsibility for prearranged funeral insurance funds, known as the Preneed Program, from the NC Banking Commission to the NC Board of Mortuary Science. This new responsibility required that the Board regulate and license individuals and establishments engaged in the sale of preneed contracts funded either by trust-funded accounts or by insurance policies. The new program also meant that the Board would have the authority to disburse funds from a Preneed Trust Fund for the recovery of monies lost by consumers as a result of fraud or malfeasance. Consumers alleging that unscrupulous preneed licensees resulted in lost funds could file a claim with the Board to recover any misappropriated funds.

The State Board of Mortuary Science was renamed the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service in 2003. Shortly afterward, the Board acquired property at 1033 Wade Avenue to house the executive office and board staff other than the five [5] field inspectors responsible for conducting on-site examinations of funeral establishments, crematories and chapels in an assigned region of the state.

The NC Board of Funeral Service has experienced impressive and significant growth and change since it’s first meeting on July 6, 1901, in Morehead City, NC. Board staff include fifteen [15] professionals who oversee and manage preneed programs; individual licensure in funeral service, funeral directing, and embalming; individual permitting for transporters; establishment permitting for funeral homes and crematoria, chapels, and embalming facilities; and oversight of mutual burial associations. The Board also operates a sophisticated licensing management data system which assures timely and reliable reporting and retention of information regarding all aspects of professional funeral service.

The Board currently oversees 758 funeral establishments, 903 funeral directors, 1,819 funeral service licensees, 178 resident trainees, 183,476 preneed contracts, 1,476 preneed licensees, and 136 crematories.

The Board meets monthly, the Agendas and Minutes are available online.