What used to be known as “memorial societies” came together at a conference in Chicago in 1963 to form a national organization that would speak for local groups on the national stage. The memorial societies—volunteer groups who banded together with the primary purpose of negotiating simple funerals at discount prices with mortuaries who would cooperate with that goal—preceded the national organization. The first, Peoples Memorial Association in Seattle, was formed in 1939 and has over 90,000 members. Our smallest affiliates have fewer than 100 members.
San Francisco labor lawyer Bob Treuhaft and his wife, famed journalist Jessica Mitford (author of The American Way of Death), founded one of our oldest affiliates, the Bay Area Funeral Society. They were also on the founding board that created us in 1963 as the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies (CAFMS). In those days, the Canadian memorial societies were part of our federation.
CAFMS and its affiliates were instrumental in assisting the Federal Trade Commission during the 1970s in researching and pushing for the Funeral Rule, the first national regulations giving consumers the right to:
- buy only what they want from funeral homes, item by item
- truthful information about legal requirements (which often didn’t exist) so they weren’t forced to buy, say, embalming when it wasn’t legally required
- printed, itemized price lists at the beginning of any arrangements discussion
- the right to price quotes by phone
- the right to buy outside merchandise, such as a casket, from vendors other than the funeral home
The Funeral Rule went into effect in 1984. If you are not already familiar with it, please read the Consumers’ Guide to the Funeral Rule on the FTC website.
FCA contributed testimony to the hearings leading up to the 1994 revision to the Funeral Rule, and to the 1999 hearings preceding what would have been another revision (had not political considerations in government quashed it). The organization has been front and center for FTC and Congressional hearings on funeral-related issues since the early 1990s.
When the American and Canadian funeral societies broke apart in the late 80s/early 90s (largely because national laws diverged, and the union was too large), CAFMS became the Funeral and Memorial Societies of America (FAMSA). We retained that name until 1999, when the board renamed us Funeral Consumers Alliance. Because the commercial funeral industry had appropriated our terminology—setting up bogus “cremation and burial societies” to take advantage of our reputation as nonprofit do-gooders—the organization needed to more clearly identify what it did and whom it served.