History of FCA

Funeral Consumer Alliance of  Greater Philadelphia

1906 Rittenhouse Square , Philadelphia, Pa. 19103-5793  

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By Dick Kiefer



When this organization was begun in 1956 as a committee of the First Unitarian Church, the objective was to establish a public, non-denominational agency similar to those in Princeton and Cleveland, which called themselves Princeton Memorial Society and Cleveland Memorial Society. Indeed, we even based our original literature on that being used by these two going organizations. It was natural for us to take the same form of name, and we began as the Philadelphia Memorial Society in 1960. The memorial society movement had begun many years before with the principal objective to present, at least for consideration, the revolutionary idea that the commemoration of a death in the family could be treated respectfully without the physical, emotional and financial burden that had evolved up to that time. A funeral was associated with the embalming, cosmetically painting, and public viewing of a corpse that was made to appear still alive, all amidst a plethora of fresh flowers. For many families all of this was to aid in the denial of the finality of death. And for many families all of it added up to a severe drain on family emotions and family finances. There had to be a better way to say good-bye and to say it with dignity.


When the Society was in the process of being transformed into a non-profit corporation in 1964, an objection was lodged against the name. It was alleged that Philadelphia Memorial would be confused with that of a cemetery company with a similar name. The name was promptly changed to the Memorial Society of Greater Philadelphia. This brought two unexpected benefits. By placing Memorial Society first, it took the name in the telephone directory out from a mix of dozens of names all beginning with Philadelphia and gave the opportunity to expand our service area to Greater Philadelphia. Later, when we were able to help a group get started in Harrisburg, we planted the same concept there and they placed Memorial Society first in their name.


The concept of a memorial service, with or without the presence of a deceased person in a closed or pall-covered casket, evolved to commemorate a life that was lived and was being remembered by those friends and relatives present. A Memorial Service after immediate cremation or ground burial could be held at any convenient time at any site that had meaning to the deceased or for the convenience of the family. It did not have to be in a funeral home or parlor where the deceased had never been during the life being remembered. There was no need for embalming.The flowers present represented the particular feelings of the family that put them in place and were entirely removed from the competition to see who thought most about the deceased by buying the largest and most expensive floral piece for public display. But the name memorial society never really caught on with the public. Other societies that formed after ours chose names such as Funeral and Memorial Society of (a place.) Two other factors affect the picture. It became a fact that memorial societies were consumers organizations. And the respected word Society became corrupted when for-profit organizations began to use the term, particularly when used by profit-making corporations within the funeral industry.


Later it was realized that if we were to truly fulfill the needs of more families, it would be necessary to offer the consideration of a third choice in addition to immediate cremation and ground burial.Thus there was the departure in this one respect from the original concept by introducing an option for the Preplanned Full-Service Funeral. And we had actually become a funeral consumers organization, if we were not so before!


At the Annual Meeting in 1998, it was voted to eliminate all fees required for membership, making membership available to anyone in agreement with our objectives without any charges whatsoever! We now depend on free-will contributions from our members to meet our expenses.


The Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, the coordinating association of memorial associations in the U.S., recently adopted the name Funeral Consumers Alliance of America, Inc. for its new tax-exempt organization because it was more descriptive of its services. For all of the reasons cited above, the members of the Memorial Society, at the Annual Meeting in 2000, approved the adoption of a new name: FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE OF GREATER PHILADELPHIA, INC. It is still the same organization it has always been, a group of volunteers struggling along trying to make a difference in a very complex part of human existence, the respectful departure from life.