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Henrietta Smith Bowers Duterte (pronounced Dew-tier) was the first Black and the first female mortician in the United States. Duterte was born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1817. She was one of 13 children born to John Bowers and Henrietta Smith Bowers. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, the family relocated to Philadelphia around 1810.  Duterte’s father worked as the sexton of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

The family lived in Philadephia’s seventh ward, known as an enclave for many influential black families at that time. One of its most famous residents was W.E.B. DuBois. Duterte worked as a seamstress, making cloaks, capes, and coats for the city’s middle and upper classes. She married Francis Duterte in 1852. He was a coffin maker of Haitian descent. The couple had several children, but all died during infancy. 

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