March, as some of you may know, is Women’s History Month. While a good portion of what we talk about on this blog relates to women’s history, it seems like a good opportunity to explore the contributions of some authors, educators, and cooks (and sometimes, all three at once!). Each week this month, we’ll share a little about an influential lady from late 19th/early 20th century culinary history. They may not be household names these days (or even in their own time), but their works paved the way for modern home economics, cooking, and cookbooks.
On a side note: if you’re in the Blacksburg area, we always invite you visit Special Collections. This month, we have two small exhibits devoted to women’s contributions to science, technology, science fiction, architecture, literature, culinary history, and more! You can also go “hands-on” with examples of items in our collection. We’ll also be profiling manuscripts, publications, and items on the Special Collections blog on Tuesdays during March.
Maria Parloa was born in Massachusetts in 1843. Even before she entered a teacher’s school in Maine in 1871, she had experience cooking in homes and hotels in New England. In 1872, while still in enrolled at the Normal School of the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, she published her first cookbook, The Appledore Cookbook (ours is the later 1878 edition).
(Click on any of the images for a larger view.)
After several years of teaching in Florida, she eventually relocated to Boston, Massachusetts–she had visited several times to lecture and felt there was a gap. By 1877, she opened a cooking school. Two years later, she became one of the first instructors at the famed Boston Cooking School.By 1880, she had authored two more books, First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families, and Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking.
In 1883, she left her cooking school and Boston for new opportunities in New York City, where she opened a new school. She continued to teach for the next four years before eventually taking more time to write and travel. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, she was prolific, publishing later editions of earlier books, as well as three new ones: Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would Be Good Housekeepers in 1887; Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management in 1889 (we have the 1898 edition); and Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three in 1893 (we have the 1895 edition).
Parloa was among the nation’s first home economics instructors and her focus was broad. She was also one of the first to embrace/promote a brand. Last summer, we acquired One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company’s Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives, published in 1897. Parloa also endorsed and created publications for Walter Baker Chocolate in the 1890s.
By 1903, Parloa had mostly retired from writing. She moved to Bethel, Connecticut, where she lived until the time of her death in 1909. Maria Parloa was devoted to an all-around home economics education, as her book titles and the contents suggest. In addition to recipes, she featured directions for maintaining a clean and orderly home, thriftiness, hygiene, and temperance. She worked to provide a wider education in household management, caring for the home and family, and cooking techniques, and she was an important influence in the rise of home economics.
Special Collections’ Rare Book Collection includes 10 of Maria Parloa’s books. You can see a list of our holdings here: http://tinyurl.com/mariaparloa-vtsc. A New York Times description of one of her classes, published in 1882, is available online. A lengthier biography is available on the website of the Bethel Public Library, which began with a donation from Parloa.
Next week, we’ll look at another important figure in the Boston Cooking School, Fannie Farmer. Until then, be sure your pantry is organized and your luncheons are simple!