Women’s History Month Profiles, Part 2: Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915)

Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Massachusetts in 1857. After suffering a stroke at the age of 16, she took up cooking during her recovery in her parents’ home. In 1887, she began studying at the Boston Cooking School. She studied there until 1889, then worked as the assistant director and later, the principal after 1891. In 1902, she left the Boston Cooking School and opened her own institution, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. Over the course of her professional career as educator, lecturer, and author, she wrote six books (which appeared in multiple editions) and edited or contributed to many more. Her lectures were published in newspapers around the country and she taught nurses, dietitians, and students at Harvard Medical School. 

The slide show below includes scans and images from copies of Farmer’s publications in Special Collections. These include a modern reprint of her 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (which went through more than 30 editions), Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (first published in 1904 and represented here by a 1911 edition), a first edition of What to Have for Dinner: Containing Menus with Recipes for their Preparation, a meal planning calendar for 1916, a children’s cookbook derived from Farmer’s work, and a product pamphlet she helped create. 

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We have more than 15 of Fannie Farmer’s publications in the Special Collections, many of them editions of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which is still reproduced today. You can see a list here. The University Libraries circulating collection contains another 11 eleven titles, including some electronic editions. A list of those titles is available here.

Next week, we’ll feature a pair of authors (mother and daughter) who wrote recipes, household management guides for housewives, books for servants, cookbooks for a budget, a guide for a “new” kitchen technology, and even a little bit of literature!

Until then, remember two of Miss Farmer’s useful lessons: Keep your measurements level and “Food is cooked to develop new flavors, and make it more palatable and digestible.” Be creative and find some new flavors!


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