Women’s History Month, Part 15: Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)

In our last episode (aka, Women’s History Month, Part 14), we looked at the Eliza Leslie, cookbook and fiction writer. This week, we’re picking up with that trend. Eliza Leslie was not the only cookbook author who wrote in multiple genres and who started in a different format first. This week, we’re featuring Lydia Maria Francis Child (1802-1880). She started out writing history, moved into household management/cooking, and then expanded even further, producing stories, poetry, novels, abolitionist tracts, and materials for children. Both during her life and after her death, her letters were also published. The volume of writing she produced goes well beyond the bibliography of books available here (see below).

While I won’t make any attempt to reproduce her entire life here (I’ve included links to some biographical resources below), there are some interesting things to point out about Lydia Maria Francis Child, including some interesting ties to food. Her father, David, was a baker. After her mother’s death, she lived with her sister and was educated to be a teacher, a profession she took up by 1821 in Massachusetts (where she met the Transcendentalist movement). Her first novel was published in 1824–she was 22. In 1828, she marred David Lee Child, a lawyer who, among other things, introduced her to issues surrounding Native American rights and abolitionism. Lydia’s writing continued extensively to support the couple, especially when David launched an unsuccessful attempt at sugar beet farming. His motives were true (producing an alternative to slave-produced sugarcane),  but his efforts did not pay off. In the 1840s, Lydia also tried her hand at editing, working for an abolitionist paper for a short time. Although this didn’t last long, it failed to diminish her passion for the issue, which became the focus of her activities and writings during and after the Civil War. She died in 1880, having produced volumes of stories, household advice, reform tracts, poems, and essays.

Bibliography of Lydia Maria Child publications at Virginia Tech University Libraries (items in bold are in Special Collections):

  • Hobomok: a tale of early times. Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, 1824.
  • The rebels, or, Boston before the revolution. Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, 1825.
  • The frugal housewife: dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy. Boston: Carter & Hendee, 1830.
  • The coronal: a collection of miscellaneous pieces, written at various times. Boston: Carter and Hendee, 1832.
  • Philothea: a romance. Boston: Otis, Broaders; New York: George Dearborn, 1836.
  • Anti-slavery catechism. Newburyport: C. Whipple, 1839.
  • Letters from New York. New York: Charles S. Francis ; Boston: James Munroe, 1843. (Also, two editions from 1845.)
  • The American frugal housewife: dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy. New York: S. S. & W. Wood, 1844, c1835.
  • Correspondence between Lydia Maria Child, and Gov. Wise and Mrs. Mason, of Virginia. Boston: The American Anti-slavery Society, 1860. New York: S. S. & W. Wood, 1844.
  • The mother’s book. 6th ed., with corrections and additions by the author. New York, C.S. Francis, Boston, J.H. Francis, 1844. (Also, 1987 reprint of 1831 edition.)
  • Fact and fiction: a collection of stories. New York: C.S. Francis ; Boston: J.H. Francis, 1846.
  • Isaac T. Hopper: a true life. Boston, J.P. Jewett & Co.; Cleveland, O., Jewett, Proctor & Worthington; [etc., etc.] 1853.
  • The duty of disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act: an appeal to the legislators of Massachusetts. Boston: Published by the American Anti-slavery Society, 1860.
  • Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the life of a slave girl. Written by herself … Ed. by L. Maria Child. Boston, Pub. for the Author, 1861. (Also, 1987 reprint.)
  • A romance of the republic. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, [1997], c1867.
  • Looking toward sunset. From sources old and new, original and selected. Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1883.
  • Letters of Lydia Maria Child. New York, Arno Press, 1969.
  • Right way the safe way, proved by emancipation in the British West Indies, and elsewhere. New York, Negro Universities Press [1969]. (Reprint of 1831 edition.)
  • The American frugal housewife. Edited and with an introd. by Alice M. Geffen. New York, Harper & Row [1972]
  • Lydia Maria Child, selected letters, 1817-1880. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982.
  • Hobomok and other writings on Indians. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, c1986.
  • Over the river and through the wood. Boston: Little, Brown, c1989.
  • An appeal in favor of that class of Americans called Africans. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, c1996.
  • The frugal housewife: dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2013.

If you’d like read more about Lydia Maria Child, we referred to the American National Biography Online, but you can also find additional biographies from the National Women’s History Museum, the Poetry Foundation, and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. There’s also a print biography of her, The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child (1994) that is available in Newman Library.

On a food related note, be sure to check out the latest post on our “In Special Collections @Virginia Tech” blog. In honor of March 17th, it’s all about St. Patrick’s Day dining! And come back next week, when we’ll talk about Hannah Glasse.


New Blog Post from NPR

I’m working on a feature post for this week, but in the meantime, The Salt, NPR’s food-related blog, posted a story yesterday that touches on some of the themes I talked about last week: the Civil War, food supplies, and coffee. It also talks about cookbooks published during the Civil War (or lack thereof). You might want to check out “Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal” while you’re waiting on me.

Swapping (on) a Trade Card

This week’s feature is a quirky item. It’s not exactly culinary history related, but it’s not exactly NOT culinary history related, either. In other words, it’s tangential, but fun to talk about. It’s a trade card from a tobacco company (we’ve talked about one we have for a patent medicine before). We were interested in acquiring it for a number of connections: Virginia history, Civil War history, and advertising/culinary history.


The front depicts a Union and a Confederate soldier trading items, probably while on picket duty. While the card was primarily designed to promote Myer Bro’s and Co. tobacco, we culinary fans have a reason to take a closer look: the “caption” on the back.


It wasn’t uncommon for Union and Confederate soldiers to talk and trade across lines while on guard. We have several Civil War-era letters and diaries where soldiers mention sharing news, newspapers, and even food. Of course, they could end up in hot water if caught, but the fact that it happened regardless speaks volumes about the war.

Coffee is one of those ingredients that soldiers talked and wrote about a great deal. They had it (or didn’t, but wanted it), they made it (but with the most questionable of ingredients), or they were creating substitutes for it. At times, Union blockades kept coffee out of Confederate hands (which puts the caption of our trade card in an interesting context). You can find references in plenty of the letters and diaries among our Civil War materials without having to look too far. If soldiers were lucky, they might even have sugar to go with your coffee (or whatever passed for it).

In an 1861 letter to his wife, John Newton Carnahan laments, “we have had sum hard times to put on half rations of Bred no salt for ower Beef no sugar for ower Coffee and musty meal.”  An entry in Merritt Hager Smith’s 1863 diary states, “Got up about daylight. same break–fast as have [?] eat every morning for the last ten days Hard Bread + Coffee and fried Pork.” Throughout the war, even on limited rations or repetitive menus, coffee was still at the core of the soldier’s diet. Well, at least so long as one was free…In early 1864, after months in Confederate prisons and finally being paroled, William Tippett writes to his wife, “as soon as we got on our boat supper was ready, coffee meat and good wheat bread Oh but wasnt it good – we had seen wheat bread since November and no meat since Crismas – and no coffee since we were taken prisoners.”

We have plenty of resources relating to the Civil War and to the History of Food & Drink, as our readers well know. What might surprise you is the overlap. If you’re interested in how these two topics connect, you might think about paying us a visit. If nothing else, you’ll get to look at some amazing and unique items!

William Tippett, Belle Island, and the Foods of War

UPDATE: As of March 2015, this letter, complete with transcripts, is available on our website for digitized collections, Special Collections Online! Check it out here: http://omeka.lib.vt.edu/items/show/2827


In May 2012, we bought a Civil War letter–certainly not the first, nor that last. However, it was one of those rare occasions in which I had to hoard a collection to process, all for myself. You see, Sgt. William S. Tippett had something to say–quite a bit, in fact–on the subject of food. I love Civil War letters and diaries. I also love food history. So, when the two subjects meet, I’m hooked.

Tippett’s letter to his wife Maggie is surprisingly lengthy, at 8 pages. However, Tippett was a Confederate POW for more than 7 months and during that time, his letters home, if he wrote them, would likely have contained limited information. Once in the parole camp, he would have had more freedom in what he could write to her. His letter begins and ends with news: news about her receiving his pay, about the location of people they knew, about his transition to a parole camp, and his current situation. But the middle pages focus on food. Over the course of the months, supplies were fewer and fewer:

 When we first came to this place they were giving six ounces of bread and 1 ½ ounces “meat” – beef in the morning and for supper we got four ounces bread and a pint of bean or rice soup…

We had nothing only what we had on, and at night we would lay down just on the sandy ground about twenty in a tent just like a lot of hogs. – not as good as some hogpens I have seen – in this way we would try and sleep but our sleep would be disturbed by dreams of something to eat and we would dream that we were at home just agoing to eat such a nice meal, when we would waken up and find that we were nearly starved – Some nights just about dark when we laid down I would think of home and just imagine that you were about eating supper and wish I could just drop in and help you…

Well I wish you could see one piece of the Confederate corn bread, issued at Belle Isle.  It aint such bread as you make.  It is made of white corn meal water and a very little salt.  Made in 2lb loaves, and about half baked.  The inside was all raw. – Then meat got scarce and they gave us Raw sweet potatoes and no wood, to make a fire with…

on my birth day (14th November) I shall allways remember it I got nothing to eat.  Christmas we got no diner only a little piece of corn bread in the morning – but I had a friend who was working in the new bakery their building on the Island and he brought me something to eat from the outside…

Since New Years we only got meat three of four times and very little then.  They only allow 10lbs meat and bones to a Hundred men which is a small piece when it is divided…

In February they quit making soup for us and gave us dry beans sometimes and we had to cook them as best we could but they did not give us enough wood to do that – we saved the wood and beans and used to cook them every second day in this way I stood it until the 6th of March…

as soon as we got on our boat [transportation to the parole camp] supper was ready, coffee meat and good wheat bread.         Oh but wasn’t it good – we had seen wheat bread since November and no meat since Crismas – and no coffee since we were taken prisoners. – I thought this the best meal I ever eat in my life.

Tippett’s experiences would not have been unique, as conditions for soldiers, and especially POWs, deteriorated as the war progressed. Other soldiers recount receiving moldy bread or no bread at all. Some lived on only soup and beans for months. Prisoners would share food rations, request money and food from home, and rely on just about any animal they could get their hands on to supplement limited supplies (including rats and, in one case, the pet dog of the officer in charge of the POW camp).

You can see the finding aid for the William S. Tippett Letter online. Now that the letter is scanned in full, I hope to be posting it online soon, and will add links to the images and transcript in the finding aid when that is complete. If you’re interest in Civil War food history, we have a number of resources, aside from Tippett’s letter, in Special Collections, and you’re always welcome to visit.

Thanksgiving and a Civil War Diary

In 1864, a 20 year old man named Daniel Lowber enlist with the 13th Independent Battery of Wisconsin Light Artillery. In March of the same year, he transferred to the 37th Wisconsin Infantry, eventually rising from the rank of private to a captain by September. Lowber was twice wounded at Petersburg (in 1864 and 1865), but he survived the Civil War and lived until 1902. He kept a diary during 1864, and it currently resides among our Civil War collections. 

What is of particular interest this week, even though this isn’t a History of Food and Drink related collection, per se, are two entries made in November 1864.

Entries from Danial Lowber's diary in late November 1864.
Entries from Danial Lowber’s diary in late November 1864.

Friday 25th The weather is fine. Our Thanksgiving Turkeys have not got along yet.

Saturday 26th The Turkeys have arrived. They are very nice. [At least, we think that last word is “nice.”]

Thanksgiving has a long history in the United States and it was a long road to becoming a national holiday, a feat not completed until FDR’s third term in office.  Individual presidents issued proclamations prior to the war, but Lincoln began the tradition of yearly proclamations in 1863 (in large part to the 20+ years of work by Sarah J. Hale). You can see see George Washington’s 1789 and Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, as well as the 1941 the joint resolution by Franklin Roosevelt and the 77th Congress here.

More to the point in this post, Daniel Lowber was a soldier in the Union army during the second Thanksgiving (federally celebrated, at least) of the Civil War. His two entries, short as they are, include some of the few references in our collections to a holiday that might have otherwise escaped notice. The turkeys may have been two days late (Thanksgiving in 1864 was on November 24), but it would likely have offered soldiers a small respite and for those lucky enough to have turkey, a change in the usual fare. The next day, camp life returns to routine and the day after than, Lowber’s regiment was on the move. (You can read more about his diary here.)

Wherever you are this year, we hope your Thanksgiving does include turkey and we hope you enjoy the holiday to its fullest. Happy Thanksgiving!

The J. E. Cooley-est Prices in Town

Manuscript collections here at Virginia Tech Special Collections range in size. We have collections that are more than 250 boxes (currently, our largest culinary related collection tops out around 14 containers and 7.5 cu. ft.) and many that are a single item. However, just about anything can catch your eye, regardless of size, when you work around here. Today’s feature is a Civil War-era, culinary gem we acquired just about a year ago. It’s a flyer for a general merchant in New York City, dated 1863.

J. E. Cooley [Merchant] Price List, 1863
J. E. Cooley [Merchant] Price List, 1863  (Finding aid available online.)
The flyer is a cool item for all kinds of reasons. First, it includes a correction (the location on yellow paper is pasted over the previous address of the business). The first site was No. 293 Washington Street, if you’re curious. And here’s a map of the approximate sites in NYC today for you geography buffs: http://goo.gl/maps/mxg9q.

Second, it’s a price list and those are always fun to show what products were available in a location and where they were coming from at a given time. The business was conveniently located near both the railroad and water, which meant potential access to multiple shipping routes. New Jersey was just over the Hudson, mostly likely accounting for the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio fruits listed.

Third, this has handwritten prices during wartime. The obvious advantage to handwritten prices is that you could have a large number of lists printed and use them indefinitely…or least until a dramatic change in stock. Of course, the price of everything from food goods to medicines to household good fluctuated violently due to availability during the Civil War.  If you take a closer look at the prices, there seem to be a couple of different systems in use here. Some items (butter, cheese, poultry, dried fruits, and some sundries) have a range of prices on a per unit basis, which makes sense if you don’t know how much of something you may be able to acquire and sell. Others, like the apples, grains, potatoes, and seeds, have a set price.

It’s interesting to look at a list like this, then consider the content of letters, diaries, and other accounts from the same period. Some regions of the country had little to spare. Soldiers in the field were living on limited rations, foraged plants/nuts/animals, purchased goods, and the occasional kindness of strangers; soldiers in prisons fared even worse (and both of these will make good subjects for future posts). A list that included a variety of options for apples or butter and extravagances like cheese would have almost seemed foreign.

Inflation aside, we’re used to very different prices these days. A little nostalgia for the prices of a past century isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But on your next trip to the store, remember not to ask for a firkin of butter. 56 lbs requires a great deal of storage space.

A Tale of Two Covers, or, Why I Love My Job

About two weeks ago, I was hunting through the catalog to see if we had a copy of a book up for sale. To my surprise, I turned up not only one copy of The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People from 1912, but two. Even more surprising was the discovery that our two copies, printed the same year and with same text, had completely different covers and only one included a frontis piece!

The first two images above are the different covers, the first done by Jane Allen Boyer and the other by Margaret G. Hays. The third image is frontis piece that only appears in copy 2. Jane Eayre Fryer’s book is a combination cookbook/storybook (more on that later) that tells the tale of Mary Frances learning to cook and bake from a book created for her by her mother, all with a little help from the pots, pans, and tools in the kitchen.

There are lots of great pictures in this book, but the post today will be a little less about the content (I’ll let the images speak for themselves) and more about using publication to show the challenges and surprises of working with diverse food history collection. I guess, in part, I’m taking an opportunity for me, archivist/blogger Kira, to share some of the small reasons I’m passionate about Special Collections and the History of Food & Drink Collection in particular. I hope you’ll forgive my self-indulgence and read on…

“You never know what you’re going to get”

When a new book or collection arrives, despite conversations with donors and booksellers, something it likely going to catch you off guard.  After 3 1/2 years, I’m always making new discoveries–finding two copies of The Mary Frances Cook Book  is a wonderful example. And those discoveries almost always lead to a little research. When I took the two copies from the shelf and noticed the different covers, but the same publication date, I was intrigued. I like a good Scooby-Doo style archives mystery. A little WorldCat searching revealed at least three different cover titles: “Mary Frances’ First Cook Book, Adventures Among the Kitchen People,” “The Mary Frances Cook Book, Adventures Among the Kitchen People,” and “Easy Steps in Cooking for Big and Little Girls, or Adventures among the Kitchen People.” This last apparently has a different title on the title page, too: Easy Steps in Cooking; or, Mary Frances Among the Kitchen People. At this point, I don’t have a solid answer, but I suspect all the variation lies in the fact that the book was privately printed in at least three locations. The involvement of two illustrators, too, could account for different cover art. And since I can’t let a mystery alone, I’ll post an update when I have one!

A wealth of hidden connections

The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People includes contributions from two illustrators. The page decorations and small images were done by Jane Allen Boyer, as was the cover from copy 2 above. The full pages illustrations and the cover image from copy 1 above were completed by Margaret G. Hays. For our long-time followers, this name might sound familiar. Margaret G. Hays was the author of the 1911 Vegetable Verselets, a book featured on the blog last spring that even inspired a musical event here on campus! Vegetable Verselets was illustrated by Grace Wiederseim, Hays’ sister. (Wiederseim’s influence on her sister’s illustrations a year later is easy to see.) Wiederseim, later Grace Drayton, was the creator of the Campbell Kids. Just a little food art trivia that makes the world a little bit smaller!

On the one hand, many of the publications and manuscripts here in Special Collections are related. That’s part of the reason we collect them. Helping a researcher find papers relating to a family member four generations previous or reminding someone of their mother’s kitchen growing up because we have the same cookbook on display seem like little things that happen in the line of duty. On the other hand, I find satisfaction in the resolution of other people’s mysteries, alongside those I come across in my work processing collections.

Crossing formats, genres, and collecting areas

In many ways, this relates to my point above about making connections.  The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People is a cookbook. It’s meant to be a first cookbook for young girls. In addition, it’s a storybook. There is a clear educational narrative connecting the recipes as Mary Frances learns about the kitchen. In addition to both of these things, we might even consider this a household manual. Mary Frances is playing the substitute mother role, at least as it relates to the kitchen. Over the course of her adventures, she learns not only how to cook and bake, but how having that role in the home relates to other (future) domestic roles. This publication doesn’t fit only into the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection. It relates to topics in the larger History of Food & Drink Collection, as well.

Although we are limited in the areas we are actively collecting materials here in Special Collections, the overlapping and interweaving of seemingly disparate fields of knowledge is forever revealing itself. Earlier this year, we acquired the letter of a Civil War soldier, written to his wife from a parole camp. Of the eight pages, most of it is consumed by the soldier’s descriptions of the limited (and sometimes barely edible) food he ate during his time as a POW. If he wrote to his wife at all during his imprisonment, his letters would have been heavily censored. Yet, among his first opportunities to write her unrestricted, his focus is food–perhaps a reminder of just how essential it is in our lives. (And yes, I plan to feature the letter on the blog as soon as I can get it processed.)

Sometimes the connections are obvious–Robert Taylor Preston’s correspondence, while usually considered part of our local history materials, relates also to the Civil War and the founding of Virginia Agricultural & Mechanical College and the university’s history.  At other times, it may not be quite as clear–it isn’t until you look inside the 1960s cooperative extension publication on kitchen cabinetry that you might connect it to the International Archives of Women in Architecture, when you realize it was authored by a woman.

My point to all this is that materials here never fit into a single category or collecting area, which I find to be an amazing observation. It means answering a reference question or putting together a display is never straight-forward. The more we think outside the box, the more creative an answer we can provide or exhibit we can share with all of you.

I’ve created a much larger post than I expected and it in the higgledy-piggledy of last week, it’s been a bit delayed, but I should be back on schedule this week. (“Higgledy-piggledy,” one of my favorite 19th and early 20th century expressions, actually appears in our feature book, by the way!) I hope, once again, you’ll forgive my diversion. More importantly, as the one year anniversary of “What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!” approaches (how time flies), I hope a post like this gives you a little insight into why I’m here, why the blog is here, and just why I love this project and my job.

Thanks for reading.

Dear Nannie: The Civil War letters of Fincastle’s Charles Figgatt and Ann Godwin

Dear Nannie: The Civil War letters of Fincastle’s Charles Figgatt and Ann Godwin

A local news article on research using materials from Special Collections. This particular collection of items also includes two handwritten recipe and home remedy books!

Recipe: Food From North to South

Recipe: Food From North to South

The New York Times includes a short piece on the the tasting of several Civil War-era recipes earlier this week in NYC. The article includes recipes for beef jerky, Confederate biscuits, roasted rabbit, fried catfish, and molasses apple pie. A blog posting about the how and why of the event is also online here.