More on the Mary Frances Series

Back in 2012, one of my early posts on a children’s cookbook was about the two copies of The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People that we had in our collection. While that post was about the two different covers between editions of the same year, at the time, I didn’t do much research into Mary Frances as a character. A couple of months, completely by chance, I discovered she was the star of not only one book, but seven! Not only that, we had two more on our shelves!

First, there’s The Mary Frances Sewing Book; or, Adventures Among the Thimble People (1913).

Our copy is actually a 1997 reprint, which is why the cover looks newer, but the contents are the same as the 1913. The preface references the previous volume from 1912, and the style is much the same. This book combines stories, fairy tale-esque characters, simple lessons (in this case, patterns and stitches) to teach lessons and sewing and mending. (I love how nicely illustrated these books are!)

The other title, which I happened to spot on the shelf while I was browsing for something completely different, is The Mary Frances Garden Book: or, Adventures Among the Garden People (1916).

Our copy is an original 1916 (as you can see from some of the wear and tear). One additional element of this book is that it includes little garden cut-out pieces and fold out pages in which to place them. Our copy has a number of loose cut-outs tucked in among the pages and even some slits in pages to suggest it saw some use from some little girl or boy.

The whole series (as far as I can tell) consist of seven books, published over 9 years:

  • The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People (1912)
  • The Mary Frances Sewing Book; or, Adventures Among the Thimble People (1913)
  • The Mary Frances Housekeeper, or, Adventures Among the Doll People (1914)
  • The Mary Frances First Aid Book: with Ready Reference List of Ordinary Accidents and Illnesses, and Approved Home Remedies (1916)
  • The Mary Frances Garden Book: or, Adventures Among the Garden People (1916)
  • The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book, or, Adventures Among the Knitting People (1918)
  • The Mary Frances Story Book: or, Adventures Among the Story People (1921)

Given the time period, this series appears to have been a multi-volume tutorial for young girls. It covers skills they would have been expected to have as wives, mothers, leaders of a family, and as educators of future children. Their storybook style and fairy tale themes can make them a little deceptive, but the lessons are clearly there. My lesson from this post? I have some more Mary Frances books to track down so we can complete our set!


Urban Farming for the 1900s Child

In 1902, Mrs. Henry Parsons (or Fannie Grissom Parsons, if you prefer) launched an experiment. Her idea was to find a way to city children to have the rural experience. Basically, she brought the farm to New York City.


Our feature this week is The First Children’s Farm in New York City, from 1904. This publication is the follow-up for three years worth of work on a project. It taught city children the basics of planting, caring for, and harvesting a garden plot by creating opportunities to work in De Witt Clinton Park. The report details how the project started (by inviting children to participate), covers what children learned, and, to some extent, documents the effect it had on participants and the neighborhood.

Based on Mrs. Parsons’ report, we can surmise that she had some success in the endeavor. She was even awarded a medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. In addition to recounting the how of things, her report includes a section titled, “Farm School Work in Aid to Schools, Hospitals and Asylums.” What follows is an account of where such programs are needed, the disconnect between city and rural settings in the start of a new century, and the benefits of teaching children about the environment, essentially. The report also contains a number of photographs (I’m partial to the before and after shots above).

While I don’t know how, more than 100 years, we can necessarily judge the effectiveness of Mrs. Parsons’ program, I think it does convey a message that still has bearing: finding a connection to what we eat. We might argue Mrs. Parsons’ work is a precursor to urban gardening and local food movements today. Our campus was host to a 4-H camp last week, and that has me thinking about what we are still teaching children today, whether in school, camp, or at home. The good news is that we haven’t lost sight of work that began over a century ago.

Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part III

Happy 100th Birthday, Smith-Lever Act!

Continuing the theme of extension and agriculture work, today’s post features USDA publications from the 1930s to the 1980s. As you’ll see, it’s not just about cooking, but farming, gardening, building, organizing, and buying. All the publications below come from the same collection in Special Collections: Ms2011-022, National Agriculture Publications, 1917-1990. You can see the full finding aid, with bibliography, here.

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Continue reading “Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part III”

Seeding Spring: Catalogs Galore

Diggs & Beadles seeds, 1930
Diggs & Beadles seeds, 1930

Spring has (at least for now) arrived in Blacksburg. (Although this week we seem to have crashed headlong into summer…) A new box of materials arrived with some new seed catalogs, which got me thinking about the seed catalogs we already have. That, and the wonderful post on our Special Collection blog by my colleague about the first edition of another seed catalog I didn’t feature here. They represent both the History of Food & Drink Collection and the materials we have relating agricultural history. Whether you’re talking heirloom varieties in the past or common varieties today, seed catalogs can tell us a good deal about what people were growing both commercially and privately in the 19th and 20th century. And, you can still find print seed catalogs today from companies that have been in business for more than 100 years, in some cases! (Burpee, I’m looking at you!) Certainly, there are online ones, too, but the fact that print seed catalogs are still made says something about the link between form and physical design.

Seed catalogs as a items themselves, if we ignore the content for a moment, are fun to consider. They feature brilliantly colored covers that make it hard not to stop and look! (What can I say, I’m fond of cover art, whether it’s seed catalogs, cookbooks, or science fiction!)

Most seed catalogs do contain illustrations inside, too. (It’s important to know what your plants will look like!). However, most are in black and white. The occasional catalog will surprise you, though, as with Vaughan’s Gardening Illustrated from 1927. It features full color flowers (although the vegetable pages are still black and white).

Even catalogs without too color are fun. And you never know what might be inside! The 1870 Vick’s Illustrated Catalogue and Floral Guide features a Victorian-decorated cover and large illustrations. The 1899 J. A. Everitt catalog still includes the original order form and envelope. (The cover almost makes it look like tomatoes grow on trees, as suggestion of the quality of the seeds you can get.)

Of course you can use seed catalogs to see what be being bought and sold, what the prices were, and how companies were marketing their seeds. But today’s post is meant to remind you that we can think about them (and many other items in the History of Food & Drink Collection) as objects (and maybe even objets d’art) and not just as a mechanism to convey information.

We have LOTS more where these came from (not even counting the new ones I mentioned that just arrived this week), so if you like seeds, cover art, or agricultural history, feel free to stop by. We can find something fun for everyone. And happy gardening!

Family, Kitchens, Gardens, and Language

Despite the cold temperatures in Blacksburg (or perhaps to spite the cold), my brain is on warmer seasons. As a result, our feature this week is an 1850 tome by Robert Buist about gardening: The Family Kitchen Gardener; Containing Plain and Accurate Descriptions of All the Different Species and Varieties of Culinary Vegetables with Their Botanical, English, French, and German Names, Alphabetically Arranged, and the Best Mode of Cultivating Them, in the Garden or Under Glass; with a Description of Implements and Medicinal Herbs in General Use. Also, Descriptions and Characters of the Most Select Fruits, Their Management, Propogation, Etc. So, if that’s not a mouthful about fruits and veggies, I don’t know what is!

There are some interesting illustrations of garden tools and of some gardening techniques, and a great deal of information for the gardener starting out. And a surprising amount may be of interest to modern gardeners, too! I like the focus on the practical and the home–the herbs included are “medicinal,” since home remedies would still be very common in 1850. The other element that caught my attention was the “Contents.” With a title that long, I didn’t take everything in before glancing ahead. So the tri-lingual list of veggies, fruits, and herbs intrigued me. You’ll notice all of the plants do have names in all three languages throughout, as well as the Latin.

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If you’d like to read further, but can’t visit us (or can’t wait till Monday), the Making of America project has the full text of the 1861 edition online.

So, remember to eat your veggies this weekend (or at least read about them), and maybe we’ll treat you to dessert next week!

Garden Drama: Veggies for Victory

It’s a busy spring in Special Collections, so many apologies for missing a post last week!  After a surprise snow storm last week, winter seems to have left us, and following a few days of apparent summer temperatures, spring seems to be settling in nicely. If you haven’t started your gardening, it may be time to get planting, whether it’s in a yard or pots on your patio. To help you along, we’re sharing Plans and Suggestions for Your Victory Garden: Presenting a Four-Act Playlet Entitled: “Grow What You Eat.”

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This is one of those great items in the History of Food & Drink Collection that defies a simple categorization. It’s a great representation of the World War II “Victory for the U.S!” style of publications from this period. It addresses everyone in the ideal American family and is designed to create and motivate a family activity. And, in case you missed it, it promotes a company and a product (Planet Jr. Farm and Garden Implements and Tractors). All of these are characteristic of some of the kinds of publications in our collection, though seeing them all together isn’t quite as common. The thing that won us over in particular was the format: a four-act playlet.

With one act for each season, this pamphlet follows a family of four as Bill and Mary convince Mother and a slightly-reluctant Dad to plant a family garden. We follow the family through preparation, planting, harvesting and preserving what they don’t consume in season. The playlet extolls the time- and money-saving aspects of the family’s garden (thanks to some communal garden tools, self-sustenance, and better use of rationed foods). It also features some none-too-subtle advertising for Planet Jr. products throughout.

There are several pages at the end of the play that feature garden plans for different size plots, as well as a detailed timetable for “Growing the 41 Most Important Home Garden Vegetables” and some garden hints. The chart includes information on how much seed to buy for a family of 5, dates to plant, seed depth, space between rows, time to produce, yield per 20 feet of row, notes about each vegetable, and more! The last few pages of the pamphlet contain pictures and descriptions of Planet Jr. garden tools (mostly those mentioned in the text).

Gardens may no longer be of the “victory” kind, but home and community gardens are very popular these days. So, propaganda-esque dialogue and modern families that don’t resemble the 1940s standard aside, “Grow What You Eat” can still speak to us in the 21st century. There is a lot to be gained from a garden, whether you’re fond of veggies, looking for an excuse to work in the yard, or seeking the perfect herb for the cocktail you like to sip when the day is done. So get out there and get planting (with or without your Planet Jr. tools)–the season is just starting!