Women’s History Month, Part 7: Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937)

This week’s Women’s History Month profile is on Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer. Born in Pennsylvania in 1849, she grew up in Buffalo. Her family moved to Philadelphia around 1870, where she met and married her husband, William Albert Rorer. In 1882, she began taking cooking classes at the New Century Club. Within two years, she launched the Philadelphia Cooking School, to educate other women in the art of cooking, dietetics and nutrition, and healthy eating. Over the course of her professional career, she was an educator, author, editor (Ladies Home Journal), columnist, radio show host, dietitian, and lecturer. Her desire to emphasize healthy cooking led her to develop “Philadelphia ice cream,” the recipe for which appears in the works of many later cookbook authors. Her style of ice cream omitted thickening agents (even eggs) and relied instead on fresh ingredients. Her work in dietetics was a significant factor in the creation of the field of hospital dietetics and the feeding of the sick. Some of her later life was spent in state and local politics in Pennsylvania. Rorer died in 1937.

Here in Special Collections, we have 8 of Rorer’s many titles, including two available online:

  • Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Ecomonics, 1886 edition, 1914 edition (available online: http://hdl.handle.net/10919/10354)
  • Hot Weather Dishes, 1888
  • Home Candy Making, 1889
  • Dainty Dishes for All the Year Round, 1890
  • Good Cooking, c.1898
  • Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book: A Manual of Housekeeping, 1902
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes: Vegetables with Meat Value, Vegetables to Take the Place of Meat, How to Cook Three Meals a Day without Meat, the Best Ways of Blending Eggs, Milk, and Vegetables, 1909
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick: Dietetic Treating of Diseases of the Body, What to Eat and What to Avoid in Each Case, Menus and the Proper Selection and Preparation of Recipes, Together with a Physicians’ Ready Reference, 1914 (available online: http://hdl.handle.net/10919/10355)

One of the striking things you might notice, even from this short list of her works, is the trend in titles. Sarah Rorer was a household name and her book titles seem to build on her brand and identity. If you were to look at some of her other titles (check out a previous Culinary Thymes article from the Peacock-Harper Culinary Friends and a wonderful biography from the Pennsylvania Center for the Book), you’ll notice the trend continues. A good percentage of her works begin with “Mrs. Rorer’s.”

Sarah Rorer’s more than 50 year career focused on healthy eating and good nutrition. She continued to influence generations of cookbook authors and educators, as well as the everyday cooks she reached through her columns, lectures, and radio programs. She’s no longer a household name (unless, perhaps, you are a culinary historian), but modern dietetics owes her and her work no small debt.

Sarah Tyson Rorer bridged the 19th and 20th centuries when it came to cooking. Next week, we’ll have our last Women’s History Month profile of 2014,where we’ll go back in time a little further. Without our 18th century author (or maybe authors!) for next week, American cooking may not have developed as it did!

Ann Hertzler’s Work: A Slide Show

Over the course of the last 14 years, Ann Hertzler made many contributions to Special Collections, including books for her endowed collection of children’s cookbook and nutrition literature publications, her professional papers from her tenure at Virginia Tech and the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a variety of other cookbooks. Continuing on last week’s post, I thought I would put together a slide show of materials donated or created by Ann (and, in some cases, both).

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A Diet and a Patent Medicine, All in One?

Welcome to 2014! A new year means a new start and that means resolutions. (Whether we follow up on them or not, we’re always optimistic in January, at least!) I started thinking how many people’s resolutions including losing weight, and I wondered what sort of historical treasures we might have on that topic. So this week, we’re featuring one of the earliest “diet books” in our collection: How Phyllis Grew Thin. I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I opened this 32 page pamphlet, but this wasn’t it…

The pamphlet is full of practical and not-so-practical tidbits, but my favorite has to be from the letter of introduction at the beginning: “It is not necessary for you to know just what a calorie is so long as you remember not to eat foods containing too many of them.” It sums up all the diet advice and meal planning that follows.

Although it does contain a fair bit of advice about dieting and a significant amount of advice on meal planning, the pamphlet is, at it’s core, an advertisement for a patent medicine for women (actually, more than one). It is chock full of testimonials and advice for use. Still, Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was a success for many years. There are even companies producing similar herbal remedies today.

Our catalog record dates this items to some time in the 1800s, but the art deco-inspired cover and clothing suggest it more likely comes from the early part of the 20th century. Lydia Pinkham herself died in 1883, but her family continued to run the business into the 1930s. Her patent medicines were advertised in cookbooks, newspapers, ladies journals, and dedicated small pamphlets like the one in our collection. During Prohibition, Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound gained an unexpected corner of the market–the original formula contained no small amount of alcohol and was, as a medicine, available for purchase. Lydia and her remedies even inspired a a folk/drinking song in the early 20th century (“The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham”) and later a modified version in the 1960s (“Lily the Pink”).

Clearly, “Phyllis’s” plan isn’t one for the modern dieter. However, these 32 pages offer some amazing insight into women’s medicine, dieting, and advertising in the early 20th century.

Culinary Cereals…Err, that’s Serials

If you missed the Special Collections Open House on September 3rd, don’t worry! You still have three more chances to visit us, see a selection of materials, talk with our staff, and even take a tour behind the scenes! Our next evening is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 1st, from 5-7pm. Come on by!


Last week’s almanac post got me thinking about serial culinary publications (aka food magazines). These days, they come in a variety of formats and with a wide range of emphases. Looking back at previous generations, you’ll see the same kind of variety, even in the same publication. While we don’t focus on collecting culinary magazines, per se, we do have some neat items on our shelves–i.e. What To EatWhat to Eat was Minneapolis based magazine from 1896-1908. (It later changed names and ran for a while as National Food Magazine). Sadly, we don’t have a complete run, but we have the issues from 1897.

January issue, front cover
January issue, front cover
April issue, front cover
April issue, front cover
May issue, front cover
May issue, front cover
Sample table of contents, February issue
Sample table of contents, February issue. This issue features an essay on hosting a Japanese-themed dinner. The cover and the table of contents are decorated with Japanese-style imagery.

The front covers all feature large color illustrations. Some relate to the time of year; others related to a particular item of interest within the issue. And they certainly are eye-catching. Even the table of contents for each issue features themed illustrations. Many other culinary publications at the time didn’t contain much color and those that did were often advertisements. Speakings of which…

Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).
Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).
More sample advertisements.
More sample advertisements.

Not only to the same ads appear again and again in each issue, but they address a VERY clear audience: middle-and upper-class ladies who can afford travel (EVERY issue includes train travel ads), servants, and a variety of food goods, and, in most cases, are also caring for a family in some way. But the meat (pun intended) of these publications is what’s between the advertisements: essays, poems, stories, nutrition advice, testimonials, letters to the editor and more!


Quite cleverly, What to Eat has a little something for everyone to read, enjoy, and entertain (including one certain archivist 116 years later!). Although we only have one year’s worth of issues in our holdings, it can offer some great insight in the American woman of 1897 and how she was targeted by publishers and advertisers. What to Eat doesn’t appear to have been scanned by anyone yet, so thinking about stopping by. And you never know, we might even have a volume out at our next Open House. 🙂

Wondering What to Eat? There’s a Book for That!

Actually, there’s more than one book telling you what to eat. If there weren’t, our collection would be pretty small. Instead, we have more than 4,000 volumes with a LOT of advice, including this week’s feature: What Shall I Eat? Written by Edith Barber and published in 1933, this book contains information for  housewives and mothers, dieters, and even businessmen dining on the go.

What Shall I Eat?  was not Edith Barber’s first book and it certainly wasn’t her last. Into the 1950s, she authored cookbooks, nutrition guides, meal planning/budgeting books, and volumes on etiquette and training servants. This is one of 6 books by Barber at Newman Library. Special Collections also includes editions of Nutrition and Health in Disease for Nurses from 1928, 1935, and 1947. The library at large is home to two other editions of that title from 1933 and 1943.

This book also features illustrations by Helen E. Hokinson (1893-1949). Hokinson was a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Ladies Home Journal, an illustrator for a variety of books, and illustrator of 6 books of her cartoons (three published posthumously). She was well known for her buxom, high-heeled ladies in The New Yorker.

Dietary Computing in 1902

This week’s feature is about computing nutrition and dietary information by hand. And if you’re like me with math, thankfully, the calculating is already done for you!

The full title of this work, in typical lengthy style, is: The Dietary Computer. Explanatory Pamphlet; the Pamphlet Containing Tables of Food Composition, Lists of Prices, Weights, and Measures, Selected Recipes for the Slips, Directions for Using the Same. We are particularly pleased to have a first edition of this set. Although we often talk about our Rare Book Collection, it’s fair to say that not every publication in Special Collections is one of only 1,000.  Published in 1902, the authors describe it in a number of ways:

The aim of this little pamphlet is to familiarize settlement workers and progressive housewives with a few fundamental principles used in making out bills of fare according to food values…[a] concentrated essence of something more delicate, to be used with judgment and discretion as a wire fence to guide the learner to better sources…[t]his is no new cookbook, it is only a bald statement of a few facts to help those who really wish to learn…

It isn’t a cookbook per se, but it does have recipes, and a quite a range of them. Everything from soups and vegetables, meat and fish dishes, and savory breads and puddings. However, the focus is on economics–how to get the best nutritional value for your buck, as it were. The book itself contains tables devoted to foods constant in the diet, food values by calorie, cost of 1,000 calories of various recipes, the “cost of 100 grams of nitrogenous substance,” and composition of food materials Table V includes the actual recipes.

A supplement, Methods in Household Economics, consists of price lists and meal planning charts. Although blank price lists are provided, there is also a set of lists for Boston prices (presumably for comparison purposes). So, if you’re wondering about the average cost for moose (35¢/pound) and other meats or fish, as well as  a head of cauliflower in July (40¢) or other vegetables, we can help! Just don’t be disappointed when you realize how much prices have changes…

Be sure to check back with us for some more nutrition-oriented features in the future. And until then, keep on computing!

Presenting the History of Food & Drink at Special Collections

This week, I’m giving our loyal blog readers something a little different. Yours truly, archivist/blogger Kira, was invited to give a presentation on the culinary collection to library staff and faculty as part of an in-house training day. Happy (as always) to share the collection, I spent an hour yesterday sharing images of items, talking about how we’re re-imagining the collection, and poking a little good-natured fun.

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and describing all our collecting areas in terms of formats, but we’re trying to break away from that model. Instead, we’re beginning to talk about collections and collecting areas thematically. Whereas we used to talk about the culinary collection in terms of books and manuscripts, we’re now talking about it in terms of larger themes: receipts and recipes, domestic/social/economic history, the history of cocktails and entertaining, changing food technology and processes–just to give a few examples. The presentation I gave was almost entirely image-based, so I’m including it here. It has a nice cross section of the collection.

(Use the arrow buttons below the slides to click through. Clicking on the button showing four arrows pointing out in different directions will show the slides at full screen size.)