Women’s History Month, Part 22: Betty Crocker (1921-present)

For the start of Women’s History Month (or, as we call it on the Virginia Tech campus, Women’s Month), I thought we would, oddly enough, talk about the woman who didn’t exist: Betty Crocker. The idea of Betty Crocker was (and remains) influential. And yet, she doesn’t (and didn’t) exist as a person–Crocker is an identity and a brand. On the one hand, we could argue that perhaps a fictional identity isn’t the way to sell products or best way to represent women. On the other hand, the fact is, it worked. Really, really well. Which is why it seems fair to take a look at just what this character did for culinary history.

We’ve highlighted a couple of specific publications “by” Crocker in the past: Betty Crocker & Salads  and Betty Crocker & Outdoor Entertaining. This week, we’ll add some more to the mix. Special Collections houses 21 books and publications attributed to Betty Crocker, including my beloved Betty Crocker card libraries. If you add in books housed in the circulating collection, that total doubles. You can view a list of the publications online. And that barely scratches the surface of materials attributed to this identity and image. There are books, card libraries, pamphlets (we have those in some manuscript collections, too), flyers/single-page instruction sheets, individual recipes cards, advertisements, and more.

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So, who was Betty Crocker, then? The idea behind her creation in 1921 was to have a female persona/representation for Washburn Crosby (by the end of the decade, the company would merge with others to form General Mills). The company’s advertising department was all male, but their intended audience was, of course, women. They needed an image to sell that. However, this is not to say that there weren’t women involved in helping to build the persona. When “Betty Crocker” got a radio show in 1924, she was voiced by a home economist on staff, Blanche Ingersoll. The publications that began to flow out to the public written by Betty were really the work of Marjorie Child Husted and a team of home economists who created, tested, and marketed the recipes. Husted worked on getting the persona of Betty Crocker to engage with real people for items like “Let the Stars Show You How to Take a Trick a Day with Bisquick” from 1935. The first portrait of Betty Crocker appeared on materials in 1936, giving further credence to the identity.

During decades of change, Betty Crocker’s work was adapted to meet needs of women around the nation: Publications focused on how to stretch foods during the Great Depression and how to cook under rationing conditions in World War II. While all of these things could have also been provided by a single author, radio host, home economist, etc. (or a series of them over time), as we’ve seen with other companies, we might also consider there is something to be said for the consistent image that we’ve seen now for more than 90 years. The idea of Betty Crocker as a constant companion in the kitchen, one who rises to the challenges of changing times and even reflects back some of what is going on for women during that turmoil. (*see note at the end of the post)

If you’d like to know more about the history and evolution of Betty Crocker, there are some resources at your fingertips (and beyond). I discovered the MNopedia article on Crocker, which helped me write this post. There’s a chapter in The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has a brief article that contains images of Crocker of time. And Laura Shapiro’s book, Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America, includes at least part of a chapter on Betty Crocker.


*On a side note, I didn’t know much about Marjorie Child Husted before I started this post, though I had seen the name. It was interesting to learn that in addition to her work with this persona, “during the war, Husted worried that women were not being honored for their work in the home. She developed the Betty Crocker American Home Legion in 1944 to recognize women for their contributions. Husted championed the rights of women in the workplace, criticizing General Mills and other companies for discriminating against their female employees.” (http://www.mnopedia.org/person/betty-crocker) It seems that much of what she did was tied to Betty Crocker, which gives us another perspective on both Husted and what she intended Crocker to be.

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New Pamphlet Round Up #7!

It’s about that time we look at some new pamphlets! As usual, they’ve been making their way into my office and piling up for addition to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002). This batch haven’t made their way into the finding aid just yet, but I hope to get these, and some others, added next week. I picked out six, including three that fit in with materials we already have from the parent companies, and three that represent companies for which we don’t already have items.

First up, our existing companies:

The collection already includes La Rosa & Sons, Inc.’s 1949 pamphlet, “101 Ways to Prepare Macaroni.” This pamphlet focuses entirely on tiny pastina shapes (though there’s an ad in the center for some of other shapes the company made). About half the recipes are labeled as “recipes for children.” While one might expect a lot of soup recipes, one 1/3 are for soups. Another 1/3 are for entrees or “pastina as a vegetable.” The last 1/3 are all–you guessed it–desserts. Apparently, you can fill your puddings, custards, and even cake with tiny pasta!
“Good Things to Eat from Out of the Air” comes from Proctor & Gamble. So far, most of our pamphlets from this company are related to Crisco and some other baking staples. Rather than a single product, this pamphlet, published in 1932, includes a wide range of recipes from radio cooking shows. Essentially, these would be the precursor to modern food-based TV networks, and such programs were quite popular in the 1930s.
The Worcester Salt Company is what we now know of as the Morton Salt Company. To date, we have a handful of pamphlets from the company that, of course, talk about cooking with salt, but also it’s history. “The Worcester Cook Book” was written by Janet McKenzie Hill (a name common on our blog!). It contains recipes, information on the new “free-running salt” that didn’t clump, and the interestingly title section, “The Romance of Salt.” This latter turns out to be a combination of facts about salt, as well as lore and legend surrounding it. For example: “Love-sick maidens at one time, depended on salt to restore to them their straying lovers.” Romantic, huh?

In addition, some of the items waiting to be added to the collection represent new companies!

“Coldspot: Modern Menu Magic Recipes” comes from Sears, Roebuck and Company. About 1/3 of it is about how to use and care for your “coldspot” refrigerator and the other 2/3 is recipes, mostly of things you would store or make using your refrigerator, of course.
This 1975 Tupperware catalog features some of the new products that year, how to use it (yes, there are directions for proper opening and closing of items), and a list of products and potential uses around the home. This catalog may be over 40 years old, but the company is still around. You might recognize some of the pieces, old or new, in your kitchen today!
Premier-Pabst Corporation from Milwaukee might sound familiar. What are advertising here, though, isn’t beer. It’s cheese! (The spreadable, pasteurized kind–sort of like a spreadable velveeta?) This little booklet uses the cheese baked on fish, in a frozen salad with prunes, and perhaps slightly more traditionally, in a sauce for rarebit.

Women’s History Month, Part 21: Mrs. D. A. Lincoln (1884-1921)

Earlier this month, I had one book from our profiled woman this week on display. It was part of Women’s History Month exhibit and was placed, strategically, with the works of three other women: Fannie Merritt Farmer, Maria Parloa, and Janet McKenzie Hill. Like those three, Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln (aka Mrs. D. A. Lincoln) was connected to the Boston Cooking School, which is where we’ll start this week.

Founded by the Women’s Education Association of Boston in 1879, the Boston Cooking School (which I will happily abbreviate as BCS to save my fingers a bit of typing) was developed to “offer instruction in cooking to those who wished to earn their livelihood as cooks, or who would make practical use of such information in their families.” Inspired by similar schools overseas, in America, the Boston Cooking School, and others like it, signified a shift in domestic culture. Previously, both women cooking for their families and those making a profession from cooking, learned their skills at home and/or from their own community of women. The BCS was among the first formal education options for women of any age to improve their skills. During its tenure, a variety of culinary educators, authors, and lecturers worked there. In 1902, the BCS was incorporated in Boston’s Simmons College.

As to Mary…She was born in Massachusetts in 1844. Shortly after she graduated from the Wheaton Female Seminary, she married David A. Lincoln in 1865. About a decade into their marriage, with David’s health failing, Mary began cooking in the homes of others. In 1879, she was invited to teach at the new BCS, but she declined, as she had no teaching experience. After taking a few courses at the school, however, that soon changed. She started teaching at the BCS in 1879 and was the first principal, a position she held until 1885, during which time she began programs like free courses for immigrant girls in Boston’s North End to special instruction in “sick-room cookery” for nurses from area hospitals. During this time, she wrote the Boston School Kitchen Text-Book: Lessons in Cooking for the Use of Classes in Public and Industrial Schools, which would go through numerous editions. It represents a small portion of Lincoln’s work in establishing a textbook for cooking school education. Over the course of her career, which continued another 36 years after she left the BCS, she would author cookbooks and columns, continue to help establish the field of domestic science, provide endorsements, and teach at public and industrial schools. She died in 1921.

Mrs. Lincoln was, like many of the other women we’ve profiled, a household name. Her recipes were taken from her own sources and incorporated into generations of other published cookbooks, pamphlets, and community cookbooks, and shared among communities of women. By tying her name to products, like Janet McKenzie Hill, Marion Harris Neil, and others, she gained a certain level notoriety and fame in the culinary world. She authored or co-authored more than 30 individual titles, 10 of which we have in Special Collections (plus other editions of three of those). We have included those items in bold, as well as a sampling of some of her other works. On an interesting side note, from her first publication in 1884 until the time of David’s death in 1894, she published as Mrs. D. A. Lincoln. After his death, she published as Mary J. Lincoln.

  • The “Quick Meal” Cook Book, 1892 (Ringen Stove Company)
  • Cornstarch Cookery: A Collection of Recipes for Dainty Dishes in which Kingsford Oswego Corn Starch is a Principal Ingredient, 1893
  • Boston School Kitchen Text-Book: Lessons in Cooking for the Use of Classes in Public and Industrial Schools, c.1887. Also 1909 edition. 1901 edition available online through Special Collections.
  • Twenty Lessons in Cookery: Compiled from the Boston School Kitchen Text-Book, 1888
  • Frosty Fancies, c.1898. Available online through Special Collections.
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking, 1898. Also 1901 edition. 
  • A Cookbook for a Month at a Time, 1899
  • Frozen Dainties: Fifty Choice Receipts for Ice-Creams, Frozen Puddings, Frozen Fruits, Frozen Beverages, Sherbets, and Water Ices, 1899. Available online through Special Collections.
  • Dainty Recipes for the Use of Boston Crystal Gelatine, late 1800s
  • The Peerless Cook-Book: Valuable Receipts for Cooking, Compact and Practical, 1901
  • The Home Science Cook Book, with Anna Barrows, 1902. Available online through Special Collections
  • What to Have for Luncheon, 1904
  • Carving and Serving, 1910
  • Home Helps, a Pure Food Cook Book: A Useful Collection of Up-to-Date, Practical Recipes by Five of the Leading Culinary Experts in the United States: Mrs. Mary J. Lincoln, Lida Ames Willis, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer, Mrs. Helen Armstrong [and] Marion Harland, c.1910
  • Sixteen Dainty Desserts, with Mrs. C. M. Dearborn and Miss Anna Barrows, before 1930?

In addition to our digitized editions of her works, the Internet Archive has a large selection, many in various editions, available online. Mary was an early adopter of standardized measurements, as well as a proponent of teaching food chemistry and domestic science, and one of the first to push for a structure and organizational model for cookbooks that would be easy to use and easy to follow. If you spend a little time with early 20th century culinary history, you’re bound to come across her original works and her influences.

New Pamphlet Round-Up #4

So, earlier this week I finally sat down and updated the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002). Over the last several months, I had been collecting new additions and since the 0.5 cu. ft. box in my office where I store items had reached capacity, it seemed a good time. I added 19 new folders for food or appliance companies and added items to about 30 existing folders–it was quite a haul! Here are a few highlights:

“The Presto Recipe Book for Little Girls and Their Mothers” comes from the Heckler Products Corporation and is dated 1937. It’s primarily baking recipes like the cakes below.
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“Recipes that Pep-Up Meals with Wise Potato Chips” put chips in and on everything. Seriously…everything. Published in 1957, it features chips with dips, in meatloaf, on coffee cake, in candies like fudge, and even under creamed seafood!
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This unique little advertisement from Libby, McNeill, & Libby is actually also a scissor-sharpener! The front side talk about available products and the back has directions for use of the sharpener. Functional advertising is useful–and creative–approach to “getting your product out there!”

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Last up (for now), here are a few pages from a fold out pamphlet by the William G. Bell Company, maker of Bell’s Seasonings. (We’ve talked about Bell’s once before, in a Thanksgiving post during the first year of the blog.) For only 8 small pages (4 shown below), this item is packed full of company history, recipes, and suggestions.

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In addition the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, I also updated the Cocktail Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-027) last week, adding new pamphlets (for wine, spirits AND temperance!), bottle labels, and some neat artifacts. I’ll save that for another post, since we just received three MORE new artifacts I need to add and these items are prime “feature” content. Next up, I hope to add the small folder of ephemera I have waiting to go into the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028), which includes a series of collectible trade cards, among other things.

In other words, there are PLENTY of great new items and publications coming into the collection and you’re always welcome to stop by! The blog barely scratches the surface of our shelves.

New Pamphlet Round-Up #3!

It’s been more than 6 months since I did a pamphlet round-up and, as I once again have about 0.5 cubic feet of pamphlets in my office, it seems like a good time. These haven’t officially made their way into the Culinary Pamphlet Collection just yet (and I have one item below that’s going into the Culinary Ephemera Collection), but they should be soon. On a side note, we’ve also started acquiring some items that will be the start of our new Agricultural Ephemera Collection, but I’ll save that for a future post.

First up, a couple of items to help prepare you for the Thanksgiving holiday, include turkey tips, cranberry sauces uses, and some cottage-cheese based hors d’oeuvres.

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Turkey Techniques from the Reynolds Wrap Kitchens (c.1980s?)
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Pure Cranberry Sauce, page 1
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Pure Cranberry Sauce, page 2
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Serve Cottage Cheese: Selected Recipes from the Sealtest Kitchen

Then, it’s back to basics, with some pamphlets on flavorings for baking, cooking with meat, and all of the things you can do with salt.

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Baker’s Pure Fruit Flavoring Extracts (also the makers of Walter Baker chocolate products!)
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The Homemaker’s Meat Recipe Book, c.1948
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Make It with Salt, n.d.

To wrap up, we’ve got something from Battle Creek Health Foods. It’s full of recipes using a variety of vegetarian-friendly products developed by John Kellogg. And if that doesn’t have you feeling better, how about a tonic? Although it was an advertisement to buy boxes and labels for what we would likely call “patent medicines,” the ad even included recipes for druggists to make their own supplies.

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Modern Menus and Recipes for Your Health, c.1920s?
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Patent Medicine Label Advertisement, J. F. Lawrence Printing Co. page 1
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Patent Medicine Label Advertisement, J. F. Lawrence Printing Co. page 2

Next week, we’ll be back with some tips for the hostess with another sponsored pamphlet. In the meantime, feel free to ponder your cranberry sauce and cottage cheese opportunities!

New Pamphlet Round-Up #2!

The week has gotten away from me and the last month’s posts were a bit on the long side, so I’m going with a round-up this week. I haven’t done one since last summer and I have two boxes of pamphlets in my office waiting to be added to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, the Cocktail Ephemera Collection, and the Culinary Ephemera Collection. The finding aids don’t include these new materials yet (it’s on my to-do list!), but I thought I’d share a preview! You can click on the thumbnails for a larger image and to read the full caption.

This is just a fraction of some of our new pamphlets. If you’re curious to see more, pay us a visit or let us know in the comments section below!

The Kellogg Family “Business,” Part III

By the late 1890s, brothers John Harvey (1852-1943) and Will Keith (1860-1951) Kellogg found one more way to get involved in the food and health world: breakfast cereal. While at work on a granola product, they stumbled instead upon a flaked cereal instead. Their first food company, the Sanitas Food Company, began around 1897/1898. The story goes that Will, concerned with the original nature of their new flaked cereal, wanted to keep it a secret and that John, wanting to share this new food, allowed visitors to see the process. One of the visitors to Battle Creek was C. W. Post, whose Post Foods began to manufacture Post Toasties not long after. Will parted business ways with his brother over this and in 1906, founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (sometimes called the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company). Today’s post features three different pamphlets from the Kellogg Company (the name of the company after 1922). All three are from a folder in the Culinary Pamphlet Collection.

Not surprisingly, most of the recipes rely on Kellogg Company cereals, some more creatively than others. The recipe card set has almost a dozen recipes, sweet and savory, featuring All-Bran. Twenty-five Favorite Kellogg Recipes is a little more on the sweet side, containing a bunch of cookies and cakes. The Summer Camp Manual is a call-back to the books of the last two weeks, where there’s a a focus on nutrition and healthy meal planning for, well, summer camps.

One thing worth noting here is that the company, while still promoting healthy eating and food, has traveled a bit from the roots of its founder. There’s less (or, in some cases, no) focus on vegetarianism (like his brother, Will Kellogg was also a Seventh Day Adventist and a vegetarian). On the other hand, there was suddenly a much broader audience to cater and appeal to, so this shouldn’t really surprise us. And, as the company grew, they developed a far wider range of products.

We’ve just scratched the surface today, when it comes to corn flakes, the Kellogg family, and the company’s history. There are two more detailed histories of the Kellogg Company online, one in text form and one in interactive timeline form, if you’re interested.

This week we’re finishing up with the Kelloggs (at least for now). Feel free to kick back with a bowl of cereal or two, if we’ve inspired you. And we’ll be back next week with something new on the plate.