Archive for May, 2017

Moving the Women into the Light

May 23rd, 2017

On Mother’s Day weekend two decades ago, a group of women dedicated themselves to moving Adelaide Johnson’s Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony out of the U.S. Capitol’s basement, known as the Crypt, to its rightful place in the Capitol Rotunda.

Monument Move 1997 1The statue more commonly known as The Woman Suffrage Statue, memorializes pioneering suffragists, and first arrived at the Capitol on February 10, 1921. On February 15, it was unveiled in a ceremony as a gift from the “women of the Nation…to the People of the United States,” by the National Woman’s Party.[i] The very next day, “the Portrait Monument traveled outdoors, down the Capitol steps, and through the doors into the Crypt[ii]” where it remained for nearly 76 years.

The statue’s original journey to the Capitol was complex and controversial, and its move back to the Rotunda was no less so. The Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign was responsible for moving the statue back to its intended and rightful place in the Capitol Rotunda, and sparked the movement that is the National Women’s History Museum today.

NWHM Board Member Ann E.W. Stone and President and CEO Joan Wages were there, and spoke with us about the challenges and triumphs of moving the statue.

How did the Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign start?

Ann Stone: It was 1995, and the National Women’s History Museum’s eventual founder, Karen Staser happened upon the Portrait Monument by accident during one of her visits to the U.S. Capitol building. There was no signage as to who was in the statue, although she thought she recognized Susan B. Anthony, but she was not sure who the other two were.

Later that day, she visited the Sewell-Belmont House, now the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, and noticed information about activity around the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. On the wall, was a poster with a picture of the very same statue she had just seen in the Capitol Crypt. Karen learned a brief history of the statue and how the National Women’s Party wanted to move it back to the Rotunda. But, they had run into all sorts of roadblocks including new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Monument Move 1997 2Karen’s husband worked for Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska, and she offered to help by setting up a meeting to see if they could enlist his support. The meeting went better than expected. The women who helped raise Senator Stevens were suffragists. He learned the suffrage songs as a child and would sing them at the slightest provocation. He was excited to help.

To shore up support, Senator Stevens enlisted Senator John Warner from Virginia to help, and the legislative movement began. The Senate voted unanimously to approve the move.

The House of Representatives was more difficult. The first vote went down in defeat due to the objections of three women members because it was a time of budget cuts and they could not justify government funds to move the statue. They did not object to the move, just using public money to do so.

As 1995 drew to a close, the 75th Anniversary would soon be over. Karen and Joan Meacham co-chaired a new effort to move the statue and named it the “Woman Suffrage Statue Campaign.” They knew they could count on Senators Stevens and Warner again, so focused their efforts on the House.

How did the legislation finally pass?

Stone: My neighbor worked at the Sewall-Belmont and gave Karen my name as someone who might be able to help with Congress. She came to my office in Alexandria in early 1996. She explained what happened and how they wanted to try again. This would be the fifth attempt since the 1920s to raise the statue since it had been banished to the Capitol’s basement.

Karen said they had been working with Maryland Representative Connie Morella as one of their conduits to the Speaker. I knew Connie well and called her to see what was holding up the move. The Speaker’s office was under the impression that this was a push by liberals for political reasons. I called the Speaker’s office and gave him the history of the statue, pointed out the women in the statue were all Republicans and said, “So, you have locked three Republican women in the basement.”

The message was received and the negotiations began in earnest again. There were a lot of objections to this particular statue from all sides. Some of the women members of Congress hated it, thought it was ugly, and thought male members of Congress would make fun of them by ridiculing the statue. Some thought other figures should have been in it. Still others wanted a whole new statue.

Discussion went round and round, and finally we stated emphatically that this statue was the one the suffragists gave us. This statue is the one through which all women in America were dishonored when it was shoved in the basement. So this statue had to be the one to come back up into the Rotunda to restore their honor—if only for a few years until a new statue could be commissioned to take its place.

We reached a tentative agreement, and legislation was drafted to move the statue after one year. We agreed to raise private money to pay for the move so no government funds would be required.

The House finally joined with the Senate and passed Concurrent Resolution 216 to authorize the statue’s move.

The relocation began on May 10, 1997, the day before Mother’s Day. How did you feel that weekend?

Wages: All of us who worked on the campaign showed up early on Saturday morning—very excited. But the day dragged on because the construction crew could not figure out how to lift the seven tons of marble up onto the Rotunda level. By early evening, they quit for the day. The next morning, we arrived back at the Capitol bright and early before the tourists were allowed in. They had figured out the way to lift it and by mid-morning the statue moved into the Rotunda. Saturday had been rainy and overcast. When the statue came in, the sun broke through and everyone cheered.

Monument Move 1997 6While the crew worked, we had pizza delivered. We sat on the Rotunda floor, ate pizza, and drank champagne. One of the Capitol curators was horrified and assured us that had never been allowed before. Since it was almost midnight, she gave us a pass. We also knew that once placed, the statue would never be moved because of its weight and size.

Stone: As the statue was lowered onto its new base, all of us assembled saluted these three courageous, persevering women with champagne.

This year we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the National Women’s History Museum’s milestone accomplishment as we continue our mission to mainstream women’s history into our culture, our books, our parks, entertainment, and our museums.

Millions of visitors have passed through the Capitol since the statue returned to its rightful place alongside the men who also contributed much to our nation. And millions more will hear and learn about these suffragists battle to secure women the right to vote because of our efforts.

 

 

[i] Sandra Weber, The Woman Suffrage Statue: A History of Adelaide Johnson’s Portrait Monument at the U.S. Capitol (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.), p. 99

[ii] Sandra Weber, The Woman Suffrage Statue: A History of Adelaide Johnson’s Portrait Monument at the U.S. Capitol (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.), p. 105

National Women’s History Museum Awards Event Engages, Inspires and Empowers Future Generations

May 17th, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Chris Lisi 202-549-0696
clisi@nwhm.org

 

National Womens History Museum Awards Event Engages, Inspires and Empowers Future Generations

 

Washington, D.C.—On May 16, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) hosted its Annual Women Making History Awards in Washington, D.C. at the Carnegie Institute for Science. The event commemorated the achievements of women, generated awareness of the importance of preserving women’s history, and highlighted the need for a national women’s history museum on the National Mall.

This year’s event honored former First Lady Laura Bush and featured a video tribute from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. NBC News’ Meet the Press Host Chuck Todd interviewed Mrs. Bush about the strength and power of women.

“I’m certain many of us can still remember that eye-opening moment—often much later than we should have—and we saw ourselves reflected back from the pages of our history books for the first time. That’s an experience every child should have,”said Secretary Clinton in her video introduction. “I look forward to the day when both my granddaughter and grandson can visit the National Women’s History Museum and come away feeling a little braver, walking a little taller, knowing they stand on the shoulders of generations of history makers and trailblazers.”

“It’s really important to have a museum that focuses on women because half of the population is left out from American History,”said former First Lady Laura Bush. “We need to figure out how we can encourage women to run for office—and to run for President.”

NWHM Board Chair Susan Whiting opened the night’s awards. “We were honored to celebrate with Mrs. Bush, our other honorees and continue to advocate for a national women’s history museum,”said Whiting. “We are the greatest nation in the world, with a story no other country can tell, but that story has missing pages. America’s history remains unfinished. It’s time to complete it.”

Award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts served as emcee, who introduced Sec. Clinton’s video and the night’s honorees. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Ed Royce (R-CA), cosponsors of H.R. 19, the bill that would create the women’s history museum, also spoke at the event.

Rep. Maloney is a longtime advocate for a women’s museum, and said “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

“We all know there is a story that needs to be told to girls and boys,”said Rep. Royce. “A national museum that focuses on women’s history is the best way to tell that story.”

Event Honorees

The event honored a diverse group of accomplished women, and presented its Henry Blackwell Award, named after one of the founders of the Republican Party and American Woman Suffrage Association.

Honorees included:

  • Former First Lady Laura Bush
  • Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden (USMC, Retired), 12th NASA Administrator and Henry Blackwell Award recipient
  • Faye Laing, M.D., Pioneering Radiologist and Professor
  • Diane Rehm, Former NPR Host, The Diane Rehm Show
  • The Honorable Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the United States
  • Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught (USAF, Retired), Founding President, Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Through their professional endeavors, each of the women honored are outstanding examples of women’s accomplishments, and General Bolden’s unwavering support of women in STEM is an example for supporting women’s achievements.

The event was made possible by presenting sponsor Lifeway Foods (Nasdaq: LWAY).

“Supporting the women’s history museum isn’t just a box we check off for corporate social responsibility,”said NWHM Board Member and Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky. “It’s in our very DNA.”Julie’s mother and father founded Lifeway Foods in 1986, and Julie became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she took over Lifeway Foods in 2002 at age 27. “My mother’s story is largely unknown, as is the story of so many women,”said Julie. “These stories are missing from business magazines, board rooms, history books, news stories, parliamentary halls and museums. The creation of a women’s history museum is an opportunity to start correcting those omissions.”

“Every day for the past 20 years our team has had a singular focus: to ensure that women’s contributions to our history and culture are incorporated into our nation’s narrative,”said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages at the close of the event. “With the help of the people who joined us tonight, we can continue to focus on raising awareness about the need for a women’s history museum and advocating for the legislation needed to make it a reality. One that will be an enduring inspiration for future generations.”

Photos from the event on behalf of Getty Images: http://mm.gettyimages.com/mm/nicePath/gyipa_public?nav=pr526337987

 

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About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at www.nwhm.org, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Women and the Beverage that Changed the World

May 12th, 2017

Birth of the Fermented Beverage

The earliest record of beer being produced comes from Mesopotamia around 5300 BCE, by accident, when a woman whom was later known as Ninkasi, the “goddess of beer” stumbled upon the malting process after harvesting grain by hand and placing it in jars to be stored. That evening, it rained and the jars flooded. The grain was left out to dry the next day, covered, placed back into jars, and left for a few days. Wind-borne yeast made its way in, creating a thick foaming bubbly mass “thus the stunning moment in time when a pair of lips was first wetted by beer.”

Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer. Camille Shoemaker

Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer. Camille Shoemaker

Beer contributed to the decline of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle by providing an incentive to settle in one place for longer periods of time. The drink also aided in the creation of a more varietal diet by providing a more substantial food product in itself. From this point on beer remained in the hands of women. It was their duty to look over the profession, even when it became a method of business, as barley was the first documented form of currency and most wages were paid in beer. In other parts of the world similar types of fermented beverages were being produced: Kassi in Egypt where beer was flavored with dates and honey; Pulque made from agave in the Sierra Nevadas; Chicha in the Aztec Empire produced from a mixture of corn and human saliva; and variety of other fermented beverages made from kaffir, millet, rice, and even bananas. While beer today is produced with very specific methods to avoid contamination and yield a drinkable product, for centuries it was elevated to a spiritual level because of the magic of fermentation. Women were traditionally responsible for this development until only recently.

“The whole nation enjoys Jos Schlitz Brewing Cos’ Milwaukee lager beer.” Library of Congress.

“The whole nation enjoys Jos Schlitz Brewing Cos’ Milwaukee lager beer.” Library of Congress.

Beer continued to grow as cultures began to understand the importance of yeast and effective brewing practices. Even with these advances, brewing continued to remain in the hands of women as a domestically made product. Just as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children did, beer reflected the continuity of women’s pleasure in providing for family members. It also allowed women to make a small profit from the home as beer could be sold to neighbors and friends for a small price. Because most water was unsafe to drink, beer was an appropriate and healthy alternative. With the black plague in the 14th Century came a labor shortage and a wage increase. This in turn allowed for more money to be spent on beer and was the start of the alehouse. Because of this, beer moved out of the hands of women and the home. It became another industrialized, regulated, and profitable product, thus moving into the hands of men, soon growing across Europe and eventually to America.

Modern America

With the rise of Budweiser and other major breweries that survived prohibition, advertising was the best way for breweries to get their name out there. However, these ads were most often distinctly gendered, reflecting the debates of the proper place and role of women. For men, the ads persuaded them to drink more, to be manly and to be American, but for women, ads represented a symphony of complications and contradictions. Ironically, women were targeted as the one social group breweries had to win over since they were the primary purchasers for the home. Keeping a fridge stocked full of beer was their obligation as a dutiful wife.

1960s Schlitz Beer Advertisement Camille Shoemaker.

1960s Schlitz Beer Advertisement Camille Shoemaker.

After the development of craft beer in the early 1980s, more women started to once again infiltrate the industry. While women make up a small percentage of brewers compared to men, the concept that it’s a job unfit for women is unrealistic and outdated. However, the history of beer shows that brewing started as conformity of housewives duties, even dating back to Mesopotamia when it was discovered, beer made at home fit in with these standards. The second brewing expanded beyond the home, in the eyes of men, women could no longer oversee it and this created a gap in time where women left the market (besides in smaller, home settings). Only recently have we seen a breakthrough in the industry since prohibition and the development of craft beer.

The Future of Brewing

Today, women play a very important role in the beer industry and while we still make up a small percentage (only 4% of head brewers are female) our roles are not minor. Brewing is an art that is often overlooked for its history and craft, but more specifically for the women who started it all. There is a masculine interpretation of brewing history that takes cast over the women that brewed hundreds of years prior to a male hand even touching it besides being passed a glass for consumption. Without the discovery of fermented grain by the goddess Ninkasi thousands of years ago, beer would not be what it is today.

I myself am a young female brewer at 25, having just starting out in the industry a couple years ago as a server in a brewery while working on my Masters in Food Studies at NYU and gaining experience in the industry wherever I could. I spent last summer farming and working in a small 5 barrel brewery in upstate New York and I recently moved home to Denver, Colorado where I work full-time in a 12 barrel brewery. Being a brewer is not an easy job, it’s physically demanding, takes a lot of focus and attention to detail as one step in the wrong direction can cause a lot of beer and money to be poured down the drain, and it’s not an easy industry to break into. It’s also the most rewarding job I’ve had and is filled some really amazing people with talent and skills that are hard to find. While I’ve dealt with some criticism in being a minority as a female brewer, it’s rarely been from within the industry, but rather outside, as it’s a tough job to gage when not actually working in the field, as most jobs are. Most days I feel empowered, and with so many more female brewers getting the attention they deserve and people taking notice of the amazing history brewing has, the industry has a beautiful future ahead.

 

By Camille Shoemaker

 

Camille Shoemaker

Camille Shoemaker

Camille Shoemaker grew up in Denver, Colorado. After receiving her bachelors in Baking and Pastry and Food Service Management at Johnson and Wales, she quickly moved to New York City to pursue her Masters in Food Studies at NYU where she focused her studies on the history and gender dynamics of the beer industry. After a summer farming and brewing in upstate New York, she moved home to Colorado and now works as a brewer at Vine Street Pub and Brewery in Denver. When not brewing she’s either gardening or drinking beer and has high hopes to one day own her own farm brewery in the mountains of Colorado with her cat, Norman.

Follow her on Instagram @camilleshoemaker.

 

Women and Beer: A Forgotten Pairing

May 11th, 2017

If you look at the brewing business today, the majority of micro and macro breweries are owned and run by men. Did you know in the eighteenth century, a good portion of brewers in America were women? Did you also know that the feminine form of the word brewer is brewster? A testimony to how masculinized brewing has become is the fact that the word brewster is not even used to describe female brewers today. Instead, many are now referred to as “brewmasters.”

Women’s involvement in brewing beer has been documented back to four-thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, and possible earlier. Ancient Sumerians even had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi. Historically women were involved in brewing, since it was seen as another domestic task. There were also many taverns owned by women and thus it is likely they also brewed their own beer.

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Fast forward to colonial America. The craft of brewing beer was brought over from Europe and women resumed their roles in society as tavernkeepers and brewers. But tavernkeepers were not the only women brewing; housewives were as well, and brewing beer was one of the many tasks on their long list of daily duties. Beer was consumed more than water at this time, and one needed to have a steady supply of the beverage on hand. In 1734, Mary Lisle become America’s unofficial first brewster when she took over her father’s brewhouse in Philadelphia. And while Thomas Jefferson is often given credit for being a “Founding Home brewer” the credit should actually be given to his late wife, Martha, who supervised the majority of the brewing. By the late eighteenth century, women as brewers and even brewing as a household art was on the decline, giving way to the male-dominated world of the beer industry.

Women-Enjoying-Beer-LogoToday, women are slowly infiltrating the brewing industry. Carol Stoudt of Stoudt’s Brewing Company (founded in 1987) is considered one of the first female brewmasters in the United States. Another female brewmaster, Teri Fahrendorf, founded the Pink Boots Society as a way to empower women beer professionals. In 2008, they had only 22 members and today they have more than a thousand. (Check them out here). Women still are not a majority in the beer industry in any capacity. According to a July 2012 Gallup poll, women represent only one-quarter of beer drinkers in America. In the beer industry, women only account for 10% of jobs and for women in charge of breweries, the percentage become even starker.

Next time you pour yourself a nice cold beer, think about all the women before you who spent countless hours brewing their own beer for their families, neighbors, or businesses, that have never been recognized in history for all their hard work. With that, I’ll leave you all with a quote from Shakespeare, “She brews good ale, and thereof comes the proverb, Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.”

 

Originally Published April 2013 by Allison Schell, National Women’s History Museum Staff
Updated May 2017 by Jeanette Patrick, Program Manager

 

To read a contemporary take on the beer industry click here.

How Highly Processed Foods Liberated 1950s Housewives

May 11th, 2017

After World War II, the United States entered a new modern age of technological innovation that profoundly changed the way that America cooked and ate. Through popular media, especially women’s magazines and the new medium of television, advertisers encouraged women to use Atomic Age technology to create the ideal home. Technology promised women the freedom from drudgery.

Appliance manufacturers, trade associations, and food product companies published dozens of cooking booklets in the post-World War II period to promote their products. They shared a common goal to market a modern, aspirational lifestyle in which the kitchen was a woman’s domain. At the same time, they trained women to adopt a new style of cooking

Convenient Canned Goods

Canned food as a commercial product dates to the 19th century. Van Camp, one of the earliest manufacturers still in operation, started in 1861 and supplied canned beans to the Union Army under a military contract. Returning veterans brought back a taste for the products along with an appreciation of the convenience. By the 20th century, canned food was common but it mostly supplemented diets rather than predominating at the table. This was in part because processed food was more expensive than fresh food. During World War II when nearly full employment brought canned goods and packaged foods within economic reach for more, rationing of canned goods limited their use in American kitchens. After the war, it was a different story.

National Women’s History Museum

Supermarket Anchor Suburban Lifestyles

Where did women buy canned goods? From the supermarket. Between 1948 and 1958, the number of supermarkets in the United States doubled to over 2,500, with most of the expansion occurring outside central cities.

Supermarkets anchored a new post-war housing model. After World War II, planned communities sprang up across the country. Levittown on Long Island, in 1947, was the first of many. Marketed towards veterans eligible for low-interest, government backed mortgages, tens of thousands of families moved into the suburbs. The new suburban homes were constructed with the latest in modern technology, including the all-electric kitchen.

All-Electric Kitchen

The modern 1950s kitchen included an electric range, refrigerator-freezer, dishwasher, washer and dryer, and an assortment of small appliances like skillets, blenders, and mixers. Consumers could even buy a Radarange microwave oven in the 1950s–though few did due to the exorbitant cost. Many of the appliances were marketed with cookbooks to teach women how to use them.

A housewife born in 1925 and living in a suburban tract house in 1950 did not grow up surrounded by electric technology. Her mother may have had a refrigerator, but it did not have a freezer with a separate door. And it didn’t come in a rainbow of colors. And she didn’t have five or six small appliances sitting on her counter top.

Hotpoint Cookbook. National Women’s History Museum

Hotpoint Cookbook. National Women’s History Museum

Prosperity Buys Back Time

Post-war economic prosperity encouraged conspicuous consumption. Processed foods, easily and quickly assembled into meals using electric appliances, became standard fare. Grocery bills went up as women happily purchased more and more convenience foods. Food company marketing materials assured women that their products were both high quality and healthy. And products like Tupperware, Saran Wrap, and GE refrigerators encouraged saving and repurposing leftovers, claiming that the savings off-set the higher price of processed, packaged food.

Push button technology took the drudgery, if not the boredom, out of housework. It also made it an incredibly isolating experience. At the beginning of the century, when women were cooking meals from scratch, sewing their own clothes, washing sheets and towels by hand, and buying fresh food from the market almost every day, it took a team of women to run a house. By the 1950s, it could be done by one person.

Lifestyle marketing recognized that many women found being a housewife somewhat less than fulfilling. There was a gradual transition from characterizing the womanly ideal from Housewife to Hostess. That was evident in the increasing number of recipes for party foods, party planning tips, and even more specialized serving pieces.

Dole Pineapple Cookbook. National Women’s History Museum

Dole Pineapple Cookbook. National Women’s History Museum

Some women took advantage of their increased free time by enrolling their children in activities like sports and scouts and ferrying back and forth to activities. Many women joined clubs and organizations. And there was an increase of the number of married women taking jobs, albeit mostly part time. Even as marketing touted the kitchen as a woman’s special domain, technology gradually reduced the amount of time she needed to spend there.

Implications for Today

Grocery Store Conveyor Belt. National Women’s History Museum

Grocery Store Conveyor Belt. National Women’s History Museum

A 2016 study found that nearly 60% of the calories consumed in the modern, American diet come from processed foods. While the flavors and packaging have evolved with contemporary tastes, processed and packaged foods remain household staples. As does an emphasis on convenience.

Just like in the 1950s, technology has given women many more choices in how and where to spend their time. And no longer does the kitchen represent the aspirational ideal of womanhood. Contemporary women spend less time on household chores, including cooking, than their mid-century counterparts. Technology, media, and marketing in the 1950s changed the way women cooked and Americans eat.

 

By Elizabeth Maurer
Director of Program

 

Did you know that Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima weren’t real women? Read more here.

Tupperware sales offered part time work to 1950s suburban housewives. Read about how direct sales became a woman’s job.

 

Related Readings

  • Kearney, John. “Food consumption trends and drivers.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. September 27, 2010. Accessed May 09, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935122/.
  • “Our Story.” Hotpoint History. Accessed May 09, 2017. http://www.hotpoint.com/hotpoint-history/.
  • “Short History of Processed Foods.” National Food Processors Association. Accessed May 09, 2017. http://www.nfpa-food.org/short-history-processed-foods/.
  • Steele, Eurídice Martínez, Larissa Galastri Baraldi, Maria Laura Da Costa Louzada, Jean-Claude Moubarac, Dariush Mozaffarian, and Carlos Augusto Monteiro. “Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study.” BMJ Open. January 01, 2016. Accessed May 09, 2017. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/3/e009892.full.
  • Wallach, Jennifer Jensen. 2013. How America eats: a social history of U.S. food and culture.
  • Young, William H., and Nancy K. Young. 2004. The 1950s.

Aunt Jemima® and Betty Crocker: American Cultural Icons that Never Existed

May 11th, 2017

Aunt Jemima® and Betty Crocker have been American cultural icons for decades, but neither of these women ever existed. Both were created by marketers to better sell products. What is especially incredible about these two marketing campaigns is the years consumers believed they were depicting real women. Aunt Jemima was created in the 1890s and Betty Crocker was developed about thirty years later in the 1920s. While there have been updates to both characters since their creation, until recent years both remained stuck in the time period they were created and helped to perpetuate stereotypes.

It was and still is common to use women in marketing campaigns around food products. Since women have long been seen by marketers as the primary consumer of domestic products there has been a focus on selling to women by women. Betty Crocker’s campaign was so well done, according to an April 1945 Fortune magazine, she was the second best known American woman, only after Eleanor Roosevelt. While never quit as well-known as Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima has also had a lasting impact on consumers and sparked decades of racial debates.

Looking Backwards to Sell

Originally Aunt Jemima was a ready mix created in 1889 by the Pearl Milling Company. This product sparked a brand, which included the character of Aunt Jemima. Nancy Green, a cook and storyteller, was the first woman hired to bring Aunt Jemima to life. She played the character at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Aunt Jemima was depicted as a formerly enslaved cook who spoke with a stereotypical enslaved dialect. Her clothing reflected the same idea, dressed in the costume of a post-Civil War formerly enslaved woman, wearing a simple dress, apron, and head scarf

Credit: National Women’s History Museum
Credit: National Women’s History Museum
Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

At the 1933 World’s Fair Aunt Jemima was portrayed by another woman, Anna Robinson. Robinson not only appeared at the fair, but also traveled the country promoting the Aunt Jemima line of products. It became a social event to go and see Aunt Jemima make pancakes. This lead to changes in the Aunt Jemima logo so it was a closer likeness to Robinson.

While the character was not created until the 1890s, Aunt Jemima’s clothing and language in 1950s still harked back to the post-Civil War time period. In this ad, Aunt Jemima is quoted saying “I’se” instead of “I”, highlighting the racist dialect the character used. Her clothing was also not updated and still represents post-Civil War African Americans. In these ads often the only African American included is Aunt Jemima and they perpetuate a glorified view of life on a plantation in the South.

Betty Crocker was Born

Betty Crocker’s creation was a bit different from Aunt Jemima’s. Instead of being created as part of a logo, Betty Crocker was developed a piece at a time. Throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s, the Washburn Crosby Company (a precursor to General Mills), received thousands of questions from women across the country about their baking conundrums. In 1921, the Washburn Crosby’s advertising department decided the best solution was to create a warm, friendly, and authoritative figure who could answer these questions.

Betty Crocker’s last name was taken from a recently retired director of Washburn Crosby, William G. Crocker. “Betty” was chosen as the character’s first name for its wholesome and maternal quality. To create her signature a contest was held among the female employees at Washburn Crosby and the most unique was selected. It is the same signature still used today. From that point on, Betty Crocker signed response to letters written to the company on baking, cooking, and domestic issues. In 1924, her voice was created when Washburn Crosby began airing a cooking radio show called, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. Marjorie Child Husted provided the first Betty Crocker voice. When the show was picked up by multiple stations, additional women voiced Betty Crocker. Husted, a home economist, continued to voice her show and wrote the scripts for all of the other Betty Crockers.

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

Credit: National Women’s History Museum

In 1936, Betty Crocker was given a face. Artist Neysa McMein blended the facial features of the Washburn Crosby Home Service Department’s female employees. While created base on a representation of working women, Betty Crocker was not dressed as a professional woman. Since then, Betty Crocker’s look has updated multiple times to better reflect the women buying her product.

Modern Women

Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker are still prominent characters today, helping to sell many products. Since their creation each woman’s appearance has been altered to relate to a wider audience. Aunt Jemima’s skin lighted over time, whereas Betty Crocker’s skin was darkened to olive in 1996 to give her a more multicultural look. Both women also wear more professional clothing. Today Aunt Jemima wears a lace collar and pearl earrings. Betty Crocker, who does not appear on her products, no longer wears a suit jacket, instead she wears a simple red sweater. These updated looks help modern consumers relate to the characters, not real women, on their favorite flour mixes.

 

 

 

Originally Published April 2013 by Sydnee Winston, Project Coordinator
Edited and Republished May 2017 by Jeanette Patrick, Program Manager

 

 

Recommended Readings: 

  • Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
  • Avey, Tori. “Who Was Betty Crocker?” PBS. February 15, 2013. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/who-was-betty-crocker/.
  • “Our History.” Aunt Jemima. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.auntjemima.com/our-history.
  • “The Story of Betty Crocker.” Betty Crocker. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/parties-and-get-togethers/vintage-betty/the-story-of-betty-crocker.
  • “Who Was Betty Crocker?” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://chnm.gmu.edu/sidelights/who-was-betty-crocker/.
  • Zillman, Claire. “Why its so hard for Aunt Jemima to ditch her unsavory past.” Fortune. August 12, 2104. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://fortune.com/2014/08/12/aunt-jemima-racism/.

 

To read how the technology of the 1950s all-electric kitchen impacted women click here.