Mmmmm! Food! As women, we are generally connected with all aspects of food preparation. In our work, we are continuing to discover additional historical women in every field. Recently, while exploring women and food, we learned about Malinda Russell and Nancy Green. Malinda Russell authored the first cookbook known to have been published by an African-American woman. Russell lived in Tennessee as a free black woman and earned her living by cooking. Her cookbook, published in 1866, is titled Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen. Many of the recipes are for fancy deserts and 265 total recipes are provided. Another woman who came to our attention was Nancy Green, who in 1893 was introduced as “Aunt Jemima” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She continued in that role for many years. As a result of her celebrity, Green was able to become an activist working on antipoverty programs and for equal rights for all individuals. Here are some additional fascinating women related to the food industry. Come enjoy their stories with us.
An Irish immigrant to the U.S. who settled in New Orleans, Margaret Haughery tragically lost her husband and young daughter to yellow fever and cholera. Understanding the plight of widowhood as well as being an orphan, Haughery parlayed her skills as a laundress into philanthropy for widows and orphans. Known by various titles including “The Bread Woman of New Orleans” and the “Mother of Orphans”, she began her philanthropic efforts by supporting the work of the Sisters of Charity. Eventually, she went to work for them, finding food to support the orphans to whom they were providing shelter, food and education. She bought two cows to provide the orphans with milk, selling the surplus around the city. She soon had a dairy and a very successful business. She used the proceeds to finance the Female Orphan Asylum of the Sisters of Charity. An astute businesswoman, Haughery loaned money to a baker poised on the brink of bankruptcy and eventually ran the bakery herself. It became the first steam bakery in the south. In 1884, two years after her death, she was commemorated with a statue in New Orleans; the area where it was erected is called Margaret Place.
After having a stroke in her teens and not being able to continue her public education, Fannie Farmer learned to cook at home. She enhanced her culinary education by enrolling in the Boston Cooking School, continuing her classes there until 1889. She was hired as assistant director and became school principal in 1891. The famous Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, published in 1896, cemented Farmer as a cook extraordinaire. In addition, it is the first cook book with standardized and level measurements. It contains 1,850 recipes. Good sales were not predicted by the publisher; but that proved incorrect. The cookbook is still in print today and is usually referred to as the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. She established her own school after leaving the Boston Cooking School and continued to invent recipes and give lectures.
Bacteriologist and chemist Mary Engle Pennington worked on food safety throughout her career. Although originally denied an undergraduate degree by her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, she went on to earn her PhD there in chemistry in 1895. She embarked on ways to safely handle fish, milk, poultry and eggs. This led to both patents and her exhortations to merchants in the markets of the day to put their food on ice; they called her the “Ice Lady.” A leading refrigeration expert, she designed refrigerated railroad cars to safely transport food. Her work was instrumental to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. The first woman elected to the Poultry Society Hall of Fame, Pennington has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
A home economist and businesswoman, Marjorie Child Husted is remembered as the woman who developed the ‘character’ of Betty Crocker as the ideal cook and homemaker. After graduation from the University of Minnesota in 1913, she worked as a secretary for the Red Cross and in other positions. In 1924, she joined the Washburn-Crosby Company, a firm that produced flour, as a field representative in home economics. There she was responsible for shepherding the image of Betty Crocker, who had first been developed in 1921. Washburn-Crosby and other companies merged in 1928 to form General Mills and with the merger, ‘Betty Crocker’ moved as well. In 1929, the department which she led was renamed the Betty Crocker Homemaking Service; Husted oversaw Betty Crocker becoming the personification of the Company. She served as the voice of Betty Crocker during radio interviews. Husted later left General Mills and established her own consulting company.
Cristeta Comerford made the news in 2005 when she became the first woman and the first person of Asian descent to become the White House Executive Chef. She grew up and was educated in the Philippines until immigrating to the U.S. when she was in her twenties. Comerford worked at hotels and restaurants around the world before being invited to join the Clinton White House in 1995. First Lady Laura Bush appointed her White House Executive Chef in 2005. She has held that position since, through the Obama and Trump administrations.
Women’s accomplishments affect our lives in so many ways. Women have contributed to society in the area of food as in many other areas. Just think about food – we cannot live without it – it is vital to our health and well being. The women profiled above and many other women, almost all of them women we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.