I must admit, I am a bit jealous of families that have one of those wonderful, messy cookbooks, passed down from mother to daughter, with notes in the margins and stained from use. Though I have memories of Thanksgiving dinners with my grandmother, I don’t remember anything particularly unique, and no one taught me anything special about cooking techniques. I joke that all the recipes my mom passed down can be found on the back of a Bisquick box.
So when I explore the culinary history of my family, the best I can do is learn about what kind of food was cooked in different eras and communities where my ancestors lived. To start, I decided to search Project Gutenberg, a completely free database of old books scanned and posted on the internet. In the search box, I just typed in “cook books” to see what came up. Lots of wonderful books came up, but one instantly caught my eye: The Suffrage Cook Book. http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/2/6/3/2/26323/26323-h/26323-h.htm
The Suffrage Cook Book was published in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1915, and edited by Mrs. L. O. Kleber of The Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania. The Equal Franchise Federation was a network of organizations across the country working to get women the right to vote. In 1915, my grandmother was two years old and living with her family in Pittsburgh. Her mother, Mary Effie Gloninger Barr, was raising four daughters and one son as the suffrage movement was gaining strength. I don’t know if she participated in the movement or was inspired by it, but she would certainly have been aware of it. And her daughter, my grandmother Margaret, was very independent, getting two Master’s degrees and choosing to work outside the home during the fifties and sixties, although she did not have to. She also supported her friends who did not work outside the home, something I saw personally as I was growing up. Whether or not my grandmothers considered themselves suffragettes, they represented the movement well.
So looking through a cook book created in their city, during their lives, to empower women, is a moving exercise. Cook books were a natural way to spread the word about women’s rights, as the kitchen was the province of women. Putting messages in cook books would speak directly to women.
The cover of the book is wonderful. Uncle Sam stands holding a set of scales. On one side of the scale is a man, a woman on the other side, the two measuring as equal. Inside, quotes from governors of the 13 states that had given women the vote. Governor W. P. Hunt of Arizona noted, “Not only have the women of this state evinced an intelligent and active interest in governmental issues, but in several instances important offices have been conferred upon that element of the electorate which recently acquired the elective franchise. Kindly assure your co-workers in Pennsylvania of my best wishes for their success.”