From the Factory to the Table: Advertising Cookbooks and the Changing Face of American Domestic Cookery 1880-1941


The cookbook as a genre acts as a gateway into understanding one of the more fundamental aspects of social history - namely how and what people ate at any given time. This exhibition draws from Bryn Mawr's growing collection of cookbooks a selection of advertising cookbooks ranging from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th which document the increasing standardization and mechanization of American cooking as it is marketed to the female consumer, who is at once acknowledged to be busy outside of the home and yet expected to continue in her traditional role as primary cook.


Patrick Crowley


I. Introduction

The advertising cookbook offers a unique view into the early 20th century, the growing role of women as workers and consumers and the ambivalence of advertisers who at once wished to tap a female market and reinforce the traditional role of women as homemakers and caretakers. Therefore they evince both the worries of working women and the worries of a patriarchal system invested in traditional gender roles. An important story -- told in no small part through recipe and purple advertising prose.

II. Social Currents 1880-1941

The years from 1880-1941 saw remarkable changes to the daily life of all classes of society. These are apparent in domestic cookery at all levels. Emerging technologies changed how food could be cooked and what ingredients were available to the household cook. Increasingly interconnected businesses, conglomerates, and corporations mobilized advertising and distribution on an unprecedentedly wide scale. And the scope of women's role in the workaday world and in the consumer sphere rapidly grew, eliciting reations from corporations that were at once opportunistic and deeply anxious over the traditional roles of women.

III. Marketing to Women

Women's increasing role as primary consumers focussed advertising attention on them. Advertisers looked to address the hardships of the busy woman in a changing world, while at the same time exploiting themes of woman as caretaker, wife, and mother in their advertising. Many advertising ploys define this genre, but all remain predicated upon the traditional role of women in the household.

IV. Additional Materials

The resources documenting the history of women's changing roles in the kitchen and as primary consumer are vast. This section contains first and formost a aggregated handlist of the books included in this exhibit. Further, a select bibliography of materials consulted for this exhibit as well as useful reference sources for cookery books is included. The increasing interest countrywide in the history of cookery and recipe books is evinced by the number of other libraries with significant collections and some with significant full-text, digital offerings. You will find some of these collected here for convenience.