During many years as an antiquarian book dealer specializing in
culinary works, Janice Longone had the privilege of handling almost
every major cookbook in the world.
But however splendid or treasured some of those volumes were, it
was a far humbler category, known as charity cookbooks, that
captured her heart. Published by women in nonprofit groups across
the country, these fundraising books have been rolling off American
presses since the Civil War, benefiting churches, schools,
libraries, sororities, cemetery associations, the homeless, and
others in need. Some also gave heady new power to the women who
"No matter what the specific cause for which the women raised
funds, the underlying purpose began as women helping other women to
help themselves and the outside world," says Mrs. Longone, now
curator of American culinary history at the University of Michigan's
Clements Library in Ann Arbor. She considers them "an integral part
of the history of the women's movement."
To honor the unheralded role of charity cookbooks, Longone has
assembled more than 100 early examples at the Clements Library.
Called "The Old Girl Network: Community Cookbooks and the
Empowerment of Women," the exhibit will remain on view through Oct.
These grass-roots books serve several purposes. "They preserve
America's culinary heritage by region," Longone says. They also
offer a record of American social history, including the suffrage
and temperance movements.
The first known charity cookbook, "A Poetical Cook-Book,"
appeared in 1864. It featured rhymed recipes and raised money to
support those wounded, widowed, and orphaned by the Civil War.
"Because so many men were away, women began to do things they had
not done before," Longone says. "They found their own space and
place. You see this ferment bubbling over of women working
together." As they collaborated, women honed valuable business
skills. "They had to hire printers, test recipes, go out and get
ads, and work on a distribution system."
After the Civil War, as women turned their charitable attentions
to causes such as suffrage, education, and improved working
conditions, cookbooks became one of their most effective weapons.
"There was always opposition to women organizing," Longone says.
"But men probably thought, 'It's only a cookbook.' "
When "The Woman Suffrage Cook Book of 1886" was published, women
sold copies at the fairs and bazaars they staged to raise funds for
this cause. Other suffrage cookbooks followed. Most contained pro-
suffrage quotes from famous people. One volume tucks a quote from
John Greenleaf Whittier between recipes for cucumber relish and
orange pudding: "For 50 years I have been in favor of Woman's
Suffrage. I have never been able to see any good reasons for denying
the ballot to women."
Even advertising in the cookbooks promoted women's independence.
After women won the vote in 1920, the "Virginia Cookery Book,"
published by the Virginia League of Women Voters in 1921, featured
an ad for Mass. Mutual Life Insurance Co. It reads, "You have been
fighting many years to secure Equal Rights. This company gives you
Equal Rates! …