William L. Clements Library, 909 S. University Ave.
1-4:45 p.m. (exhibit)
2:30-5 p.m. (lecture)
September 21, 2008

The Constitutional Law of Illinois from 1867 reads, “Idiots, lunatics, paupers, felons and women shall not be entitled to vote.” Since June, the William L. Clements Library has displayed the undeniably tormented history of American women through an aspect of history often overlooked: United States culinary culture.

Curator of American Culinary History at the Clements Library Jan Longone created the exhibit, called “The Old Girl Network: Community Cookbooks and Empowerment of Women.” It uncovers a form of political and charitable action often associated with the average household kitchen. In connection with the exhibit, Longone will hold a free, public lecture (see above).

In spite of the restrictive conditions placed upon them, women of the 1900s fought to make their voices heard. “If they could get away with hiding their problems and causes in a book of recipes, they could open themselves up to bigger and better methods of being heard,” Longone said.

Women in non-profit groups around the country published cookbooks as fundraisers for war veterans, schools, churches, the homeless and numerous other causes. The cookbook-as-fundraiser also brought about new opportunities for women in entrepreneurship. Not only did the women create the books, they raised money to print, publish and advertise their products.

Included in the exhibit is a classic that has maintained its popularity for over 100 years. “The Settlement Cookbook,” published in 1901 by the Jewish Settlement House in Milwaukee, still impacts charities today. According to Longone, the cookbook’s profits continue to supply funds to Milwaukee charities, specifically those benefiting children.

Another cookbook on display is the “Blue Book of Cooking,” published in 1941 by University of Michigan Alumnae. The book was created shortly after the Michigan League was built for women. The profits from the cookbooks helped to advance female students’ activities and education.

Even today, this historical method of charity lives on. The Tabasco Company holds annual Community Cookbook Awards honoring the best collaborative cookbooks published by non-profit groups. Longone acts as a judge to this event, which produces works that help to further the important role culinary influences hold in American society.

“I am not a raging feminist, but this historical movement cannot be overlooked,” Longone said. With the current election at hand, women’s empowerment continues to be an issue at the fore of the debate. Although this exhibit speaks loudly for itself, Longone’s representations speak even louder.

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