Putting together the first woman suffrage cook book in 1886 must have been a lot like herding cats for Hattie A. Burr of 12 Wayne St., Boston.
The cookbook raised money for the Woman Suffrage Association. It included recipes from famous suffragists, Boston Brahmins, a governor’s wife and prominent women doctors, ministers and journalists.
Firebrand suffragist Abby Kelley Foster missed the deadline. Two famous suffragists contributed screeds against some of the recipes. The most eminent suffragist of all, Julia Ward Howe, sent in a lame paragraph about working women instead of a recipe. Louisa May Alcott, a member, didn’t send in anything, and not because she didn’t have any recipes.
But Hattie A. Burr managed to keep it all together, and the Woman Suffrage Cook Book inspired at least a half-dozen other such subversive publications. Women, after all, didn’t get the vote until 1920.
Woman Suffrage Cook Book
The Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association Festival and Bazaar kicked off on a rainy night in December 1886 at the Boston music hall. The ladies decorated the venue with a white banner with that carried the motto: “Male and female created He them, and gave them dominion.”
Journalist Mary Livermore served as festival president and edited its official publication, The Bazar Journal. She also contributed a complicated recipe for making yeast. Hattie Burr must have despaired as another suffrage rock star, Lucy Stone, also submitted a complicated recipe for making yeast. Burr included both.
She dealt with Foster’s tardy entry for Roast Beef Dinner by sticking it at the end, in a chapter called, ‘Supplementary. [Too Late for Classification.]’
Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent in a recipe in verse form, but it sounded awful: layers of bread, milk, hard-boiled egg and fish.
Moisten two pieces of the bread,
And lay them in a dish,
Upon them slice a hard-boiled egg,
Then scatter o’er with fish.
Old and New
The Woman Suffrage Cook Book tried to show that women’s traditional roles did not conflict with the vote. It communicated with women about food and housekeeping, but also about women’s suffrage. The recipes themselves mixed traditional Yankee tastes and modern, cosmopolitan cuisine.
The cookbook had recipes for quintessential Boston baked goods such as Parker House rolls and Brown Bread. There was Mother’s Election Cake, Old-Time Baked Indian Pudding, Last Century Blackberry Pudding and a method “To Fry Spring Chicken and Make Gravy as Mother Did It.” Harriet Hanson Robinson, a Lowell mill girl turned writer, contributed recipes for Boston Fish Chowder and Mothers Buns.
But the recipes reflected the cooking fads, tools and ingredients of the era. The cookbook included instructions for ‘gems,’ muffins made with whole wheat flour and baked in cast-iron gem pans. It recommended saleratus, a form of baking powder, as well as the Dover egg beater, sago, Akron flour, Lucra oil, tapioca and the brand-new Fleischmann’s yeast.
Mrs. Ellen W.E. Parton anticipated today’s convenience food with “Newburyport Housekeepers’ Way to Glorify Cold Mutton.” She recommended layering cold mutton with canned tomato, cracker crumbs and butter.
Newfangled meatballs and meatloaf were called, variously, Frigadelle and Fricandelles.
Alice A. Geddes offered a mutton curry recipe served over rice. Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland offered “Macaroni a l’Italien,” a bizarre 19th century version of spaghetti and meatballs that included ‘Lucra oil,’ ‘grated cheese’ and ‘dice-shaped bits of beef.’ She boiled the ‘Italian macaroni’ in salted milk and water and thickened canned tomatoes with corn starch.
Cooking methods in 1886 were a long way from today’s. To make turtle soup, for example, “Decidedly the terrapin has to be killed before cooking, and the killing is often no easy matter,” wrote Anna Ella Carroll, a prominent political activist from Maryland. “The head must be cut off, and, as the sight is peculiarly acute, the cook must exercise great ingenuity in concealing the deadly weapon.”
The fight for women’s rights grew out of the abolitionist movement, which had also held fairs and bazaars. Many suffragists had been abolitionists like Mrs. William Bowditch, who with her husband maintained their Brookline home as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
As cookbook editor, Hattie A. Burr tried to muffle the radical call for change with a cloak of respectability and tradition.
The roster of cookbook contributors included women prominent in the New England establishment. Mrs. Oliver Ames, wife of the future Massachusetts governor, contributed a recipe. Brahmin names peppered the book: Forbes, Sargent, Perkins — as well as the eminent Julia Ward Howe.
There was a section on cooking and caring for invalids, including a recipe for raw beef sandwich and a warning against opium. The Woman Suffrage Cook Book also included a recommendation to chew on the skin of salt codfish. And there were household hints on how to maintain a pretty bedroom.
Despite the nods to women’s traditional roles, it was hard to miss that some of the suffragist cooks were shattering glass ceilings in traditionally male professions.
Mary C. Ames, the highest paid woman journalist of her time, had a recipe for Lobster Soup. Alice B. Stockholm, the fifth woman medical doctor in the United States, submitted a recipe for ‘pie-plant,’ or rhubarb, that removes the medicinal flavor.
And Annie Jenness Miller, a leader in the movement to reform clothing, also contributed recipes.
Toward the end of the Woman Suffrage Cook Book, notes of stridency began to dominate.
Mary J. Safford, who became a medical doctor after nursing wounded Union troops in the Civil War, was allowed a tirade against the abomination of black pepper. Frances Willard, a suffrage and temperance leader, submitted a screed against pastries, cakes, hot bread, rich gravies, pickles, pepper sauces, salads, tea and coffee.
The final section was called “Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage, and it included a bundle of quotations about equality from Plato to Abraham Lincoln.
Hattie A. Burr, though, had the last word on the Woman Suffrage Cook Book published on Nov. 25, 1886:
I believe the great value of these contributions will be fully appreciated, and our messenger will go forth a blessing to housekeepers, and an advocate for the elevation and enfranchisement of woman.
Need some new ideas for your Thanksgiving feast? How about trying something old — and authentic — from the New England Historical Society’s latest ebook. Available from Amazon (click here).
To read the Woman Suffrage Cook Book, click here. This story about the Woman Suffrage Cook Book was updated in 2022.