Friday Food History: Women's Institute Library of Cookery, Vol I (1926)

Dear Readers,

I ran across this five-volume series originally in Kindle's public domain library, and went on to track down and purchase a complete, original set, this one from the 1926 printing.  I was so thrilled to find a full set from a helpful used bookseller! 

The Women's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences was founded in 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania by Mary Brooks Picken (1886-1981).  The school was one of the first in the country dedicated solely to the education of women, covering cooking, sewing, and many other domestic arts.  During the 1920s, it was the largest domestic arts school for women in the United States, although very little information about the school survives today (it closed down in 1938, as far as I could make out from the limited information online).  In addition to founding the Women's Institute in Scranton, Mrs. Picken was a prolific author on the topic of fashion, publishing no less than 96 books over the course of her life!  For an extensive selection of her books, both in and out of print, please click here.  

Women's Institute founder Mary Brooks Picken, c. 1918;  public domain image

Women's Institute founder Mary Brooks Picken, c. 1918;  public domain image

(As an aside, women used to make their own clothes, apparently.  I feel kind of inadequate now, with an urge to take up sewing immediately, like I've been missing something my whole life.  Among Mrs. Picken's titles are: The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking (1925), One Hour Dress (1925), and The Secrets of Distinctive Dress (1918).  So cool.  But we were talking about cooking...)

In the preface to Volume I (Essentials of Cookery, Cereals, Breads, and Hot Breads), the authors at the Women's Institute wrote: 

It is our hope that these volumes will help the housewife to acquire the knowledge needed to prepare daily meals that will contain proper sustenance for each member of her family, teach her how to buy her food judiciously and prepare and serve it economically and appetizingly, and also instil [sic] in her such a liking for cookery that she will become enthusiastic about mastering and dignifying this womanly art.

Whew.  That's a tall order.  I could really use some help with all of the above, 100 years later.  

The thing about old books is that they have had previous owners and past lives before they come into our possession, with stories to tell of their own.  This is something I always find fascinating, and luckily for me, this set of books came with the inscription, neatly written out in cursive: "Helen S. Fogelin for Jean Anne Fogelin."  I was able to find out a tiny bit about Helen S. Fogelin (1903-1991), just that she was from the Bronx, New York.  I believe that the Jean Anne of this inscription was Jean Anne (Lawson) Fogelin (1935-1999), her daughter-in-law, who married Helen's son, the Reverend Victor E. Fogelin on July 13, 1957 in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran the following announcement of the nuptials: 

Lawson-Fogelin: The Sheraden Community Presbyterian Church was the scene of the marriage of Jean Anne Lawson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Ross Lawson of Sheraden, and Victor Ernest Fogelin on July 13. The bridegroom Is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Fogelin of New York City. Janet Anto, Ruth Anne Hudson and Ann Marshall were bridesmaids. Mr. Fogelin was his son’s best man and Robert Lawson and Raymond Eichler ushered.
— Friday, July 26, 1957 page 8

So, I wondered, what was Jean Anne doing in 1957 with a gift of old(ish) cookbooks from her new mother-in-law (this set was published in 1926)? Here is the inscription:

I don't know, but I can imagine Mrs. Helen S. Fogelin saying reminiscently to the new preacher's wife, "Here, dear, these are the cookbooks I learned to cook from as a new wife, and I thought you might like them."  And did Jean Anne, as new brides are wont to do, roll her eyes behind her new mother-in-law's back, and box them up for Goodwill after the honeymoon?  Someone went through this volume at some point making careful notes and writing "ok" in girlish cursive next to recipes that were deemed good, but was it Jean Anne, or Helen?  Who diligently checked off the things she'd purchased for her new kitchen, following the list from the volume?

Well, now we'll never know.  The main fact is that I have this five-volume set, and before that they were languishing in a used bookstore, which could give us a clue as to how helpful Jean Anne found the books (admittedly a bit dated for the modern 1950s housewife).   Or perhaps Jean Anne found the gift a bit off-putting: was Mother Helen overly worried about the new bride's ability to feed the Reverand Fogelin properly?  Were these books supposed to be a gentle nudge in the right direction?  On the other hand, did Jean Anne in fact cherish these volumes all her life, only to have them end up in an estate sale when she passed away?

No matter what, it makes for an entertaining story.  Old books hold fascinating tales of their own, and this one is no exception.

Your Truly, 

Sarah