Beyond the Bisquick Box: The Suffrage Cook Book

The Suffrage Cook BookI must admit, I am a bit jealous of families that have one of those wonderful, messy cookbooks, passed down from mother to daughter, with notes in the margins and stained from use.  Though I have memories of Thanksgiving dinners with my grandmother, I don’t remember anything particularly unique, and no one taught me anything special about cooking techniques.  I joke that all the recipes my mom passed down can be found on the back of a Bisquick box.

So when I explore the culinary history of my family, the best I can do is learn about what kind of food was cooked in different eras and communities where my ancestors lived.

To start, I decided to search Project Gutenberg, a completely free database of old books scanned and posted on the internet.  In the search box, I just typed in “cook books” to see what came up.  Lots of wonderful books came up, but one instantly caught my eye:  The Suffrage Cook Book.

The Suffrage Cook Book was published in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1915, and edited by Mrs. L. O. Kleber of The Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania.  The Equal Franchise Federation was a network of organizations across the country working to get women the right to vote.  Cook books were a natural way to spread the word about women’s rights, as the kitchen was the province of women.  Putting messages in cook books would speak directly to women.

The cover of the book is wonderful.  Uncle Sam stands holding a set of scales.  On one side of the scale is a man, a woman on the other side, the two measuring as equal.  Inside, quotes from governors of the 13 states that had given women the vote.  Governor W. P. Hunt of Arizona noted, “Not only have the women of this state evinced an intelligent and active interest in governmental issues, but in several instances important offices have been conferred upon that element of the electorate which recently acquired the elective franchise. Kindly assure your co-workers in Pennsylvania of my best wishes for their success.”

In 1915, my grandmother was two years old and living with her family in Pittsburgh.  Her mother, Mary Effie Gloninger Barr, was raising four daughters and one son as the suffrage movement was gaining strength.  I don’t know if she participated in the movement or was inspired by it, but she would certainly have been aware of it.  And her daughter, my grandmother Margaret, was very independent, getting two Master’s degrees and choosing to work outside the home during the fifties and sixties, although she did not have to.  She also supporterd her friends who did not work outside the home, something I saw personally as I was growing up.  Whether or not my grandmothers considered themselves suffragettes, they represented the movement well.  Looking through a cook book created in their city, during their lives, to empower women, is a wonderful gift.

In my next post about the Suffrage Cook Book, I will try out one of the recipes:  chocolate caramels.



Unexpected finds: Learning about your ancestor’s life using the library and Google Books

An illustration from Children’s Stories of American Progress, circa 1889

One of the best parts of doing genealogy is the unexpected finds that bring your family history to life.  Genealogy is more than just birthdates and marriages.  It is also learning the things that made up your ancestor’s world, from food to music to school.

I recently had such a discovery.  I was at the Tacoma Public Library, hoping to find my grandmother in the high school year books from the 1920s.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find her (they only included photos of seniors, and she may not have graduated).  But another book caught my eye:  The Tacoma Public Schools Annual Reports, 1889-1894. 

I pulled out the book and discovered it was pamphlets that had been published by the Tacoma School Board during those years, and they shared wonderful information about the curriculum and reading lists for students.  My great grandmother Louise came to the Washington Territory in 1885, so the class lessons were just what she would have been learning!  I was able to read through the list of books she was likely reading when she was a fifth grader.  Some of the books I recognized, like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It is fun to imagine that over a hundred years ago, my family was reading books I have read today.

Some of the other books looked intriguing, so I searched for them on Google, just to see what I might find.  One book, Children’s Stories of American Progress, by Henrietta C. Wright, I was able to find on Google Books.  I was able to read it online, because Google has made it available as a free eBook (you can see it here).

If you would like to search for a book that was printed before 1937, here is how to use Google to find them.

1.  Go to in your web browser

2.  Type in the full name of your book, along with author.  Click the search button.

3.  On the list of results that comes up, look at the title of each link.  If the name of your book is in the title, there is a good chance you may have found it, or at least information about it.

4.  Next, look at the website address listed underneath the title of the link.  There are several website addresses you will commonly see in searches for old books:

  •– this link would probably allow you to buy the book.  Wait on this one, as you may be able to read it online
  •– this link will probably connect you to an online version of the book.  This is a good one to click.
  •– this link will probably connect you to an online version of the book.  This is a good one to click.

Once you click on one of the links that takes you to an online version of the book, you will be able to flip through the pages and read what your ancestor may have actually read.  You can sometimes save a copy of the PDF version of the book to your own computer for later use.  You may also do screen shots of the book to put into your family history narratives.

Puzzling it out

When my daughter was born seven years ago, I thought about how she was like a braiding of my history and my husband’s history.  All of our ancestry is tied together in her.  That is when I became interested in learning more about our family trees.

In the beginning, it was all about names and dates- this grandfather was born in that year, and so on.  Gradually, though, it changed.  I became more interested in the lives behind the names.  What was it like to travel in a covered wagon?  How did she feel when her mother died?  What does it mean to choose sides in a war?

Now, genealogy is like a scavenger hunt, but the treasures I find are snippets of real people.  I learn a little bit more with each census or death certificate, and every person in our tree becomes more a part of the people who are still living.

Genealogy is a puzzle, an addicting, amazing puzzle.  I love searching pieces and I look forward to sharing those pieces with you.