Ask A Librarian

Business wives, mothers, and brides

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
June 21st, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the eighth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

The author of A Date with a Dish, Freda de Knight discusses women’s roles in an unintentional, matter of fact way. It’s clear that this 1948 cookbook was written for and by another generation. Today’s college women might not relate to these assumptions; I admit some of them made me cringe.

Excerpt reads, "Mothers and housewives who are fortunate enough to stay at home must use every minute of their time to advantage. And when they buy a good cook book, they should read it! For business-wives, mothers and brides, there are packaged foods galore, time savers and corner cutters which are solely needed. But in their spare time, if they read their cook books, they too can accomplish miracles."

What is a business-wife? Does she mean microwave meals? Why does reading a cookbook sound like a grueling homework assignment?

To start, the microwave was invented in 1946. This was the dawn of ready-to-eat foods. While homemade meals are still prioritized, Freda recognized the convenience culture that was born with the microwave and shrewdly incorporated it into her book.

Moving on to women’s roles, I was overwhelmed by Freda’s suggestions and tips. I can’t imagine the pressure and societal expectations that Freda and her readers faced. Furthermore, it’s one thing to read about sexist gender roles in a textbook. It’s much more personal and triggering to read them in a cookbook, even though I understand the context was different.

This work allows modern women to better understand the stressors on Black women of Freda’s time. You can read about how they managed the home, meal prepped, and went about teaching dietary habits to kids. First hand records like cookbooks are indispensable pieces of evidence to appreciate the daily existences of Black women in America. I urge you to use one in your next history project!

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