If your image of the women’s suffrage movement is women in long white dresses with picket signs and militant marches through the streets, you are not alone. That was my image, too—before I learned of the courageous and creative suffragists who carried their messages into American homes through cookbooks and food. Ingeniously, they packaged their political message in cookbooks, recipe contests, lunchrooms and even packages of suffrage tea, which they sold through the mail decades before computers and online shopping.
Who were these remarkable women? After finding one of their cookbooks by chance, I simply had to know more. The search led me to all of the existing suffrage cookbooks and an unappreciated part of history that even those who celebrate the suffrage victory rarely acknowledge.
The battle for women’s right to vote stretched over 70 years. It began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and lasted until the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to deny women the vote. (Sadly, not all American women got the right to vote in 1920. It took until the Voting Rights Act in 1965 before Black women’s right to vote was protected, and even today, voter suppression prevents some women from exercising their right to vote.) The suffragists suffered many defeats during the long struggle. But they never gave up, and they gathered support in every corner of America, from the largest cities to small towns and rural farms.
Their savvy strategy used food—common ground no matter whom they were talking to and where they were—to gain access and trust. Approaching with a recipe or a piece of cake opened up a conversation, even with those who were otherwise unwilling to talk or uninterested in their cause.
The suffrage cookbooks are what is known as “community cookbooks.” Put together by a single woman or a small group, they include favorite recipes from a variety of contributors. As fundraisers and consciousness-raising tools, the cookbooks were effective. We’ll never know how many there were; we only know of the fewer than ten that have survived. But there are tantalizing hints of several others, now lost to us.
The surviving suffrage cookbooks begin with a slim volume created in Boston in the 1880s. Like some of the others, this suffrage cookbook contains more than recipes. In addition to quotes and comments from well-known contributors favoring woman suffrage, the cookbook also includes medical treatments and directions for how to make household items such as soap. Suffragists in Rockford, Illinois put together The Holiday Gift Cookbook a few years later.
The largest suffrage cookbook is from Washington state, where suffragists put together one with hundreds of recipes. At the opposite end in terms of size, an organization of women household workers collaborated with the Woman’s City Club of Long Beach, California to publish a sweet pamphlet called Little Tastes of Enfranchisement that runs less than 20 pages. The latest suffrage cookbook we know of comes from the women of Wayne County, Michigan.
There were certainly many Jewish suffragists, but we do not know whether any Jewish women contributed recipes to the suffrage cookbooks. Many of the recipes are attributed to individuals, but only with their names and sometimes their location.
In any event, there is one recipe in the Washington state suffrage cookbook that is particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah: an apple-and-onion-based “emergency salad.” Updated with a lime and honey dressing, this savory yet slightly sweet salad is a nice change-of-pace way to welcome the new year. The recipe serves just four, and it is easy to halve for two servings or quarter for a single portion. In my book, that gets it bonus points these days, as we celebrate meals alone or in small groups.
Use this suffrage recipe for apple and honey “emergency salad” as a twofer—to celebrate both the suffrage victory and Rosh Hashanah.
All Stirred Up: Suffrage Cookbooks, Food, and the Battle for Women’s Right to Vote tells the story of how suffragists used food to win over the nation. It also provides over 50 recipes from these fascinating cookbooks, both their original form and adapted so that you can make them in honor of the women who won the right to vote.
And don’t forget to vote on November 3rd.