Recipes for/of Subversion: The Rhetorical Strategies of The Suffrage Cookbook

Recipes for/of Subversion: The Rhetorical Strategies of The Suffrage Cookbook

Peitho Volume 22 Issue 2 Winter 2020

Author(s): Lisa Mastrangelo

Lisa Mastrangelo is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Composition at Centenary University in Hackettstown, New Jersey.  She is a long time member of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, where she has served on the Executive Board for many years.  She has published in Rhetoric Review, CCC, College English, and Composition Studies.

Abstract: Published in 1915, The Suffrage Cook Book reflected the ways that the suffrage movement, and the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania in particular, had changed from their original tactics, demonstrating genre adaptability by presenting more nuanced (and sometimes more pointed) ways of arguing for suffrage. While cookbooks offer an interesting overview of food history, analysis of the rhetorical methods of The Suffrage Cook Book reveals the group making thoughtful and complex rhetorical moves. Overall, the cookbook demonstrates the Franchise participating in a “new” version of “true” womanhood—one that is both placed squarely within traditional domestic behavior through cooking and attention to the hearth/home and family, but also reflects women who were politically savvy, slightly more progressive than the more conservative national suffrage movement, aware of their audiences, aware of new trends in nutrition and domestic science, and finally, witty, using humor and satire to try to convince their audience.

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Recipes, instructional or indicative, are not, of course, exclusively concerned with the more or less complicated production of routine meals or the orchestration of feasts, though, in doing just that, they evoke the elaborate scene of home, and the contentious arena of domestic politics and family values. In their different appearances, they are also persistently drawn into cultural debates around health and purity, about lifestyle and individualism, and into definitions of the national past, present, and future. (Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster, “The Recipe in its Cultural Contexts,” 1)


It being a human Cook Book there will likely be some errors, but as correcting errors is the chief duty and occupation of the Suffrage Women, I shall accept gratefully whatever criticisms these good women have to offer. (L. O. Kleber, Introduction, The Suffrage Cookbook)

In 1915, the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania made a curious move.  Responding to the growing nationwide movement for equal suffrage, as well as an impending vote on suffrage for Pennsylvania women (which ultimately did not pass), the Franchise voted to increase their annual budget from $8,000 to a seemingly unrealistic $100,000. Records show that members not only solicited large donations from sympathetic philanthropists, but were also encouraged to do what they could to raise funds (rummage sales, jewelry donations, jam, jelly, and produce sales, etc.) (Leach 200). In addition, the Equal Franchise Federation commissioned a group-wide fundraiser—the sale of the organization’s own compilation, The Suffrage Cook Book. L. O. Kleber, a local member, worked to solicit recipes and information for the cookbook, which was published that year. 

The Suffrage Cook Book both communicated the value of suffrage to the Equal Franchise Federation’s audience, but also did so in a way that was traditionally coded female and, at least on the surface, communicated a female/feminized domestic image of the suffrage activities.  While cookbooks offer an interesting overview of food history, analysis of the rhetorical methods of The Suffrage Cook Book reveals the group making thoughtful and complex rhetorical moves. Overall, the cookbook demonstrates the Franchise participating in a “new” version of “true” womanhood—one that is both placed squarely within traditional domestic behavior through cooking and attention to the hearth/home and family, but also reflects women who were politically savvy, slightly more progressive than the more conservative national suffrage movement, aware of their audiences, aware of new trends in nutrition and domestic science, and finally, witty, using humor and satire to try to convince their audience. As Jessica Derleth notes in “’Kneading Politics’: Cookery and the American Suffrage Movement,” “by writing about food and displaying cooking skills, suffragists demonstrated their ongoing commitment to dominant gender expectations even as they demanded the right to vote” (452). Published in 1915, the Suffrage Cook Book also reflected the ways that the suffrage movement, and the Equal Franchise Federation in particular, had changed from their original tactics, demonstrating genre adaptability by presenting more nuanced (and sometimes more pointed) ways of arguing for suffrage.  

Ultimately, the Federation’s 1915 publication of The Suffrage Cook Book offers a way to view the Federation’s beliefs, their participation in contemporary conversations regarding both food and suffrage, and their rhetorical approaches to suffrage. The cookbook was produced at the convergence of the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania’s formation and growth within the food sciences movement, subtle changes in the suffrage movement’s rhetorical strategies, and the community cookbook movement. This essay tracks the history of the Equal Federation’s formation and attempts to align with and push back against national organizations. This is followed by a close analysis of The Suffrage Cook Book and its rhetorical moves, including an active campaign to co-opt the idea of “women in the kitchen” and use it to their advantage. Overall, the cookbook, like other suffrage cookbooks that came before it, both reinforced and reflected the beliefs of the Equal Franchise Federation and their desire to both place themselves within but also push the envelope on the national suffrage debates.

The Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania

While national work on suffrage had been going on since the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, it was in 1890 that the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association consolidated and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) came into existence (Evans 153; Derleth 452). Eventually, NAWSA comprised 700 auxiliary groups, doing work at local, state, and national levels (Sharer 27). In 1910, the group split into the older NAWSA, led by long time suffragist Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, and the newer, more radical National Women’s Party, led by the young Quaker radical Alice Paul.1

In Western Pennsylvania, suffrage efforts experienced a groundswell in 1904, when local resident Jenny Bradley Roessing and her friends formed the Allegheny County Equal Rights Association (ACERA) as a branch of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association (Leach 192).  However, in 1909 ACERA dropped its state and national affiliations “in subtle protest against the lack of progress in the larger organizations” (Leach 193). In 1910, the former members of ACERA began the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania (Leach 193) and, with some concerns, aligned themselves with NAWSA.  

The Federation thus claimed an interesting space for itself—on the face, it was aligned with the more conservative of the suffrage organizations, but largely because of their reluctance to embrace the more radical work of what would become the National Women’s Party. However, they were also disappointed in the conservative, state-by-state work of the national organization, with their focus on “educational strategies” and lack of focus on the political necessity of women’s enfranchisement (Leach 193-194). According to Holly McCammon, this was typical of the entire movement, where “a rising new generation of suffragists argued that the ways of the older suffragists were outdated and too passive” (795). As Leach notes, because it was “determined to make friends, not enemies, the Equal Franchise stressed conventional strategies rather than militancy” (193). In reality, however, the group believed in a more political, more activist agenda than NAWSA had previously employed, and worked to set an ambitious agenda to create their own headquarters in Harrisburg, train women to speak publicly and lobby key lawmakers, and to reach the Pennsylvania public with any means they could imagine (Leach 194). Their production of the 1915 The Suffrage Cook Book is a reflection of this public education drive. While advertised as a fundraiser, The Suffrage Cook Book both contributed to the Federation’s goal of retaining a more conservative image for women while still pushing the suffrage agenda and making some pointed commentary regarding both non-supporters and anti-suffragists.

Community Cookbooks

The surge in early twentieth-century suffrage activities coincided with an already established community cookbook movement. While work on suffrage had wound down during the Civil War, community cookbooks appeared for the first time in 1864, when Maria Moss’s Poetical Cookbook was sold to subsidize costs for the medical care of Union soldiers (Hilliard iv). The cookbooks were a part of a larger rash of self-help manuals published during the time (Johnson 20) and often contained both recipes for food as well as cleaning products, home remedies, and household advice, gathered from contributors and assembled for the specific purpose of fundraising. As a result of Moss’s initial success, other groups began selling cookbooks for war relief, but such projects quickly branched out to local community and religious organizations which sought to fundraise. Such practices not only brought together communities of like groups of people, but the cookbooks also served to communicate American values about food, household order, and cleanliness to both residents and incoming immigrant populations (Hilliard iv; Walden 77). By 1915, community cookbooks were a well-established means for local fundraising, and one in which the suffrage movement also participated.

The timing and overall success of community cookbooks as a fundraising device also coincided with the suffrage movement’s needs to raise funds for lobbying, travel, and printings. Sociologist Stacy Williams has located seven suffrage cookbooks sold as fundraisers. These included The Woman Suffrage Cookbook (Burr, 1886 and 1890, Boston), the Holiday Gift Cook Book (Rockford Equal Suffrage Association, 1891), Washington Women’s Cookbook (Jennings, 1910), The Suffrage Cook Book (Kleber, 1915), Enfranchised Cookery (Hoar, 1915), Suffrage Cook Book (Equal Suffrage League of Wayne County, 1916), and Choice Recipes Compiled for the Busy Housewife (Clinton Political Equality Club, 1916). Of the seven cookbooks that were published, only two are readily available—Burr’s The Woman Suffrage Cookbook from 1886/1890, and Kleber’s The Suffrage Cook Book from 1915.2 I have chosen to work with the Kleber because it quietly but explicitly pushed the rhetorical envelope, demonstrating genre adaptability in ways that reflect the more complicated positions that the suffrage movement had begun to take on by 1915. 

It’s difficult overall to know who bought and read any of the suffrage cookbooks, or how successful they were, either in convincing their readers to join the cause, or in raising funds for the movement. I have been unable, for example, to locate any record of profits from the sales of The Suffrage Cook Book, or find evidence of how (or if) it contributed to the Federation’s 1915 fundraising goals.3

In part, all of the suffrage cookbooks were certainly purchased by women who were connected to the groups selling the books, and were therefore already supporting the cause by financially supporting their local groups (Williams 152). In addition, some evidence exists that in Washington DC in particular, the suffragists went door-to-door, selling the cookbooks and asking for support for their cause. “These tactics likely resulted in women who were not members of a suffrage organization but were sympathetic or indifferent to the movement purchasing and reading the cookbooks” (Williams 152). The audience for the cookbooks, however, was diverse and surely would also have been comprised of women simply looking for a new cookbook, those who were interested in but not yet committed to the cause, and a smaller group comprised of those who did not necessarily support the movement but were curious about how the cookbooks functioned. While the cookbooks most likely had the greatest appeal to those who were already part of the movement, however, they were also meant to convince those who were undecided, who were worried about the pressures that suffrage would put on wives and mothers to “engage in the scuffles and hurly-burly of ‘a man’s world’” (Schneider and Schneider 166).

Suffrage and Conveying the “Proper” Image

Women in 1915 America, while they were on the cusp of enfranchisement, were still often bound by leftover beliefs from the nineteenth century about the cult of true womanhood, with its four pillars of piousness, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity (Cott 69).  Women by the late 1800s, however, had been increasingly leaving the home and entering the public realm, as working class women sought factory work and upper class women publicly worked on various social issues (temperance, suffrage, poverty, etc.). Because suffrage work increasingly included forays into the public/male sphere to attend rallies, give speeches, march in parades, attend political meetings, etc., women were vilified for their disruption of the feminine ideal. Nationwide debates (and even a few divorce proceedings) erupted “about suffragists and their relationships to their husbands, household duties, and domestic harmony” (Derleth 451). As a result, suffragists’ continued participation in the movement led to what Evans terms “politicized domesticity” (153).

Overall, there was tremendous fear that women’s participation in the suffrage movement as a whole would render them too masculine—desexed, unmarriagable, and unable to care for their homes and children. At their best, suffragists were seen as meddling in the proper roles for women and men. At their worst, they were “painted as neglectful mothers and kitchen-hating harridans, busy politicking while their children starved” (Martyris).4 Most of the anti-suffragist arguments were an extension of the early arguments that women’s roles were in the home, and that their moral influence on the voting men in their households already gave them sufficient political power (Schneider and Schneider 166). 

Since suffragists were acutely aware of the ways in which they were portrayed, they worked to counteract those views in the hopes that a “kinder” view of them as womanly women, still able to attend to their duties as wives and mothers, would further their cause. Through such work as the community cookbooks, as Derleth notes, “suffragists used the practice and language of cookery to build a feminine persona for their movement and to demonstrate that enfranchising women would not threaten the vital institution of home and family” (451-2). In addition, they worked to find ways to coopt the “in the home” argument. As Sheryl Hurner notes in “Discursive Identity Formation of Suffrage Women,”  “for the suffrage cause to succeed, women needed to create new identities and definitions of womanhood to extract themselves from symbolically defensive positions” (251). Because even other women were opposed to the ideals of suffrage, the movement had to work doubly hard to present positive/feminized representations of themselves. The suffrage cookbooks overall combine an outward symbol of political work (the very public and visible work to advocate for suffrage) with a symbol of female domesticity (the cookbook itself). The suffrage cookbooks also sent an important message to detractors, implying that suffragists could advocate for political/radical change, but still be women who cared for their families, children, and homes. 

In part, the cookbooks particularly reinforced the idea of women’s role as silent in the culture. They used print culture to co-opt the idea of gendered domesticity, by both sharing the printed message of suffrage quietly and privately while still declaring their public positions to willing readers. The Suffrage Cook Book is no exception. Instead of proclaiming their positions loudly and in public forums (and in turn being referred to as the “shrieking sisterhood” (Chapman 36)), the cookbooks are rhetorically savvy. Their publication meant that the suffrage message could be conveyed and digested in the privacy of the women’s sphere—the home (and more specifically, the kitchen). In her work Making Noise, Making News, Mary Chapman discusses multiple print rhetorical devices that the suffrage movement used to convey their message. In addition to having their own periodicals, they used slogans, silent tableaux, letters to the editor, novels, plays, sketches, songs, film scripts, and speeches (Chapman 7).5 By the time that the cookbooks were starting to be printed in earnest, print culture was also a significant part of their strategy. While print culture could provide for mixed loud/quiet opportunities (“loud” news girls bearing “Suffrage News” bags stood on street corners and yelled out to sell “quiet” suffrage papers, for example), the cookbooks participate in what Chapman notes is a “silent voice” (5).  

This voice also successfully worked with and yet defied the anti-suffragists notions (and often those of the NAWSA) that women should stop being loud and public.  The cookbooks’ use of print did just that: a suffragist “could ‘shout,’ ‘holler,’ and ‘declare’ and be rhetorically persuasive while her literal body remained invisible, acoustically silent, and therefore womanly and unassailable” (Chapman 5). While silence is often seen as a negative for women, the particular silence of the cookbooks actually functions as a powerful rhetorical device (Chapman 58).  It offers women a voice to answer both resistant and male speech and masculinized derision of their roles.   

 The image of women who were functional in both the public and private spheres was also applied so that the reader/viewer could even imagine women leaders of the movement, such as cookbook contributor Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as a woman “who presided lovingly over her home and who sent out her good works and words from that sphere where she exerted her most profound influence of all” (Johnson 118). In an attempt to both appeal to new members and convince those who were against them that the vote would not disrupt their roles as women, much suffrage marketing was concerned with conveying this image. As Cathleen Rauterkas notes in Go Get Mother’s Picket Sign, “all of the suffrage materials, including clothing, postcards, dolls, cartoons, photographs, tea sets and tools of civil disobedience showed that they did not forget the responsibility to the home. Everything they used encompassed the right of suffrage and maintained the image of the dutiful wife and mother” (1). The announcement of the publication of The Suffrage Cook Book in The Woman’s Journal (the major publication of the suffrage movement), reinforces this, noting that the cookbook “ought to silence forever the slander that women who want to vote do not know how to cook” (“Cook Book Will Silence Enemy” 325). The material reminders of the suffragists’ work, including the cookbooks, successfully but quietly reminded citizens of the suffrage movement and intentionally worked to frame the suffrage movement as a movement that was appropriately female/feminine/proper. 

L.O. Kleber’s Influence on The Suffrage Cook Book

Behind every community cookbook is a person or team making decisions about the contents.  Little information is available about L. O. Kleber, the woman who compiled The Suffrage Cook Book. Whenever she is mentioned in newspaper articles about the Equal Franchise Federation or articles about suffrage cookbooks, she is routinely mentioned as L. O. Kleber, and attempts to discover the meaning of the “L. O.” eluded me. According to letterhead produced by the Equal Franchise Federation, Kleber was not listed among the board members of the Equal Franchise Federation in 1913 (“Equal Franchise Federation”). However, a 1916 news article from The Pittsburgh Gazette Times notes that “Mrs. L.O. Kleber reported that Dr. Anna Howard Shaw’s meetings in Pittsburgh had netted the Federation $2500,” (5) perhaps placing her as a key fundraiser or even treasurer. Kleber’s photo also appears in the Pittsburgh Sunday Post in 1916, as a delegate (Pittsburgh) and speaker attending the 48th annual convention of the Pennsylvania Equal Suffrage Association, of which the Equal Franchise Federation was a branch member. 

Black and white portrait photo of a woman smiling and looking slighty off camera.

Fig. 1. Suffragists to attend convention.

She presumably also had a daughter who was near to adult in 1915;  a Miss Laura Kleber of Pittsburgh, PA is listed as a contributor to the cookbook. Thus, it becomes clear that Kleber herself, while remaining a bit of a mystery to us, was an active and known participant in the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania. Clearly her 1915 activism in working on the cookbook was part of her larger activism within the group.

While many versions of Kleber’s The Suffrage Cook Book have been reprinted since its initial publication, the original version shows the designer’s attention to the suffrage movement, and the Equal Franchise Federation’s place within it, right down to the detail of the blue cloth cover. Rhetorically, the cover reflects the state-by-state movement of suffrage as well as the Equal Franchise Federation’s desire to see men and women have equal legal rights to enfranchisement. The cover also reflects patriotism (in the form of Uncle Sam as well as the blue cover) and justice (the scales of justice). Unlike future editions, which list L. O. Kleber prominently on the front cover, no author or editor is listed here. Kleber is listed as “the compiler” in the front pages. There is also no indication from the cover that this is produced by the Equal Franchise Federation. The cover looks professionally designed and seems to indicate that The Suffrage Cook Book belongs to a larger movement, rather than a smaller local group. This may have been intentional on the part of the cover designer, or it may have been an economic decision (more colors and more embossed lettering would have meant greater cost). Regardless, a carefully crafted image of a woman and a man in the “scale of justice,” shows them as equally balanced and held by Uncle Sam. In his hand, he guides a wheel, whose spokes are “a roll call of the suffrage states,” including half a spoke for Illinois, which had partial suffrage (“Cooking for a Cause”). Pennsylvania, rightfully, does not appear as one of the spokes.

The cover of The Suffrage Cook Book is a perriwinkle blue with gold lettering. It features a man holding scales in one had and a wheel in the other.

Fig. 2. Cover of The Suffrage Cook Book.

The Use of Frames: Crafting Careful Rhetorical Arguments

Looking within the cookbook provides further evidence of the rhetorically savvy nature of the Equal Franchise Federation and their use of contemporary arguments for suffrage. For example, the social science concept of framing offers one powerful way to read the rhetorical positioning of the suffragists, and such frames are also reflected in significant ways in The Suffrage Cook Book. Frames are defined as  “action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization” (Williams 148). Holly McCammon and Karen Campbell, in “Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866-1919,” note the existence of “frame bridging” (63) in the suffrage movement. Initially, the suffragists nationwide had used “justice arguments”—those that argued that women, as citizens of the United States, had an inherent right to the vote. However, they quickly discovered that these arguments were met with significant resistance and thus were not rhetorically successful. Their arguments were generally more successful when the women moved to an “expediency argument,” which argued that allowing them to vote would help to bring their nurturing qualities into a public motherhood role, thus improving public life through the addressing of social ills (although suffragists continued to use both arguments when appropriate) (McCammon and Campbell 63). Aileen Kraditor notes the practice of using expediency arguments as early as 1894, and NAWSA used both arguments whenever practical, although they increasingly saw the value of the expedience argument (52). Expedience arguments were used in situations where “social reform was their principle goal and suffrage the means” as well as situations where “the link of woman suffrage to reform seemed to be the best way to secure support for their principle goal: the vote” (Kraditor 45-46). The expedience argument “crafted their public arguments for suffrage in ways that resonated with widely held beliefs in society; in this case, particularly beliefs about women’s appropriate roles” (McCammon and Campbell 63).6 While the claims were the same in both cases (that women should have the vote), the expedience warrant was far more effective than the justice warrant alone. Thus, the expedience frame bridged the beliefs of suffrage (which might be met with opposition) with those that were already held about women’s appropriate roles, and created a new public role in which women’s “special skills” would be brought to bear on public life. In this respect, their argument created a frame that simply extended the role of women, rather than radically changing it.  Likewise the suffrage cookbooks also occupied a space where they presented themselves as examples of the expedience argument. With a focus on nutrition, food science, and family, the cookbooks reinforced the nurturing qualities and public motherhood roles of the suffragists. 

Reflections of the New Woman

In addition to shifts in the framing of suffrage arguments, The Suffrage Cook Book also reflects the Equal Franchise Federation’s attention to other social and cultural changes present by 1915. In particular, the cookbook demonstrates adherence to the new food science movement. Rather than reflecting the “true” woman, the cookbook reflects a “new” woman, creating a more complicated image for themselves—part knowledgeable and cutting-edge housewife, part political organizer, rolled into a compatible whole. For example, The Suffrage Cook Book mixes the new formatting for recipes with the older format of including household hints and recipes for things such as food for the sick and household goods like soap. The recipes follow the “newer” trend at the time of including a list of ingredients followed by the instructions for how to put the recipe together (older recipes contained a single narrative paragraph with the ingredients embedded within).7As Derleth notes, the suffrage cookbooks “capitalized on widespread public concerns and conversations—about health and safety, science and modernization, and the consequences of urbanization—to promote the cause of female enfranchisement” (453). As such, The Suffrage Cook Book works to create an image of women who were both comfortable in the kitchen (no very basic instructions are included for brand new cooks), but were also on the cutting edge of food economy, food science, and family nutrition

Within the seemingly silent book pages, and in addition to the recipes that one would expect to find in any cookbook, Kleber’s cookbook also offers a reflection of the Equal Franchise Federation’s local participation in the suffrage movement. Just over half of the contributions to the cookbook (30 out of 57) are from women in Western Pennsylvania, where the cookbook was published (Green). While there is a list of contributors at the beginning of the book, many of the recipe entries are not identified by contributor unless the contributor is a person of note.

In addition, the opening includes a brief introduction by well-known Western Pennsylvania columnist Erasmus Wilson, who discusses the shift in cookbooks from those that were comprised of recipes that merely tasted good, to those that are aimed at maintaining and promoting health of body and mind (as noted previously, the more modern scientific and nutrition-based approach to food). Wilson likewise places cooking and domestic science as natural (he even refers to them as “sacred”) activities of the suffragists, but also ones that are squarely found in the home. According to Wilson’s introduction to the book, “Women being the homekeepers, and the natural guardians of the children, it is important that they be made familiar with the culinary art so they may be entirely competent to lead coming generations in the paths of health and happiness. So say the members of Equal Franchise Associations throughout the length and breadth of the land” (8). Kleber’s use of Wilson in the introduction sets the reader up for the cookbook as a publication that shows suffrage and the domestic ideal as compatible and links the local Western Pennsylvania organization to the larger national organization. In this scenario, regardless of the suffrage fight, the pillars of true womanhood are reflected in attention to domesticity, piousness, and food purity—but when read carefully these also reflect a new/modern woman who is both aware of the science of nutrition and comfortable having a political voice and traversing the “length and breadth” of the country to fight for her cause.    

Creating Ethos Through The Use of Experts

 Kleber’s The Suffrage Cook Book also follows the model of many of the other community cookbooks by having prominent people contribute to the collection. In addition to their recipe, advice, or suffrage statements, many contributors to Kleber’s collection included photographs that were published next to their pieces.   Such a reliance on “experts” is used to create a greater sense of authority in order to create a greater sense of credibility.  While rhetorical scholars view this as a fallacy, it is, of course, often an effective strategy for helping an audience to relate to and buy into your point, and participates in the traditional practice of many fundraising cookbooks. 

There are several types of “experts” presented in The Suffrage Cook Book. First, Kleber includes recipes and advice from prominent nutrition and health experts. These include information about care of the sick, including a recipe for various types of breakfast mush, contributed by a Dr. Harvey Wiley. Wiley was the driving force behind the 1906 passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, and he later worked in the Good Housekeeping Institute laboratories (“Harvey Washington Wiley”). Wiley encouraged suffrage as a means of securing votes for clean food and drug legislation (Derleth 460) and was also a contributor to the Clinton (NY) Political Equality Club’s 1916 cookbook, Choice Recipes Compiled for the Busy Housewife (Derleth 458). As such, Wiley’s name may well have been familiar to many readers of the cookbook.8

In addition to Wiley, Julia C. Lathrop, the bureau Chief of the U.S. Department of Labor Children’s Bureau, sent in a letter of support for the project (“Lathrop, Julia Clifford”), as did social reformer Jane Addams.  Likewise, an entire section at the end of the cookbook includes “albuminous beverages” (those concocted from eggs), contributed by dietician Alida Frances Pattee, whose book Practical Dietetics is described as “an invaluable book for the home” (222).  Including work from nationally prominent social leaders and those involved in dietetics, nutrition and children’s work strengthens the overall ethos of the cookbook, and shows the suffragists as up-to-date on nutrition and food purity issues. 

The second type of “expert” included in The Suffrage Cook Book was people who were active and involved nationwide in the suffrage movement, particularly members of NAWSA. Carrie Chapman Catt, twice President of NAWSA, included both her image and a recipe for Pain D’Oeufs (184). Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, President of NAWSA between 1904 and 1915, also contributed her support to the project, although she admits that she does not know how to cook, and contributes a recipe that she saw in her local newspaper for bacon with cheese, mustard, and paprika.  Shaw notes “now that is a particularly tasty dish if it is well done. I never did it, but somebody must be able to do it who could do it well” (60). Likewise, recipes and letters of support were contributed by women involved in suffrage and other progressive work across the country, including Mrs. Samuel Semple, the President of the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women, and Harriet Taylor Upton, President of the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association. Mrs. Henry Villard, President of the Women’s Peace Conference, contributed both a statement about the importance of the peace process as well as an image (34-35), and Mrs. Ava Belmont (suffrage activist and President, Political Equality Association, New York) included a recipe for “Mayonnaise Dressing Without Oil” as well as her image (176).

Including pieces from these women helps to show readers that the cookbook organizers were connected to and had the support of the national suffrage movement. In addition, it shows the reader that the Equal Franchise Federation was particularly aligned with NAWSA, where Catt, Shaw, and Belmont in particular were well-known national leaders. No recipes, images, or letters of support are included from the more radical suffragists, but including these from the likes of Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw shows that the Equal Franchise Federation was aligned with and supported by NAWSA.

The third type of “expert” came from authors and “famous people,” such as author Jack London and his wife, who contributed a recipe for Roast Duck (46) and one for Stuffed Celery (99). Charlotte Perkin Gilman [sic] includes a recipe for boiled rhubarb with apples that she labels “Synthetic Quince” (200). Author and columnist Irvin S. Cobb sent a letter of support, and labor leader Margaret Robins contributed a recipe for Lemon Cream (160) 

Beyond this, however, a genre shift is shown in the final type of expert included—national political leaders. Pushing the envelope for what a reader might expect in a cookbook, and making an explicit political statement, political support for the women’s fight for suffrage was offered in the form of letters from the Governors of Arizona, California, Wyoming, Illinois, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. These men, representing eight of the spokes from The Suffrage Cook Book’s cover, wrote in with support for the women and their cause, as well as reflections on suffrage in their own states, lending a significant air of authority to both the cookbook and the suffrage project. In addition, the inclusion of these letters (usually a paragraph or two, interspersed throughout the collection) reflects the group’s changing framing of the suffrage argument.

The expediency argument, discussed earlier, with its focus on using women’s suffrage to assist with social change, is particularly reflected in the letters submitted to The Suffrage Cook Book by the various governors. Idaho Governor Alexander, for instance, writes that in Idaho, suffrage is no longer an experiment, but a successful institution that helps move forward needed “domestic and moral” reforms. His letter, like many, both supports the expediency frame and reassures the reader that women’s suffrage is non-threatening: “The women form an intelligent, patriotic and energetic element in our politics. They have been instrumental in accomplishing many needed reforms along domestic and moral lines, and in creating a sentiment favorable to the strict enforcement of the law” (155). Likewise, Oregon’s Governor Oswald West reports that women’s “influence is most always found upon the side of better government. The result of their efforts is already being reflected in a number of important measures recently adopted in this state, which will make for the public good” (220). Lastly, Kansas Governor George Hodges reports that the replacement of men by women in such government offices as the Board of Administration, the Board of Health, and the Board of Education has facilitated positive change for the state. “The women of Kansas have ‘arrived’ and the state service is better by their participating in it” (182). In this way, the governors, in a cookbook, move the conversation about public activity and republican citizenship from one that is typically gendered male into one that has moral and socially responsible input from women. By including the Governors’ statements in The Suffrage Cook Book, readers can see that the Equal Franchise Federation is also supporting the right of women to vote not just because they are women and somehow inherently deserve it, but because they want a place at the table of state and national policy making.

The use of various experts in the cookbook both reflects a concern for ethos and shows the rhetorical savvy of the Equal Franchise Federation. It also shows the Equal Franchise Federation’s ability to both align themselves with but push against contemporary suffrage arguments and social views about women’s roles. While the “true” woman was in charge of the domestic matter of the home, the “new” woman is appropriately extended to be in charge of the domestic matters of the country as well. By 1915, with successful enfranchisement in place in multiple states, The Suffrage Cook Book was therefore able to offer encouragement and support for the cause from local and national leaders in food science, the suffrage movement, and state politics.

Moving Beyond NAWSA-Pushing the Rhetorical Envelope

The Suffrage Cook Book, in addition to relying on authority figures and an expediency frame to help support the suffrage argument, also includes aphorisms, suffrage-themed recipes (Suffrage Salad Dressing (174) and Suffrage Angel Cake (122), for instance), and “fake recipes” for the reader. However, rhetorically the most powerful recipes in the Kleber collection are the four  “fake” recipes. These represent a significant genre shift from the earlier straight-forward “recipe-household hint” format seen, for example, in Burr’s 1886/1890 The Woman Suffrage Cookbook. Kleber’s inclusion of Hymen Bread (107) and Five Oz. of Childhood Fondant (215), for example, both offer cheery lists of ingredients for a happy marriage and a successful childhood, both reinforcing the notion that women involved in suffrage work could still be kind, generous, and successful spouses and mothers. 

A recipe for "Hymen Bread"

Fig. 3. Hymen Bread recipe (107).

A recipe from "Candies, Inc" to make five ounces of childhood fondant.

Fig. 4. Five-ounce Childhood Fondant recipe (215).

At closer read, though, the Childhood Fondant recipe is not a cheery as it looks; it reinforces the attention to social issues such as childhood poverty, as well as an attention to the physical needs of children (sunshine, good food, etc.) that were a substantial part of reform during the Progressive Era, and pushes the reader towards action. The recipe challenges NAWSA’s approach of simply educating people regarding reform, and instead contains a call to “distribute to the poor.” Both recipes are reminders of the public’s “public housekeeping” expectations for true women, with subtly added reminders that social justice, tolerance, and action were part of the new woman’s role.

More directly and pointedly geared towards the suffrage fight, Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband (Kleber 147) reveals that the women working on the collection were also interested in attempting to change minds. This recipe (along with Anti’s Favorite Hash) also provides a significant departure, for example, from Burr’s 1886/1890 cookbook, which offers aphorisms but no “fake” recipes, and certainly no direct attacks on the opposition. While Burr’s earlier focus on the support for suffrage is clear, Burr’s cookbook is otherwise non-confrontational.  Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband, in contrast, shows an appeal to a potentially reluctant audience that is reflective of the cookbook’s more complex rhetorical approaches of 1915. It is, as Dylan Dryer notes, a “motivated genre change, as tactical social intervention” (Dryer). The argument in the Pie recipe also reinforces the expediency argument presented in the governors’ letters that women have worthwhile contributions to make to significant social issues.

Fig. 5. “Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband,” Kleber, 174.

Fig. 5. “Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband.” (Kleber, 174).

The recipe is overtly political; it shows a sophisticated use of wit as well as a basic list of the issues about which women want to be able to vote. Much like the Childhood Fondant recipe, this list of “ingredients” shows that the suffragists were aware of and concerned about many of the major “municipal housekeeping” causes that women championed—peace, child labor and working conditions for women, and access to wholesome and clean food/water. As Derleth notes, such advocates “pointed to air quality, food purity, and city sanitation as domestic concerns” (457). These were considered issues where women might have appropriate input, and where being enfranchised would help contribute to the country’s moral and physical improvement. The intentional inclusion of this recipe shows women’s awareness of complex social issues (and the need to treat them carefully) and their inclination to draw attention to them.

The recipe also shows an awareness for how to “treat” such issues—carefully, without sarcasm or rough treatment. It also indicates the group’s understanding of class issues and the need to approach them gently, and aligns their own group as less elite and more class inclusive. In part, it shows their understanding of and attacks the notion that the Pennsylvania suffragists had earlier “adopted an elitist posture that kept working-class women at a distance,” (Leach 196) a position that they did not want to take. In fact, in contrast to NAWSA’s general practices, Equal Franchise Federation leader Jennie Roessing insisted that the group address suffrage in all locations, including “every Grange, labor union, church society, men’s gathering, and college group in the State” (Leach 201). While some of the Equal Franchise Federation members reportedly initially chafed at being asked to do work “in the precinct organizations of the Woman Suffrage party rather than in women’s clubs of their own social class” (Leach 203), Roessing’s vision of class inclusion is evident here in the Pie recipe (as it was in the Childhood Fondant recipe as well). This recipe uses “upper crust” both to refer to pie and to refer to class, with a dig at the anti-suffragists along the way. Rhetorically, this shows the suffragists using a domesticated form (the recipe) to make an overtly political point.

Pushing the envelope even further, the fourth “fake” recipe, the Anti’s Favorite Hash, reprinted from The Ebensburg Mountaineer Herald, is much more severe in tone, and recognizes the strength of the anti-suffrage movement, while deriding their viewpoints. This is not a “quiet” recipe but rather a direct attack on the rhetorical methods and beliefs of the Antis. 

Fig. 6. “Anti’s Favorite Hash,” Kleber, 56.

Fig. 6. “Anti’s Favorite Hash.” (Kleber, 56).

The ingredients of acid, mangled truth, injustice, and vitriol, point to a campaign on the part of the anti-suffragists that was run by maligning those who fought for the cause. While the tone is sarcastic, the inclusion of this “recipe” in the suffrage cookbook indicates an awareness of the ways in which the antis perceived the suffragists, and the power of such an image. As well, it offers a perception of how the antis functioned. The view of the antis as seeing the world through “dark glasses” indicates the suffragists’ sense of the antis as impeding progress and maintaining a system of oppression. Lastly, the recipe’s inclusion exerts pressure on those who did not see the potential damage of the anti-suffrage sentiment.

Overall, these two final “recipes” are a momentary act of disruption in an otherwise conventional text. Because they include “deeply political issues in a form and context that used domesticity and cookery as metaphors for political engagement,” (Derleth 465), they also push the boundary on piousness and submissiveness, two of the key pillars of the cult of domesticity and two behaviors that NAWSA encouraged in their membership. Rhetorically, these two recipes reflect a moment of what Burke terms “recalcitrance,” which happens when we “extend our pseudo-statements into the full complexity of life” (Burke 255). As such, while wit and sarcasm cover some of the more direct messaging, the recipes push the boundaries of acceptable behavior advocated by NAWSA, even if temporarily, and venture towards the more overtly political and “loud” statements made by the NWP. While important, they are momentary rhetorical disruptions, however, carefully woven into an otherwise quiet, feminized, and seemingly unobjectionable text. 


Overall, the participants in the woman suffrage movement used a variety of means to forward their agendas. In the case of suffrage cookbooks, however, they worked hard to use established gender norms and expectations to their advantage. Suffragists used the cookbook to help counter beliefs that voting would somehow masculinize them, and render them unfit to care for their homes and families. Furthermore, they used the cookbooks overall as a “quiet” (and therefore feminine/feminized) way to communicate their views, in direct contrast to the ways they had been portrayed as loud or shrill. As Bower notes, “earlier feminists often felt compelled to repress expressions of interest in domestic life for fear that such expression would consign them to an essentialized ‘feminine’ role” (9). But suffragists’ participation in the production of community cookbooks was aimed at exactly that—reminding their readers that they could do both—they would stay female/feminine even if/as they participated in civic life. They used femininity arguments to their advantage and cleverly “connected women with domesticity and socially acceptable forms of womanhood” (Derleth 467).

The Equal Franchise Federation’s use of The Suffrage Cook Book showed their understanding of the complexities of the suffrage movement, and the expectation for their behavior within it. In addition, it showed their understanding of the domestic science movement, the suffrage movement’s limitations, and their own ability to navigate these but also press against them in still seemingly acceptable ways. Overall, Kleber’s collection works to rely on authority, recognize the competition (and attempt to call them out as seeing the movement in unfair ways), use and push against an already extant and gendered idea of women belonging in the kitchen, and work to convince those who were not yet on their side. By adding in recipes from regional women, contributions from famous authors, support from Governors, and “fake” recipes, Kleber’s The Suffrage Cook Book creates a sophisticated, political, relevant product that reflects the Equal Franchise Federation’s complex position on suffrage in 1915—both aligned with but pushing against traditional roles for women, both aligned with but pushing against NAWSA. Kleber’s collection works to subtly remind the reader that suffragists could remain feminine/feminized even as they worked for major social change. They could be the authority figures in their homes, as well as being humorous, politically involved, and astute to both class and gender issues. As such, they invoke disruption through convention, even if it is only momentary. Much work clearly went into the collection, and it reflects the complexity of the suffrage movement and the Equal Franchise Federation’s participation in it.  


  1. This is, of course, a drastically simplified version of the struggle for suffrage. For further elaboration, see Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, Kraditor’s The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, or Evans’s Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America.
  2. Both the Burr and Kleber are widely available online and in reprints, although most of the reprints do not retain the original formatting of the text of the recipes and omit any photos. Burr’s earlier work is a more traditional collection of recipes and household hints and is less overtly political, reflecting earlier suffrage positions (the second version was published in 1890, just as NAWSA consolidated).
  3. While no evidence exists in the newspaper announcements or the Library of Congress filing as to the cost of The Suffrage Cook Book, it likely sold for somewhere around $1, based on the price for both other books and other fundraising cookbooks at the time. The Washington Equal Suffrage Cookbook, for example, sold in 1910 for $1 (“An Equal Suffrage Cook Book”).
  4. As Flexnor and Fitzpatrick note, the anti-suffrage movement was large, organized, and often stealthy. Members included those with liquor interests (who worried that women would vote for temperance (289)) and those with business/labor interests who feared that women would vote for labor reform and anti-trust legislation (289; 293). The Equal Franchise Federation recognized liquor interests and other women as their primary local opponents (Leach 191).
  5. The Equal Franchise Federation also distributed packets of yellow flower seeds, imagining a spring where suffrage gardens would flourish and provide a quiet but external sign of support for the movement (Leach 207).
  6. Jessica Derleth points out the difficulties of the expediency argument, which allowed for class and race bias within the movement, including the argument that only the “most qualified” women should be able to vote. These biases plagued the movement throughout its existence (452).
  7. As Sarah Walden notes, recipes did not change to the current standardized list of ingredients/instructions format until the Progressive Era, when the food science movement worked to make recipes into a form that contained standardized measurements (114).
  8. Wiley also addresses the frugal cook when he discusses the fact that the cereals he recommends are “sufficient for from four to six persons. The cost of the raw material based on the farmer’s price is not over 1 ½ cents” (103), indicating that the cookbook is not just geared for the upper class. While this is not the focus of my analysis, various other recipes also address meat and even fruit
    substitutions to present economical choices.

Works Cited

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