Rare Book of the Month: A Suffragist “In the Kitchen”

(The following is a guest blog post written by Elizabeth Gettins, Library of Congress digital library specialist.) 

Elizabeth Smith Miller, from the Smith Miller NAWSA Scrapbooks.

Elizabeth Smith Miller, from the Smith Miller NAWSA Scrapbooks.

It’s the time of year when one’s thoughts turn to hearth and home in preparation for Thanksgiving. In honor of this quintessential American holiday, “In the Kitchen,” by Elizabeth Smith Miller, is the Rare Book of the Month.

Published in Boston by Lee and Shepard in 1875, this book was written by a suffragist who believed that women’s work in the kitchen should not be given short shrift. In fact, she felt that the proper practice of domestic duties were responsible for keeping Americans civilized.

Smith Miller (1822-1911) had the fortune of being born into a well-established New York family. She was the daughter of noted politician and abolitionist Gerrit Smith, and her cousin was none other than Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is interesting to note that aside from her cookbook, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds seven scrapbooks that chronicle Smith Miller’s efforts to secure women’s right to vote. Leafing through these unique one-of-a-kind scrapbooks gives a fascinating glimpse into a slice of time in American history, as well as show that Smith Miller was a woman of industry and approached life with a sense of purpose.

“In the Kitchen” opens with advice regarding how one should conduct their household through meals and entertainment. Standards were to be established and observed as the running of this important duty was seen to have a direct effect on the conduct of all family members.

Book cover of "In the Kitchen."

Book cover of “In the Kitchen.”

Smith Miller writes, “No silent educator in the household has higher rank than the table. Surrounded three times a day by the family, who gather from their various callings and duties, eager for refreshment of the body and spirit, its impressions sink deep, and its influences for good and ill form no mean part of the warp and woof of our lives. … Should it not, therefore, be one of our highest aims to bring our table to perfection in every particular?”

Certainly, Smith Miller held strong convictions about the importance food and dining!

“In the Kitchen” contains more than 500 pages of recipes culled from French, German, English and American collections and is part of the 4,000 volume gastronomic Katherine Golden Bitting Collection. Incidentally, included is a recipe for roast turkey, which may just come in handy for cooks out there still looking for a way to prepare their Thanksgiving bird.

This Thanksgiving season, let us be thankful for those who came before us, securing American women with the right to vote as well as teaching us the importance of a well-run household.

Rare Book and Special Collection Resources

Digitized Gastronomy Books

My Cookery Books: A narrative bibliography by Elizabeth Robins Pennell

Pinterest board based on images from the Katherine Golden Bitting and the Pennell Collection from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division: Art of Good Eating

Join us next month for a look into another historical volume from the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

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