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Eggsploring the Collections

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This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library. 

In many cultures, eggs feature in creation myths, folk life and stories, and they have been synonymous with spring and rebirth for centuries, as the post “There Will Be Eggs” on the Library’s Inside Adams blog describes. This spring, you can find ways to “eggsplore” the Library’s collections together, beginning with a few suggestions here.

Easter egg rolling, 4/21/24, National Photo Company; Prints and Photographs Division

The White House Easter Egg Roll is an important spring event in Washington, D.C., as these photographs illustrate. Although a very few images do show children of different races at the White House event in early years, African American families were generally not welcome, which is how the alternative annual celebration at the National Zoo came into being.

Some of the most beautiful Easter eggs belong to the Ukrainian tradition of pysanky, shown in these images from the Library’s American Folklife Center (AFC). AFC’s Folklife Today blog has a detailed post about ornamental eggs in different cultures. It includes a link to an “Egg Art” pamphlet with directions for dyeing and decorating your own using traditional techniques and natural dyes.

Digitized classic children’s books from the Library’s collections include egg references in Humpty-Dumpty, a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, and Jack and the Beanstalk, with a hen that lays golden eggs. Egg-sistence is a moral fable from 1917 about a conceited egg. Even Abraham Lincoln used an egg metaphor in a letter he wrote about the Emancipation Proclamation.

Or, you can find new recipes for fresh or hard-boiled eggs in online cookbooks including One Hundred Ways of Cooking Eggs or ideas for keeping eggs fresh in Fresh Eggs and Yellow Butter and How to Preserve Eggs. There are also recipes for using egg substitutes, and an even an Eggless Recipe Book, “dedicated to the economical housewife.”

Eggs colored with homemade natural dyes from the American Folklife Center Egg Art pamphlet.

Eggs have long provided a way to supplement incomes as well as diets. Raising chickens and collecting eggs was often the job of women and children, as these images of a sharecropper’s daughter and a shipyard worker’s son show. Any extras could be sold at farmer’s markets. Eggs play a medical role too; from the 1940s, vaccines against diseases such as typhus and yellow fever were cultivated in eggs.

During the Depression, food parcels given to the needy included eggs. In both World Wars, governments encouraged egg production on the home front, urging citizens to raise chickens in order to supplement the food supply. Posters such as these British and French ones from World War I show the kind of advertising campaigns used. The United States asked its population to provide eggs for overseas relief to allies, and published photographs such as this one, showing American eggs and bacon being served in wartime England.

The next time you peruse a breakfast menu, decorate Easter eggs or arrange an egg hunt, take a moment to reflect on the outsize role that this humble foodstuff has played in so many different ways. It’s nothing short of “eggstraordinary”!

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