During this time of physical distancing and stay-at-home recommendations, presumably like many of our readers, I have been cooking at home almost exclusively. I love cooking, but after a couple months of teleworking, I grew bored with making the same recipes on loop. For inspiration, I went through my cook book collection and stumbled across a book that my grandparents gave me years ago titled The Congressional Club Cook Book. The book not only gives an interesting insight into food culture in America in the 1960s (countless Jell-O salads), but is also an opportunity to learn about the Congressional Club and former government officials.
The Congressional Club was founded in 1908, with the goal of building a network for socializing and friendships among spouses of senators and representatives. The organization still exists today, although it is now referred to as The Congressional Club Museum and Foundation. According to its website, “the Club’s primary focus has shifted to serving its community and the Nation with not-for-profit partners. Together with its partners, the Club supports causes across the country with a particular focus on entities that support members of our military and their families.” The organization also publishes the above cookbook, which primarily contains recipes submitted by spouses of representatives, senators, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and ambassadors. The Congressional Club continues to print updated editions of The Congressional Club Cook Book, many of which are held in the Library of Congress’s collections.
While skimming the index of contributors, I came across one of the few female elected officials listed in my edition of the book, Margaret Chase Smith. Smith served terms in both the House and Senate between 1940 and 1973, representing Maine. She was the first woman from Maine to serve in Congress, and the first woman to win elections for seats in both chambers of Congress. Smith also ran for president in 1964 and was the first woman to have her name listed for presidential nomination by a major political party.
In addition to her impressive background, Smith is remembered for a speech she gave on the Senate floor that is referred to as “A Declaration of Conscience.” In that speech (beginning on page 7894), she spoke about free speech principles, including: “The right to criticize. The right to hold unpopular beliefs. The right to protest. The right of independent thought.” To commemorate Smith’s speech, a Senate resolution designated June 1, 2010, the 60th anniversary of the speech, as “Declaration of Conscience Day.” Smith passed away in 1995. In her home state of Maine, a congressional research library, federal building, and commuter ferry are named after her.
In learning about Smith it became evident that she was proud of her home state, and that is reflected in her recipes, which included a lobster dish and “Maine Baked Beans.” Smith’s other contributions to the book included recipes for French salad dressing and a lime and cucumber gelatin salad.
I hope this post inspires an interest in both congressional history and trying new recipes!