The abundance of advertising in the pages of “The Green Mountain, White Ribbon Cook Book,” published in 1895 by the Vermont branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), shows how savvy New England women had become in raising funds for charitable causes.
The ads document social history. For example, commercial powdered gelatin was an exciting new convenience that eliminated hours of boiling calves’ feet for aspics and jellies. A powdered gelatin dessert with the unfortunate name of Bromangelon featured in one ad. An ad for Grandma’s Flavoring Powders targeted temperance advocates. These powders were an alternative to alcohol-based liquid extracts of vanilla, lemon or orange.
The cookbook also included ads for books published by the WCTU. Most of these were tracts exhorting temperance, but one quirky book by Frances Willard shows how the bicycle became a vehicle to advance the women’s movement.
Frances Willard, the author of “How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle,” served as the WCTU’s president from 1879 until her death in 1898. She had serious difficulty in learning to ride a bicycle, which she attributed to decades of sedentary living. She recalled in a memoir how her days as an active tomboy came to an abrupt end at age 16 when she was required to don a corset and long, heavy skirts and to put her hair up.
Willard was 53 years old when, after many hours of practice, she finally succeeded in riding a bicycle unassisted. She wrote about her experience as an allegory of how achieving social reform requires overcoming numerous setbacks.
Willard’s problems with balancing on a bicycle were compounded by her clothing. She modestly raised her skirts a few inches for pedaling and wore a close-fitting jacket and a hat with feathers. Her conservative bicycling costume was consistent with her public persona. Although she broadened the WCTU’s mission to address other social reforms, such as improving prisons and labor laws and lobbying for women’s suffrage and women’s rights, Willard did not defy social conventions while she advanced liberal reforms.
Outwardly, she conformed to the Victorian ideal of woman as domestic goddess. She pushed for temperance laws as measures to protect women, children and the home. She cleverly lobbied for women’s suffrage as a way to increase the “home protection” vote.
The newly invented safety bicycles spurred female dress reform and gave women more independence in transportation. A woman with a bicycle did not need to ask a man to harness horses and drive her where she wanted to go. She could race away from chaperones and could meet male cyclists on more equal terms. So bicycles became a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement.
The green mountains in the cookbook title refer to Vermont, and the white ribbon was the symbol of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The book contained interesting bread recipes, including the following one for oatmeal bread. The generous amount of sugar is typical of late 19th-century cooking. You can cut the sweetener to ¼ cup and substitute honey or molasses if you prefer.