Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2021 Issue

One of America's Best-Selling Authors Has Turned 100 Years Old

The first portrait of Betty Crocker, created when she was 15 years old (1936).

This year we are celebrating the 100th birthday of one of America's most popular authors. Her first book has sold over 75 million copies, but she has written about 250 in total. We don't have counts for the other 249, but it must be a lot. Everyone knows her name, and if you haven't purchased one of her books, you undoubtedly have purchased something else she makes.

 

Not too many people hang around long enough to celebrate their 100th birthday, and that is true of our author. Sadly, she is no longer with us. Actually, she never was. She was a fiction from the day she was “born” 100 years ago. Many people realize this, but many others do not and are shocked to learn there is no real Betty Crocker and never was. However, she is no more real than her brother at General Mills, the Pillsbury Doughboy. No one ever thought he was real.

 

Betty Crocker was born in the Washburn-Crosby flour mill of Minneapolis in 1921. The firm had run a contest in the Saturday Evening Post for their Gold Medal Flour. Along with contest entries, many people wrote letters to the firm, primarily looking for cooking tips. The firm's Advertising Director, Sam Gale, decided to answer all of those letters. However, he thought the women who wrote most of them would not take kindly to a man telling them how to run their kitchen. He decided to create a woman to answer the letters, choosing the name Betty Crocker since Crocker was the last name of a retired company director, and the name sounded wholesome and reassuring, a good name for a friend to the homemaker.

 

The letters kept coming, and “Betty” and her large staff of assistants kept answering them all. While cooking was the primary focus, Betty's friendly and helpful image led to people asking advice on all types of issues. In 1928, Washburn-Crosby combined with some other mills to form General Mills, now a massive conglomerate producing all sorts of foodstuffs, with Betty's friendly face appearing on many. Her image has changed with the times, to a more contemporary look, but she has stayed forever young, or more accurately, forever middle-aged.

 

As if she weren't already busy enough, Betty turned her hand to writing in 1950. That is when she published the Betty Crocker Cookbook. That is the one that has sold 75 million copies and counting. As with the letters, she had her staff lend a hand with the book writing. Recipes have changed over the years, and while some are daring, it maintains a staple of “meat-and-potatoes” type dishes, things with which people can feel comfortable, comfort food if you will. One that has remained since the beginning is banana bread, evidently a timeless favorite.

 

One other thing has changed since Ms. Crocker started writing as a lady of merely 29 years of age. Not so many recipes are based on starting from scratch. In those days, most women were expected to be homemakers, preparing dinner for when her man came home from “work.” Back then, men incorrectly believed they were the partner who worked hardest. Today's recipes feature more prepackaged foods and mixes as women do both the traditional jobs of their own and their husband's. For some reason, this is considered as emancipation from traditional roles. Betty isn't fooled. She keeps Mr. Crocker in the kitchen baking banana bread.


Posted On: 2021-11-01 02:46
User Name: bukowski

Rather paternalistic and old-fashioned view of relations between men and women at the end there. Perhaps your ancestors were slave owners?


Posted On: 2021-11-01 04:42
User Name: ae244155

I guess your point is that if someone's ancestors many generations ago were slave owners or did something else terrible, their descendants 160 years later are terrible. Interesting theory.


Posted On: 2022-02-02 03:05
User Name: drmaio30

Good day fellow book lovers, I read this article by chance, as to find who might be the author of such a body of work. I was very interested to find the subject was the imaginary icon of North American cooking, Ms. Betty Crocker. That being said, I was also struck by the ideas presented in the last paragraph of the piece. Being a history major as an undergraduate student in the 1980s, I had an elective class which embraced early twentieth century american (U.S.) social and cultural history. One of the areas studied in this course was the “Cult of Domesticity” as it pertained to Women in normalized society for the era/ historical period covered. This topic was interpreted by modern historians, who had lived through or experienced a post war (WWII - Vietnam), post civil rights, and post equality/ equal rights era of North American society. I don’t remember the history as being overly critical of the ideas of the said time period, as much as it was informative of the practiced and observed relational deliniations between Men and Women in modern industrial society. Since those earlier times, Women in the United States of America have made incredible gains in all areas of social, economic, and cultural endeavor.
That being said, one can make an argument that Women, in those times , worked equally as hard as Men, albeit in different jobs and capacities. It is not my purpose to illuminate or discuss this notion, because of its complexity and depth. I will offer my opinion that this country, the United States of America, was built on the backs of Men…the Men who timbered wood, who mined coal and iron, who plowed fields for food; Men that black-smithed, hammered, sawed, shoveled, pulled, dug, pushed, harvested; Men who built homes with the wood, and skyscrapers with the steel made in mills, by these same Men; Men that welded bridges, boilers, ocean liners, and oil tankers; Men that broke horses for riding; Men that built stage coaches for moving people, cargo and mail; Men that built cars and trucks; Men that built the railways, made roads, and constructed interstate highway systems; Men that set poles and then climbed those poles to install electric and phone lines across entire the U.S.; Men that enlisted, fought, suffered, died in the World Wars and witnesssed the horrors of humanity on a personal level, and then retured to normal life to begin again; Men that assumed the responsibilty for the lives and well being of their Wives, children, friends, family, and community. These are just a small handful of reasons why Men who lived during the Betty Crocker years, may have held the opinion that they worked harder than their Wives or Women, in general.
The ideas that Men would prefer not to subject Women to the toil and physical hardship of manual labor, the horrors of war and battle, or the financial responsibility for all in their charge, were cultural and societal norms that were generally believed and practiced by most, in those bygone days. Back then, and now, Women were and should be protected from harm and treated with a higher form of respect, care, and courtesy. But these virtues are becoming lost in the new reality of modern feminism and its progenators. I understand that there is currently a bipartisan movement in the U.S. Congress to require young Women to apply for selective service, just like young Men, at the age of eighteen years. It disenheartens and angers me to believe that my seventeen year old daughter might be drafted and have to go to war (in some capacity) in the near future. Horray for a century of hard-fought, hard-earned progressive american feminism…. Congratulations, here’s your battle rifle! Betty Crocker better get ready to fight for herself...It doesn’t sound like she ever found a real husband, certainly not a Man!


Posted On: 2022-02-02 03:13
User Name: drmaio30

Good day fellow book lovers, I read this article by chance, as to find who might be the author of such a body of work. I was very interested to find the subject was the imaginary icon of North American cooking, Ms. Betty Crocker. That being said, I was also struck by the ideas presented in the last paragraph of the piece. Being a history major as an undergraduate student in the 1980s, I had an elective class which embraced early twentieth century american (U.S.) social and cultural history. One of the areas studied in this course was the “Cult of Domesticity” as it pertained to Women in normalized society for the era/ historical period covered. This topic was interpreted by modern historians, who had lived through or experienced a post war (WWII - Vietnam), post civil rights, and post equality/ equal rights era of North American society. I don’t remember the history as being overly critical of the ideas of the said time period, as much as it was informative of the practiced and observed relational deliniations between Men and Women in modern industrial society. Since those earlier times, Women in the United States of America have made incredible gains in all areas of social, economic, and cultural endeavor.
That being said, one can make an argument that Women, in those times , worked equally as hard as Men, albeit in different jobs and capacities. It is not my purpose to illuminate or discuss this notion, because of its complexity and depth. I will offer my opinion that this country, the United States of America, was built on the backs of Men…the Men who timbered wood, who mined coal and iron, who plowed fields for food; Men that black-smithed, hammered, sawed, shoveled, pulled, dug, pushed, harvested; Men who built homes with the wood, and skyscrapers with the steel made in mills, by these same Men; Men that welded bridges, boilers, ocean liners, and oil tankers; Men that broke horses for riding; Men that built stage coaches for moving people, cargo and mail; Men that built cars and trucks; Men that built the railways, made roads, and constructed interstate highway systems; Men that set poles and then climbed those poles to install electric and phone lines across entire the U.S.; Men that enlisted, fought, suffered, died in the World Wars and witnesssed the horrors of humanity on a personal level, and then retured to normal life to begin again; Men that assumed the responsibilty for the lives and well being of their Wives, children, friends, family, and community. These are just a small handful of reasons why Men who lived during the Betty Crocker years, may have held the opinion that they worked harder than their Wives or Women, in general.
The ideas that Men would prefer not to subject Women to the toil and physical hardship of manual labor, the horrors of war and battle, or the financial responsibility for all in their charge, were cultural and societal norms that were generally believed and practiced by most, in those bygone days. Back then, and now, Women were and should be protected from harm and treated with a higher form of respect, care, and courtesy. But these virtues are becoming lost in the new reality of modern feminism and its progenators. I understand that there is currently a bipartisan movement in the U.S. Congress to require young Women to apply for selective service, just like young Men, at the age of eighteen years. It disenheartens and angers me to believe that my seventeen year old daughter might be drafted and have to go to war (in some capacity) in the near future. Horray for a century of hard-fought, hard-earned progressive american feminism…. Congratulations, here’s your battle rifle! Betty Crocker better get ready to fight for herself...It doesn’t sound like she ever found a real husband, certainly not a Man!


Posted On: 2022-02-02 03:14
User Name: drmaio30

Good day fellow book lovers, I read this article by chance, as to find who might be the author of such a body of work. I was very interested to find the subject was the imaginary icon of North American cooking, Ms. Betty Crocker. That being said, I was also struck by the ideas presented in the last paragraph of the piece. Being a history major as an undergraduate student in the 1980s, I had an elective class which embraced early twentieth century american (U.S.) social and cultural history. One of the areas studied in this course was the “Cult of Domesticity” as it pertained to Women in normalized society for the era/ historical period covered. This topic was interpreted by modern historians, who had lived through or experienced a post war (WWII - Vietnam), post civil rights, and post equality/ equal rights era of North American society. I don’t remember the history as being overly critical of the ideas of the said time period, as much as it was informative of the practiced and observed relational deliniations between Men and Women in modern industrial society. Since those earlier times, Women in the United States of America have made incredible gains in all areas of social, economic, and cultural endeavor.
That being said, one can make an argument that Women, in those times , worked equally as hard as Men, albeit in different jobs and capacities. It is not my purpose to illuminate or discuss this notion, because of its complexity and depth. I will offer my opinion that this country, the United States of America, was built on the backs of Men…the Men who timbered wood, who mined coal and iron, who plowed fields for food; Men that black-smithed, hammered, sawed, shoveled, pulled, dug, pushed, harvested; Men who built homes with the wood, and skyscrapers with the steel made in mills, by these same Men; Men that welded bridges, boilers, ocean liners, and oil tankers; Men that broke horses for riding; Men that built stage coaches for moving people, cargo and mail; Men that built cars and trucks; Men that built the railways, made roads, and constructed interstate highway systems; Men that set poles and then climbed those poles to install electric and phone lines across entire the U.S.; Men that enlisted, fought, suffered, died in the World Wars and witnesssed the horrors of humanity on a personal level, and then retured to normal life to begin again; Men that assumed the responsibilty for the lives and well being of their Wives, children, friends, family, and community. These are just a small handful of reasons why Men who lived during the Betty Crocker years, may have held the opinion that they worked harder than their Wives or Women, in general.
The ideas that Men would prefer not to subject Women to the toil and physical hardship of manual labor, the horrors of war and battle, or the financial responsibility for all in their charge, were cultural and societal norms that were generally believed and practiced by most, in those bygone days. Back then, and now, Women were and should be protected from harm and treated with a higher form of respect, care, and courtesy. But these virtues are becoming lost in the new reality of modern feminism and its progenators. I understand that there is currently a bipartisan movement in the U.S. Congress to require young Women to apply for selective service, just like young Men, at the age of eighteen years. It disenheartens and angers me to believe that my seventeen year old daughter might be drafted and have to go to war (in some capacity) in the near future. Horray for a century of hard-fought, hard-earned progressive american feminism…. Congratulations, here’s your battle rifle! Betty Crocker better get ready to fight for herself...It doesn’t sound like she ever found a real husband, certainly not a Man!


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