The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


Inheritance of Story

Just wanted to update you. I am still writing. Still researching, although I have called myself out and realize I could research this book for a lifetime. I am in the process of an office makeover. Juney and Granny Dell would approve — it is designed to be clutter free. I have organized (or rather am organizing) the research I have gathered.  I am also working on another project simultaneously, but these two projects are my focus.

You know (or now you do) that I have my grandmother’s notebooks.  My mother left me my grandma’s notebooks and photo albums. She knew I would need them and had the foresight that mothers do to know I would write this story someday. I do regret not listening to her more acutely when she told me about the Community Kitchen, but the stories are in my bones and I have the letters she wrote Juney to interpret their relationship.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

I wished I had asked so many more questions, but that is how it turned out.  I was busy with life. Truth be told, my mother and I had a difficult relationship. We were very much alike. But oh, could she make me laugh. I miss her so much. The pain of losing your mother is so acute. I do feel I am moving into the obtuse angle of grief where I can see things more clearly. I like this much better than acute grief, but you can’t have one without the other. Right?

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

My mother also felt her mother’s death with acuteness. She would have moments when I was older (my grandma died when I was 10) that showed this acute grief retracting from the obtuse angle decades allow. I am curious about how my grandma felt about her mom.  They too had a difficult relationship, so I have heard.  I think they were a lot alike as well, both driven by a furious need to achieve. I have that in me to. Perhaps it is a hole I am trying to fill, perhaps it straight up ambition.

Just wanted to write a quick note and update you. I do appreciate you following this blog. I just want you to know I am hard at work on the manuscript. It’s filled with delectable goodies and interesting historic conflict, as well as personal conflict.

Back to the other project I am working on — I am starting my own company and gearing up to self-publish The Original Journal. I have had to move through many phases of fear and insecurity, but what has prevailed is a business instinct I never knew existed in me. I thank my Elizabeths (Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty) — my great-grandmother, grandma, and mom. I am a fourth generation Elizabeth. My middle name is Elizabeth. My mom’s cousin, shares the same middle name. Mary Liz has been a wonderful resource for this book. She is ninety and sharp as a tack. I call her when I want to hear my mom’s voice. They do not have the same voice, but somehow hearing her distinct voice connects me to my mom. Mary Liz and my mom were very close and kept in contact all my mom’s life. Mary Liz has been wonderful answering my questions and she too possesses the same brevity my mom did. What is important is the connection to the story. This is my story to tell and I am going to tell it.

I wonder what insecurities and fears Granny Dell had when she was starting her business in a time when women were not even active outside the home. Joining a women’s club was looked down upon. Thank goodness she was in a great community of progressive women during the Progressive Era. Evanston 1919 was the right place at the right time to start a business.

I am on the hot pursuit of tracking down the film footage done by Pathe News Media of the Community Kitchen in 1920. I thought I had it nailed when I had a lead that Pathe News Media donated their three thousand miles of film footage to the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, but it was de-accesed in 1950. Now onto the next lead. I know that footage exists somewhere. I can’t wait to watch Juney and Granny Dell prepare a luncheon for 3,000 delegates at a national conference. This is also where my grandma developed an allergy to chicken because it was the hottest day on record for the year and they prepared 5,000 gallons of chicken salad! She avoided chicken her whole life after that. But I am also careful and aware of the rabbit hole of research I can fall into.  I will post pictures here of the office when it is finished.

Did you know that the Community Kitchen renovated a house on Chicago Avenue and used that as its headquarters after it moved from the Evanston Woman’s Club basement. I wonder who picked the colors. I had a time of it deciding on a color for my new office. I went with the color suggestion the interior designer who lives across the street in my historic neighborhood (I live in 1880 Victorian we have fixed up and it has been a project!). This interior designer’s name is Charles and he was born the same year as my mother, 1935. I love talking to him about yesteryear.

More to come and I promise more updates.

Updating once a week is a reasonable promise. So hold me to it!  Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty — you too. 🙂

Grandma and me

Grandma (Juney), Mom (Betty) and me (Megan Elizabeth)

 

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Questions I’d Ask My Grandmother Now

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Questions I'd Ask My Grandmother Now

I wish I could go back in time and ask my grandmother a million questions.

I do remember asking her when I was nine years old, as she sat with her legs crossed like she has in the photo, on the tan plaid couch in our living room with brown thread stitching, “Why do your boobs sag, Grandma?” I remember being very curious why they hung so low.

She was so kind. She laughed a little at my blunt nature and smiled, as if she understood my bluntness from her own experience. She was a straight shooter. I loved that about her.

My dear Megan, “We had to wear corsets when I was young.”

“What are corsets?” I asked curiously.

“They were uncomfortable, but squeezed everything in. You should be happy you will never have to wear one.”

I miss my grandma, but I feel closer to her as I research her life and her mother’s life through The Community Kitchen. My mother recently passed away. She was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery July 1. Her inurnment ceremony was beautiful. Her ashes were joined with my father’s who passed in 2003.

I will be going to Evanston this week to conduct on-site research at the Evanston History Center. I received a Regional Artist Project Grant funded through the North Carolina Arts Council, Pitt Council Arts Council, and the Wilson Arts Council for travel expenses. I am very excited to be able to go to Evanston and all the places my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother stepped before me.

This article is a great link (The History of Meatless Mondays) by Katherine Spiers about the history of food conservation during WWI. As you know, if you follow this blog — the Evanston Community Kitchen sprang from a Evanston Woman’s Club food conservation project (the Food Conservation Committee of the Woman’s Club). My great-grandmother (Elizabeth Hawley Odell, also referred to below as Mrs. James Odell) was one of the three committee chairwomen, along with Mrs. Dawes and Mrs. Kingsley. At the time, my grandmother was 19 years old and living in Evanston.

If I could travel back in time, I would shadow both my grandmother and great-grandmother during this time period. I would love to watch my grandmother’s hands as she helped prepare canned fruits and vegetables from local victory gardens.  These historical moments are what I will be researching when I travel to Evanston this summer.

“During World War I (1917/8), through the Food Conservation Committee of the Woman’s Club, she helped to found (with Mrs. James Odell and Mrs. Homer Kingsley) and manage a community canning kitchen, which produced almost 7000 jars of food over a summer. This Conservation Committee further put on food demonstrations for women at Schools of Domestic Sciences all over the city and trained volunteers to teach others; they also wrote to merchants about complying with the conservation order of the United States, especially to find substitutes for wheat, meat, fat, and sugar.” — Evanston Women’s History Project Database (Helen Palmer Dawes), Evanston History Center


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1913: Evanston Woman’s Club Annual Meeting, Freshwater Fury, Mona Lisa Returns, Illinois Women Get Right to Vote, and Charlie Chaplin Begins His Career

The Lake Shore News was published every Thursday from 1912 – 1923 covering news from Evanston, Glencoe, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Lake Forest, Wilmette, and Winnetka. A subscription price for a year was $2.  Albert H. Bowman was the managing editor. Bertha R. Bowman was the assistant editor and James Leonard Lee was the city editor.  If one wished to submit news items, they needed to be submitted no later than noon on Monday to be published in the Thursday weekly.

What I enjoyed about this slice of research was how it felt like reading Facebook in the section What People Are Doing in Evanston.  I was able to read The Lake Shore News archived copies.  I found this resource as I was researching the Community Kitchen. What I enjoyed the most was reading the advertisements.

Some of the 1913 status updates (May 1, 1913 from The Lake Shore News) were as follows:

  • Mr. Earl Coate and Fred Carlson are overhauling their boat, the “Loon,” preparatory to entering the Lipton cup races this summer.
  • Mrs. Charles Frederic Blue, Jr., 425 Greenwood boulevard, was hostess at a dinner Friday evening before the Bachelors’ and Benedicts dance. Covers were laid for fourteen. Monday afternoon Mrs. Blue entertained at a bridge party.
  • The senior promenade of Northwestern University will be given tomorrow evening at the Evanston Woman’s Club. The patrons and patronesses will be President A. W. Harris, Miss Irene Blanchard, Dean and Mrs. T. F. Holgate, Director and Mrs. J. F. Hayford, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Patten, Prof. and Mrs. U.S. Grant, Prof. and Mrs. P. Fox, Dr. and Mrs. Snyder, and Mr. and Mrs. D. J. West.
  • Miss Helen Randlev, 1011 Maple avenue, was a luncheon hostess Saturday.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Percival H. Truman, 2602 Harrison street, entertained at cards Monday evening. There were three tables.
  • Mrs. Adolf Jahn, 2344 Orrington avenue, entertained a party of Northwestern university students Friday evening at her home.
  • A son was born to Mr. and Mrs. William J. Sack of Ravenswood, April 24. Mrs. Sack will be remembered as Miss Ethel Davis of this city.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Henry W. Leman, 1326 Judson avenue, had as their weekend guests, Mrs. Roe and her son, Russell, of Chicago.
  • Miss Kathleen Rowe, 2311 Sherman avenue, entertained the girls of the ancient history classes of the High school at her home Friday afternoon.
  • Arthur Marshall Morgan, Jr., left Evanston Thursday to spend the summer on a farm near Rockford, Illinois.
  • Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Mitchell, 1031 Judson avenue, have taken the house at 1032 Michigan avenue and will move there today.
  • Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Gardner, 811 Washington street, left Tuesday for Otia, Michigan, where they have purchased a fruit farm.
  • Mrs. E. Warner Coburn, Forest avenue and Lincoln place, entertained at bridge Thursday afternoon in honor of Miss Lucille Churchill of Erie, Pa. There were five tables.
  • The Beta Pi chapter of the Delta Tau Delta, 2207 Sherman avenue, gave its last dance of the school year Saturday evening at the Evanston Woman’s Club. It was informal.
  • Mr. Albert H. Ulrich, 629 Davis street, and daughter, Miss Dorothy, have arrived safely in Italy. They have visited all the more important towns, and are now in Venice.

From The Lake Shore News September 25, 1913:

“A reception to the president and officers of the Woman’s Club was held Tuesday afternoon in the clubhouse. It was the first regular meeting of the club and followed immediately an adjourned annual meeting.  In the receiving line were the president  Mrs. Rufas C. Dawes, and the officers, among the latter were Mrs. James Odell, Mrs. Frank A. Vickers, Mrs. James A. Patten, Mrs. N. W. Helm, Mrs. Perkins Base, Mrs. William G. Alexander, Mrs. W. S. Carson, Mrs. R. R. McCabe, Mrs. T.P. Stanwood, Mrs. John Schwender, Mrs. W.M. Turner, Mrs. N.D. Harris, Mrs. A.F. McCarrell, Mrs. P.V.E.B. Ward, Mrs. JasHibben, Mrs. W.M. Locy, and Mrs. Howard Wilcox. The social committee  of which Mrs. R.R. McCabe is chairman, had charge of the affair. Mrs. Robert Ambrosius, a cello artist and a member of the Chicago Orchestra, gave a delightful program, assited by Miss Prudence Neff at the piano. A social hour followed at which Mrs. Irving Osborne, Mrs. U.S. Grant, Mrs. Ernest Rockitt and Mrs. F.W. Harnwell poured.”

If you would like to read a detailed history of the Evanston Woman’s Clubhouse building, this is an excellent research article from the Evanston History Center’s blog: It Takes a Village…to Raise and Maintain a Building written by Erin Hvizdak. She is an intern at the Evanston History Center and is getting her Masters in Women’s and Gender Studies at Loyola.  She holds a Masters in Library Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Cornerstone Celebration, May 28, 1912. The woman in the photo is Mrs. C.E. Clifton, president of the Club. The man is unidentified.
Photo: Courtesy of the Woman’s Club of Evanston.

“The clubhouse is located at 1702 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Illinois. The clubhouse cornerstone was laid in 1912. Its doors were opened in 1913, thanks largely to the work of one member, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, chair of the Building Committee. Former Mayor of Evanston, Mr. James A. Patten, agreed to fund a third of the building cost if the women came up with the rest. They did just that. Property was purchased from Northwestern University which is a number of blocks away. The clubhouse was designed by the famous Chicago architect, Ernest Mayo, and opened its doors on March 11, 1913.”  Source: Woman’s Club of Evanston.

If you would like to learn more about Ernest Mayo, click here.

Less than two months later of the Club’s September 23 Annual meeting, the greatest storm to ever hit the Great Lakes happened between November 6 and November 11, 1913. The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was  the deadliest storm in the history of the Great Lakes.  This natural disaster known as the “Big Blow, “Freshwater Fury”, or “White Hurricane” took the lives of more than 250 people between Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie destroying 19 ships, and stranding 19 others.  If you would like to read more about this historic storm, here is a great article from the The Detroit News.

Other major news events of 1913:

  • March 3, 1913 – National American Woman Suffrage Association parade held in Washington, D.C.
  • March 11, 1913 – Evanston Woman’s Club opens its doors

    Postcard of the Woman’s Club of Evanston. Courtesy of the Woman’s Club of Evanston.

  • June 1913 – The Illinois legislature passed a bill to allow women the right to vote in 1913. On June 26, 1913, Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne signed the bill in the presence of Grace Wilbur Trout, her assistant,  Elizabeth Booth, and union labor leader Margaret Healy.
  • September 23rd – Serbian troops march into Albania
  • October 3rd – Federal Income Tax signed into law (at 1%)
  • November 11th – 14th – The Nineteeth Annual Convention of the Illinois State Federation of Women’s Clubs headquartered at the new Evanston Woman’s Clubhouse. Mrs. James Odell (my great-grandmother) was the Chair of the Finance Committee of convention.
  • December 12th – “Mona Lisa,” stolen from Louvre Museum in 1911, recovered
  • December 16th – Charlie Chaplin began his film career at Keystone for $150 a week
  • December 21st – 1st crossword puzzle (with 32 clues) printed in NY World
  • December 23rd – President Woodrow Wilson signs Federal Reserve Act into law
  • Portrait of Mona Lisa (1479-1528), also known as La Gioconda, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo; 1503-06 (150 Kb); Oil on wood, 77 x 53 cm (30 x 20 7/8 in); Musee du Louvre, Paris
    Source: WebMuseum, Paris

  • If you have any information on any of the women who are listed above, please contact me.  I am working on a historic food memoir about my great-grandmother, Mrs. James Odell and the Evanston Community Kitchen.  You can email me directly at memomuse@gmail.com. My name is Megan Oteri.

I received a Regional Artist Project grant recently (in fact I received the check for the grant in the mail today) from the Pitt County Art Council at Emerge.  I am very excited I have the opportunity to travel to Evanston, Illinois to conduct on-site archival research.  I plan on visiting the Evanston History Center, the Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University Library, and other Evanston landmarks.  If you have any connection to the Evanston Community Kitchen, located originally in the basement of the Evanston Woman’s Club, then at 1519 Chicago Avenue, and then permanently until 1951 at 600 Davis Street, please contact me.  Any little detail can help in the research process.  If you have information regarding the time period, specific to Evanston from 1918 to 1951, that could also be helpful.

I hope to obtain records or diaries of the women listed above that may offer a window into their world.

Thank you for your support and interest in this project. You can follow The Evanston Community Kitchen and the progress of this project here on this blog, on Twitter and Facebook.

Women in the Kitchen and History in the Making. Food = Story.