The Evanston Community Kitchen

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


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Geeking Out Foodie Style

I geeked out last night organizing my Trapper Keepers (I am an 80’s child so they will always be Trapper Keepers to me). I bought three binders, the largest I could find. I bought divider tabs, folder divider tabs, plastic protective sleeves, index cards, and just about every organization tool I could get my hands on. I do have a lot of information to process and synthesize. At times, I have been frustrated that this project is taking so long, but I always have to come back to the fact that the story has to simmer. It takes time. This is brown rice people. It is worth the hour on the stove.

But when it flows, it flows. I have surges (and because I am a mom to young child, these surges usually take place at night). And last night, I only meant to clean off my desk that had open binders, sticky notes, index cards, pencil shavings, books, and a sea of other historic time period items.  I have a book that contains material from 1921 and it is so delicate that when I open the book, scraps of paper flurry onto my desk. I received it through an inter-library loan. I have a helper I have enlisted at the local library. His name is David and he has helped me gather many newspaper articles and books through inter-library loan requests. He has been so helpful that he will surely make the acknowledgement page.

“I had already done a lot of research for Rough Riders, keeping notebooks and old photographs. Some of the books were antiques for that time period, with the covers falling off.” – Tom Berenger 

It feels like I am living in the early 20th century as I am so deep in the research as my focus (and obsession) has been the Community Kitchen.

My husband said the other day, “I appreciate your passion and enthusiasm, but I am Community Kitchened out.”  Oh my, I thought, even my husband has had enough of this story. But you see, I will never have enough of it until it is written and bound in a book. It fascinates me. It takes me on jaunts and journeys to 1880 Spokane, where my great-grandmother was a teacher. Then I hop on a steam train with my great-grandfather heading West to Spokane from C armargo, Illinois. It take me to 1906 Texas where my great-aunt Harriet and grandma are dressed in Mother Hubbards — a red one for Juney and a blue one for Harriet, where they help their grandmother churn the butter.

Image Source: http://www.mamalisa.com

Image Source: www.mamalisa.com

It takes me to 1926 New York City where my grandmother is the manager at one of Alice Foote MacDougall’s tea rooms. It takes me to 1943 Smith College where Mary Liz can’t come home for her Granny Dell’s funeral because of the war. You see, The Community Kitchen is my stage coach back in time. My 1920 Ford. It is my ticket to see my family’s shows and acts. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.

The story of the Community Kitchen, which evolved from an Evanston Woman’s Club food conservation committee in 1918, has so many other stories embedded in the tapestry of American history and family history. There are recipes, stories, and love surrounding this tale. And I am a happy chef in my kitchen of words, memories and translations of text my ancestors wrote, leaving me clues to tie a bigger story together.

Sometimes (OK, a lot) I take out my index cards, which are filled with dates, facts, and anecdotes, and look them over. This gives me great comfort and joy as I have chronicled 1880 well past 1951. I have three binders full of research, which I have organized. The story is taking on a good shape – a shape of its own. The bread is rising and the scent is sweet.

Being alone, while everyone sleeps, gives me great joy. I would rather research and write than go out on the town. I become entranced at night, usually staying up until well past midnight. My son starts pre-school this week so I will have to start going to bed earlier. I will do my writing during the day. But I have to admit that the night is much more alluring as I feel it provides a more daring environment and less distractions.

On that note — good night. I am up well past midnight again.

Today’s treat and tea — I transcribed (retyped) a letter written on my great-grandfather’s business letterhead to my great-grandmother’s (Granny Dell) sister in Connecticut dated May 1896.  I wrote 6,000 words as well. I also had ice cream for dinner.

Sneak peek for this week’s post about the excitement of  coming upstairs from the basement research room when the Dawes House (Evanston History Center) was empty. It was like stepping back in time. This week’s post will focus on the kitchen at the Dawes House. If you are enjoying Downton Abbey like me, then you will enjoy this week’s post.

Kitchen at the Charles Dawes house (Evanston History Center)

Kitchen at the Charles Dawes house (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.