The Evanston Community Kitchen

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


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.


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“We can interpret, but we can never know.” – John Marquand

It is not everyday that one gets an email from a Pulitzer Prize winner — nor is it everyday one gets an email from a world renowned Washington Post book critic. Well, I got an email from both yesterday. Jonathan Yardley emailed me.

I just about fell out as they say in the South. Jonathan Yardley and I have never crossed paths, nor do I expect them to again, but for a small slice of time we were holding cyber literary hands. I have to admit I have a bit of a literary crush on him.

Jonathon Yardley

Jonathan Yardley

Jonathon Yardley at Pirate Alley Faulkner Society introducing  Ernest J. Gaines for the 2012 ALIHOT Award for Literature

Jonathan Yardley at Pirate Alley Faulkner Society introducing
Ernest J. Gaines for the 2012 ALIHOT Award for Literature

Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, class of 1969. Jonathon Yardley is in the first row, second in from the right.

Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, class of 1969. Jonathan Yardley is in the first row, second in from the right.

I feel it is safe to say that my mom had a crush on Jonathan’s dad, Mr. William Yardley while she attended Tuxedo Park School.  Mr. Yardley was indeed a handsome chap and the headmaster at Tuxedo Park School from 1943 – 1949.

Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School archives

Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School

My mom always talked about Mr. Yardley when I was younger. Now I wish desperately to call my mom up right this minute and tell her I received an email from Mr. Yardley’s son. Then I’d ask her to tell me every single detail of her time at Tuxedo Park School. When she attended, it was called Tuxedo Park Country Day School and the school was in the Henry W. Poor House. My mom was a boarder from Manhattan. I never quite understood how she could have attended school in a mansion that was called the “Poor House.” Now it all fits precisely together, like the Nancy Drew jigsaw piece it is.

Photo Source: http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/photos-of-tuxedo-park-new-york#slide-1

Photo Source: Town & Country. Grounds of Former Tuxedo Park School, Henry W. Poor House

This is an excellent article in Town & Country about the origin of the tuxedo jacket. It also includes beautiful photographs of some of the community members of Tuxedo Park, NY.

The alumni relations director at Tuxedo Park School was so very kind to help me in my quest to learn more about my mother’s time there. Ms. Fiona Duffy not only scanned copies of my mother’s records and emailed them to me — she also made copies of letters my grandmother (“Juney”) had written to Mr. Yardley and snail mailed them to me. It was like Christmas when the white envelope with the evergreen tree in the right corner arrived in the mail Saturday.

Henry W. Poor House, also referred to as the Tilford House

Tuxedo Park School — Henry W. Poor House, also referred to as the Tilford House  — Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School

Photo courtesy of Tuxedo Park Historical Society Children playing on the grounds of the Tilford House (also known as the Henry W. Poor House)

Photo courtesy of Tuxedo Park School
Children playing on the grounds of the Tilford House (also known as the Henry W. Poor House)

I learned that my mom had the chicken pox in 1944 and the measles in April of 1947. I learned my mother’s childhood address in Manhattan. I read a letter my grandmother wrote Mr. Yardley on Community Kitchen stationery. An excerpt says, “I still want to send you a box but since school closed was afraid you might be away from home — so when I hear from you if you would tell me when you’d be about 4 or 5 days from time I would receive your letter — I’d love to send you some of our goodies.  I never can thank you enough for what you did for Betty Anne — you put her two feet firmly on the ground.”

I also learned a lot about my mom as a fifth grade student. She was mature for her age, but was at first “a nervous little girl.” She excelled in music and her French teacher wrote on her January progress report, “Betty Anne continues to attack obstacles with a dogged determination which one cannot help admiring. She wrote a very good examination paper, of which she may well be proud of.”  Betty Anne certainly did have dogged determination. And then some.

How I do miss my mother.  Even after receiving an email from a Pulitzer Prize winner and reading the academic files from her fifth grade in school — getting to know her as a little girl — it just was not enough. More than anything in the world, I just want her back. I want to yawn as she tells me for the fifteenth time about the time she ran away from Tuxedo Park School, convincing several other girls to come with her.  I imagine her gazing out on the terraced lawns, planning her escape. She was a feisty redhead and exhausted Mr. Yardley’s patience at times, but he adored this little red head. She adored him.

Below is the email I sent to Mr. Yardley’s son, Jonathon Yardley.

Dear Mr. Yardley:

Hello. My name is Megan Oteri. I am the daughter of Elizabeth Anne Welch Miller; she attended Tuxedo Park School in 1946-1947.  

I have been in contact with Fiona Duffy and she unearthed my mother’s TPS school records. What a treasure. There were letters your father wrote my grandmother and letters he wrote on behalf of my mother to her school in Evanston, Illinois.

There is also a letter my mother wrote him on cat stationary from her summer camp. My mom was very fond of your dad. Fiona sent me a copy of Vera Brigham’s book on Tuxedo Park School.  I would like to talk to you specifically about 1946-1947 and your father. 

I believe the story you told Vera Brigham is about my mother (see below). My mother told me she ran away from Tuxedo Park. The story about the pistol seems familiar too. It is so interesting to hear the name Mr. Yardley and see it in print (in the letters) because my mom spoke of him so often.

“Day students left at 4 P.M., but having a boarding department put a great responsibility on Bill Yardley. Nothing worried him more than the prospect of harm coming to a border. So when several girls decided to run away one evening his consternation was intense. Soon all but one returned and, finally at about 11:30 that night this last lost sheep knocked timidly at the Crawford Blagden’s door in the Park. Bill rushed over to bring her back, but not to castigate her, as he was always gentle and kind.”

I am writing a historic food memoir about my great-grandmother’s and grandmother’s famous food delivery service and bakery, The Community Kitchen,  located in Evanston, Illinois. The book spans how long the Community Kitchen was opened — 1918 to 1951. The Community Kitchen brought national attention to the city of Evanston in the 1920’s because it successfully addressed the Servant Crisis and also was the model for the nation as a cooperative centralized kitchen.

I agree with the John Marquand quote you wrote in your 2005 review of Samuel Freedman’s book, My Search for My Mother’s Life: “We can interpret, but we can never know.” 

My mother passed away on Christmas Eve 2012, and like Marquand, I am searching for who my mother was. She had an entire different life before she met my father, which set her life on a completely different trajectory. 

I am searching for the interpretation of who my great-grandmother was before she was a woman who was one of the first business women in the country. I am searching for who my grandmother was as a freshman who flunked out of Smith College. I am searching for who my mother was as a nervous little girl sent to boarding school in Tuxedo Park in 1946, two years after World War II.

I have been hunting through archives, through ancestors, through story, through memory. Nothing can replace a mother. Even though I had a letter my mother wrote as a fifth grade student from TPS, written in her pre-teen cursive script on kitty cat kid stationary, it just was not enough. I wanted to know exactly what she was feeling right then and there. I want to know what she felt when she looked out at the terraced gardens at the Henry W. Poor House. I want to know the exact conversation she and your father had when she finally found the courage to return back to Crawford Blagden’s door the night she ran away. But I can’t know that, I can only interpret…

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


Four Generations of Elizabeth

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/evanstoncommunitykitchen This is the link to my Tumblr blog for The Community Kitchen. Posts are period photos and things I have been researching. It’s a light and easy reading or viewing, as most posts are photos and images.

I have been working on some blog posts for this wordpress website.  They always end up turning into deep research, which is why this project is so much fun and so much work. I have gathered so much research in nine months.  It is very exciting.  I have been away for awhile as my mother passed away Christmas Eve, 2012. I remember her telling me about The Community Kitchen when I was younger. I wish I had paid attention more, as I long to ask my mother so many questions about my grandmother and great-grandmother.

This is a photo of my mother. Isn’t she beautiful? We all have Elizabeth in common. My great-grandmother’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s name was Elizabeth. My middle name is Elizabeth. This thread of history is fueling my passion for writing the Community Kitchen book and spanning four generations of Elizabeths!

My mom Elizabeth Welch Miller -- daughter if Elizabeth Odell Welch and granddaughter of Elizabeth Hawley Odell

My mom Elizabeth Welch Miller — daughter of Elizabeth Odell Welch and granddaughter of Elizabeth Hawley Odell

“The generations of living things pass in a short time, and like runners hand on the torch of life.” – Lucretius

I have been posting research treats via my Tumblr blog.  If you are interested in the time period of 1918-1951, in particular the 1920’s, you would enjoy the Tumblr blog.

Post coming soon on the wordpress blog: Questions I Would Ask My Grandma Now. I will be posting this in the next couple days, most likely over the weekend.

You can also follow The Community Kitchen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/600DavisSt (@600DavisSt). You can also follow The Community Kitchen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/600DavisSt.

Domestic Revolution: Preserving the Family Meal

Women’s co-op: The Community Kitchen (Link to article in Evanston Now newspaper about a history talk on the Evanston Community Kitchen. See link for details).

Click on link for details of event: http://evanstonnow.com/event/education/bill-smith/2013-03-04/55018/womens-co-op-the-community-kitchen

The Community Kitchen Photo Credit: Evanston Woman's Club

“This Thursday (April 4, 2013) is “Preserving the Family Table,” a presentation covering the fascinating but mostly unknown story of the Community Kitchen.” — Evanston History Center Facebook page

“Women’s history month is year-round at EHC! Join them tonight at 7 pm to learn about the Evanston Community Kitchen, a woman-run cooperative housekeeping venture that sought to revolutionize women’s lives. Presented by Erin Hvizdak.” — Evanston History Center Facebook Page

A wine and appetizer reception catered by Whole Foods Market, Evanston South takes place at 6:30 p.m.

Admission is $10 to the event at the Evanston History Center, located at 225 Greenwood St., Evanston, Illinois 60201, inside the beautiful Dawes House. Event is free for EHC members.

Photo Credit: Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center. The event on The Community Kitchen is tonight (April 4) at 7 pm at the Evanston History Center (Dawes House).

The Evanston History Center (Dawes House) ~ Photo Credit: Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center. The event on The Community Kitchen is tonight (April 4) at 7 pm at the this beautiful house. Step back in time and attend this wonderful event.

“April Under the Buffalo

A reception catered by Whole Foods Market, Evanston South, kicks off each event at 6:30pm.
Presentations begin at 7pm.
Admission: $10 per event (Payable at the door) EHC Members Free.
Reservations Recommended: jthompson@evanstonhistorycenter.org

“Preserving the Family Table: The Founding of Evanston’s Community Kitchen After WWI”
Presentation by: Erin Hvizdak
Thursday, April 4, 2013 7pm

Learn about the woman-run cooperative housekeeping venture, the Evanston Community Kitchen, founded as a canning kitchen during WWI. At its peak, the kitchen produced hot dinners in state-of-the-art facilities and delivered up to 500 meals per week. Billed as a service of “convenience” for housewives and young single businesswomen, the Evanston Community Kitchen can also be seen as a response to the anxieties felt from shifting gender roles and class relations after WWI.” — Evanston History Center website (http://evanstonhistorycenter.org/events-programs)


Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!

“Women are the real architects of society.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Events sometimes converge to create opportunities for people to gather and create great things that have a profound effect on our world. At the height of WWI, in the midst of food conservation, labor shortages, the Temperance Movement and Women’s Suffrage, the Evanston Community Kitchen emerged as a lightning rod for women who found their world and roles in it rapidly changing. The Community Kitchen was an innovative idea that sparked advances in food preparation and delivery — becoming the model replicated throughout the nation in the early 1920’s. Read more about the exceptional grande dames of the Evanston Woman’s Club and their solutions to this challenging period in history.

What women inspire you? What  women would you invite to a dinner party and what would you serve for dinner? It’s hard to settle on a number of women to invite, so choose your own.

I would invite Elizabeth Odell (my great-grandmother), Elizabeth Odell Welch (my grandmother), Elizabeth Welch Miller (my mother), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Helen Palmer Dawes, Nellie Appleton Kingsley and Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Odell, Helen Palmer Dawes, and Nellie Kingsley were the co-founders of The Evanston Community Kitchen.

I would serve a four-course gourmet meal catered by The Community Kitchen, of course!

“Evanston is remarkable in nothing if not for the ability, individuality, and enterprise of its women.”

— Frances E. Willard

Image Source: http://exhibits.library.northwestern.edu/archives/exhibits/willard/willard.html

Frances Willard on her bicycle in Evanston, Illinois                                                  Image Source: exhibits.library.northwestern.edu/archives/exhibits/willard/

 

 

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