The Evanston Community Kitchen

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

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Ripping Down the Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Comes to Evanston in 1919

Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke to the Woman’s Club of Evanston in 1919. Gilman was one of the first feminists. She was the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, which is a story about postpartum depression that turns into postpartum psychosis. It was first published in 1892 in The New England Magazine.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

The subject of Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s talk at the Woman’s Club of Evanston was “The Waste of Women’s Labor.” It caused quite a stir in the community of Evanston. I wonder what women in the meeting had read The Yellow Wallpaper and how did they feel about it. What prominent Evanston club women had experienced or were experiencing postpartum depression? Were any of the them prescribed a “rest cure” like Gilman and the character in The Yellow Wallpaper?  Was it a subject women could openly talk about? Granny Dell (my great-grandmother) had a difficult birth with my grandmother. It was a breached birth. Juney (my grandmother) was also born 14 months after her older sister, Harriet (Aunt Harriet). Granny Dell was quoted often in national publications about how the Community Kitchen was created to ease women’s responsibilities at home and provide comfort and relief.
This quote from the Kokomo Daily Tribune (1893-1929 from Kokomo, Indiana) illustrates her concern for women in the home with young children: “Evanston has been suffering from a shortage of domestic help. Everywhere women, especially young mothers, are finding it impossible to do all that is required from them, to take care of the babies and the house, and have any leisure for the homecoming of the husband. An increasing number of families are frequenting the hotels and cafes, sacrificing family life and interests to necessity. We felt that by delivering dinners to such homes a service would rendered to those families alone, but to society as well by preventing the disintegration of the family table.”

Postpartum depression is still taboo somewhat today, almost 100 years later. This is a great online exhibition on the U.S. Library of Medicine website, titled The Literature of Prescription – Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman  Photo Source:  Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute,  Harvard University

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Photo Source: Courtesy Schlesinger Library,
Radcliffe Institute,
Harvard University

Gilman was a catalyst for inspiring the Community Kitchen. The three chairwomen of the War Relief Committee and co-founders of the Community Kitchen (Mrs. James Odell – my great-grandmother, Mrs. Homer Kingsley, and Mrs. Rufas Dawes — and I refer to them by their married names because that is how they were referred to publicly by society, but you should know them as Elizabeth Odell, Nellie Kingsley, and Helen Dawes) traveled to the East Coast after Gilman’s talk to visit successful established cooperative kitchens. The women were inspired, encouraged, and excited after hearing Charlotte talk. Who wouldn’t be?

Life is a verb.

Life is a verb.

This is going to be a juicy chapter to write for the Community Kitchen book!  I love researching Charlotte Perkins Gilman. What a woman! I had postpartum depression after the birth of my son. I didn’t experience postpartum psychosis which the character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffered from, but I did have intrusive thoughts for the first three months after his birth. I remember going to Virginia Beach on vacation when my son was three months old. I couldn’t stand anywhere near the balcony for fear of him falling. And we had a nice balcony view of the beach, but I stayed far from the balcony. I treated myself to a cranial sacral massage at the Edgar Cayce Center.  I met a kind woman there named Annie, who is a very close friend now. Annie was my masseuse and did the cranial sacral massage. Our conversation during my treatment revolved around motherhood and our own mothers. At the time, I was dealing with the anticipation of losing my mother (at the time my mother was in a nursing home and very ill) and it weighed heavy on my heart. Annie’s mother died in childbirth giving birth to her.

“The glory of our race is its power of communication. We share our strength and knowledge and rise as one; we share our failure and weakness and help each other bear it.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
“Our Place Today,” 1891

Women hold their hearts in the womb, whether is be physically present or not. Women give birth, even when they do not.

The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society is calling for papers for:

The Sixth International Charlotte Perkins Gilman Conference

Gilman and the Archive

June 12-14, 2015

Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, MA

You can find more information on the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society here. I am hoping to find a copy of her speech, The Waste of Women’s Labor for my book. Better yet, I’d love to find her journals and specific reflections from her visit to Evanston in 1919.

 This is an interesting slideshare on The Yellow Wallpaper. I found the slide about early hysteria treatment quite shocking, as well as intriguing.
hysteria treatment

hysteria treatment

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Only I Could Flood the Kitchen While Filling a Water Pitcher

Only I could flood the kitchen while filling a water pitcher.  I live in an 1880 house and our plumbing is going to be replaced soon. Can you imagine having galvanized plumbing? The word is an antique in itself. Anyway, we had it patched recently to stop a leak.  So the water pressure is low to say the least.

So I went to the kitchen to fill a pitcher of water in the only pitcher we have, a wedding gift from one of my college friend’s parents: a Waterford Crystal pitcher. I knew it would take some time to fill so I went to my writing desk area and was doing something related to the Community Kitchen (I am obsessed). I was transferring notes I wrote on sticky notes my son had crumbled in a three year old tantrum today to index cards. The dates of the index cards read: “Early winter 1919, 1917-1918, June 1920.”  I have to remind myself that it is 2013 since I am so deep in the research and I feel the early twentieth century pull me into the history vortex.

I must have got distracted. Indeed I did. I went to the kitchen knowing that the pitcher must have been overflowing, but thinking it wouldn’t be too bad since it was in the farmer’s sink.


My Farmer’s Sink — one of the perks of this 1880 house

Well, there was a strange unfamiliar sound of water running in a different way that an overflowing Waterford Crystal pitcher. Yep, the kitchen was flooded. I had forgotten that I put the plug into the drain in order to fill it with sudsy water to wash some of my son’s toys. OK — full disclosure — the sink was also filled with some dishes I didn’t get to. But you better believe I was able to maneuver that Waterford Crystal pitcher to stand stationery so it could be filled with filtered water, making the process of filling a water pitcher even slower with patched galvanized plumbing pipes.

I had to empty the cabinets of the pots and pans and wipe them down. I suppose they needed to be cleaned anyway, right.

I went into the bedroom, where my husband was watching Doc McStuffins with my son on the Kindle. I announced to my husband, “I suppose only I can flood the kitchen while filling a water pitcher.” He laughed. I looked for towels.

I guess I have been reading too much Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as I am looking through the Ratcliffe archives. I was excited to find today an email in my inbox letting me know that Charlotte’s archives are digitized. Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club on the the topic, “The Waste of Women’s Labors.” This is part of my research for my book.

Anyway, the cupboards are clean now and freshly sanitized.

My husband laughed and said, “I guess you can use this for your book.”  I replied, “Yes, I am disclosing I have never had domestic help in the home and that I am a horrible cook.” He said to that, while laughing, “I guess Granny Dell’s and your grandma’s cooking gene skipped right over you.” I said, “I think it is because I would rather write.” He said, “No, I really think it skipped over you.”

It is nice to have a husband who can cook.  Thank goodness. I have some hours to log writing.

Speaking of patterned glass by the way, here is a link to Victorian celery glass vases I came across from a post in the Facebook group about celery vases and the Amish: Association for the Study of Food and Society.

If you haven’t read this post, Memories of Grandma and Beet Soup for Hot Summer Days about my grandma and hearing someone talk about her, I recommend it.

Sneak peek of this week’s upcoming post — Photos from the Charles Dawes House (Evanston History Center).

This house is even more exquisite inside.

This house is even more exquisite inside.

My home and the Charles Gates Dawes house are both on the National Historic Registry.