Reading, PA: Reading Eagle Co., 1915. First edition. Quarter cloth over tri-color paper boards with metal rings at spine, measuring 160 x 240mm. 319 pages. Boards rubbed, with some paper worn away at extremities; rear board a bit bumped. Internally with some foxing and occasional kitchen soiling, usually limited to the margins or versos of pages; in all, surprisingly clean and unmarked. A scarce example of American women's efforts to use the domestic space in ways that generated international aid, OCLC reports only 16 copies held at institutions, with this as the only one on the market.
In the book's Foreword, compiler Mary Archer states the committee's goals concisely: "This little book, which mingles the recipes of to-day with the recipes of our great-grandmothers, never before revealed, is sent forth with the earnest hope that it may bring happiness to many American homes and earn the wherewithal to feed the starving householders of Belgium." And yet, there is much to be unpacked in such a seemingly simple text. As WWI raged on across Europe, German troops pushed into neutral Belgium, occupying the nation in an attempt to more effectively attack France. Though hundreds of thousands fled, the Belgians who remained faced forced labor, military violence, and coal and food shortages. American women -- many of them working for their own enfranchisement -- became concerned about how war was affected not only their homefront, but the lives of women and children abroad. Guided by Jane Addams and the Women's Peace Party, relief organizations began emerging all over the country.
The Belgian Relief Committee that compiled the present work focused its efforts solely on Belgium, "where food supplies dwindled ominously"; in this sense, it was part of a larger humanitarian effort, "an undertaking unprecedented in world history" to conduct "an organized rescue of an entire nation from starvation" (Nash). Drawing on their own domestic knowledge -- deeply rooted in the traditions of their families, as well as linked to modern innovation -- its members encouraged American women to find solidarity in sharing their knowledge for the common good. Each recipe bears the individual mark, a facsimile signature, of the woman contributing it. But meals drawn from the cookbook would combine recipes and tips from multiple women and their families. In this sense, all users of the book become one family, privy to the "family secrets" listed in the index. Recipes make responsible use of home and community gardens, measured use of rations, and emphasize nutrition as well as enjoyment. The verso of each page bears an inspiring quote, each highlighting the importance of the cooking women do each day. And the funds from the book's sale assisted in feeding families that, though an ocean away, were not so dissimilar from those in the U.S.
An exceptional example of women organizing before the vote, both to promote their own authority and to come to the aid of the international community. (Item #3848)