Diverse City: Images of Children and Childhood

Mother and child with a loaf of bread, in an style that draws both from Art Deco and Art Nouveau
Illustration from the cover of The Art of Baking Bread, 1920's

American Culinary History materials are full of representations of children and childhood: sometimes realistic, sometimes wholly fantastical, with adults present or without them.

The majority of these depict children as quite bright and shiny: clean, well-mannered, cheerful, dutiful, and so on. This is particulalry true in advertisements and other promotional materials, where the happy, well-fed, beloved child sent a powerful message to 19th & early 20th century American consumers

These representations have one thing in common: they were all created by adults. That means they open a window onto what adults, in different locales and eras, thought about children and childhood. It especially points us to what adults thought children could or should be, how they should behave, what they should want, and so forth.

The Jell-O Company made a good thing out of both showing  and appealing to children in its ads. Shown below is the company's bob-haired representative, Miss Jell-O, who it also used to emphaszie how easy Jell-O was to make.

Miss Jell-O, a bob-haired girl with a box of Jell-O
What Six Famous Cooks Say About Jello, 1912, Cover



Mere child's play:

Miss Jell-O, a girl in a puffy dress, making a red jell-o mold
Desserts of the world (1909), Center spread


Besides fantastical images of children, there were images of child-like beings, including Kewpies (the Kewpies’ inventor Rose O’Neill did a number of illustrations for Jell-O) and this Cherub with a carving knife on the front cover of Catering for Speical Occasions, by Fannie Merit Farmer

A winged cherub wearing a chef's hat, sharpening a carving knife in front of a roast turkey
Catering for special occasions : with menus & recipes. 1911. Cover


Good children, adorable…

A group of children sitting around a woman on a stool who is reading to them, with a nineteen-thirties refrigerator in the background
Saturday Evening Post, 1930's

...or responsible...

Two older children drawn in the "Gibson" style, facing each other across a table with a basket of food and a bottle of milk.
Food Saving and Sharing, 1918, inside back cover

...or both.

A group of children dressed for a party who are pulling taffy in a 1906 style kitchen
Franklin Sugar Candy Book. 1906 , center spread.


The pictures above tell a very different story than the reality to which this book, from the early days of the Home Economics Movement, testifies.

How to teach kitchen garden : or, Object lessons in household work, including songs, plays, exercises, and games illustrating household occupations / by Emily Huntington.

A group of girls in white smocks and caps stand around a chair in a 1901 classroom.
How to Teach Kitchen Garden, 1901, illustration between p.38 & p.39

This photograph illustrates a game meant to teach the pupils how to properly answer the door. A skill they will need when they grow up to be housewives, or (as the lesson shows) more likely servants. It goes with a song called “Waiting on the Door”


Here is the end of the song, and the the lesson.

The text of a song and a lesson called "Waiting on the Door"
How to Teach Kitchen Garden, 1901, p.39


Further reading:

Longone, Jan. "'As Worthless as Savorless Salt'?: Teaching Children to Cook, Clean, and (Often) Conform". Gastronomica. Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 104-110.

Repast,  Winter 2007, Children & Food

Forthcoming:  Small Appetites: A History of Children's Food