Politically Correct Food: Aunt Jemima Part Two

Meet the iconic Aunt Jemima ladies

In part two of Politically Correct Food (Part One here), we will highlight some of the ladies who represented “Aunt Jemima’s” over the years. Here is a list of the iconic Aunt Jemima ladies in no certain order:

  • Nancy Green
  • Lillian Richard
  • Anna Robinson
  • Rosa Washington Riles
  • Anna Short Harrington
  • Edith Wilson
  • Ethel Ernestine Harper
  • Rosie Lee Moore Hall
  • Aylene Lewis

Nancy Green

Nancy Green/Aunt Jemima logo

The first “Aunt Jemima” to be hired to play the role was Nancy Green. Born into slavery in 1834, she lived in Montgomery County, Kentucky and by her early 30’s became a “free” woman. From there she went up to Chicago and found work as a housekeeper, nanny, and cook for a local judge.

In 1890 Nancy was hired in her late 50’s by the R.T. Milling Company to portray Aunt Jemima. In 1893, she made fair history by having the largest booth attendance at the World’s Columbian Fair.

Her songs, stories, and pancake-making drew so many people to her booth, police were assigned to keep the crowds in line. Consequently, she received a medal for showmanship from the fair’s organizers and made over 50,000 pancakes while she was at the booth.

Aside from her playing the character Aunt Jemima, Nancy was very active in her Baptist church. Nancy’s career as Aunt Jemima afforded her the financial freedom to be an activist in her community in the fight against poverty.

Lillian Richard

Lillian began to portray Aunt Jemima in 1925 at the ripe age of 20! She was hired by Quaker Oats to play the character. She demonstrated making the pancakes, along with other Quaker Oats products.

Her career spanned 37 years until she had a stroke and returned to her hometown where she held celebrity status.

Photo from Successful Farming, October Issue 1949

Anna Robinson

Anna splashed on the scene as Aunt Jemima in 1933 at the Chicago Worlds Fair. What Nancy Green did for launching the Aunt Jemima character and products, Anna Robinson “sealed the deal” and made Aunt Jemima pancakes a household name, as well as a product force to be reckoned with. Quaker Oats kept Anna on the payroll till her death in 1951.

Rosie Lee Moore Hall

Rosie began her career at Quaker Oats in the advertising department. After a few years, she decided to apply for the part of Aunt Jemima. Her likeness can be found on fair pin-backs from the State Fair of Texas. She portrayed Aunt Jemima till her death in 1967.

Aylene Lewis

Aylene was famous for playing the role of Aunt Jemima at the California Disneyland Aunt Jemima Pancake House. The Aunt Jemima Pancake House became a chain of restaurants throughout the United States. Many of the pancake house patrons were treated to Aylene’s wonderful songs, pleasant personality, and posing with her for a picture. She actively played this role at Disneyland till she died in 1964.

Edith Wilson

Edith’s portrayal of Aunt Jemima was just one of her many accomplishments. A noted singer and actress whose voice graced the radio show “Amos and Andy”, as well many a tune written by legendary jazz artists. In 1921 she became the first black woman to record a major record under Columbia Records. She hung up her Aunt Jemima apron in 1966 and died in 1981.

Ethel Ernestine Harper

Graduating college at 17, Ethel went on to become a teacher. Later, she moved to New York where she began a very successful show business career appearing in the Broadway Hot Mikado.

Ethel had a chance encounter with Edith Wilson, who encouraged her to apply for the part of Aunt Jemima. Ethel went on to win the role and is noted as having been the last living Aunt Jemima, passing away in 1979.

Wilson and Harper were largely responsible for bringing Aunt Jemima out of the southern slave “mammy” stereotypes. Tirelessly defending Quaker Oats’s use of the Aunt Jemima image.

The history of Aunt Jemima ladies was certainly a fun topic to research. I think you’ll agree that these ladies lent well their talents of song, storytelling, and acting to successful Black Americans as well as excellent role models for Black Women representing corporate America.

Till next time! Here is to good food, good friends and a good life.

Resources:

Politically Correct Food: Aunt Jemima

Months back, I had read a wonderful, heartwarming story about Aunt Jemima®; the ladies who represented the Aunt Jemima brand. I noted this to myself and decided that I wanted to write an article about these ladies. Unfortunately, food is now on the list of “wokeness”, and the “politically correct left” have made their mark with politically correct food.

This branding, Aunt Jemima®, had its beginnings as a pancake mix in 1889, under the Pearl Milling Company. The Pearl Milling Company® was bought by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood during a “flour glut”. In order to get rid of the excess flour, they decided to market their flour as a “Self-rising Pancake Flour”.

A “rising” food star

As they developed their pancake recipe to stand out from the rest, Rutt gave the mix the “Aunt Jemima” name, and her image was developed. Here is the original recipe:

1889 Formula for Aunt Jemima mix:

  • 100 lb [45 kg] Hard Winter Wheat
  • 100 lb [45 kg] Corn Flour
  • 12 lb [3.4 kg] B.W.T. Phosphates from Provident Chemical St Louis
  • 34 lb [1.2 kg] Bicarbonate Soda
  • 3 lb [1.4 kg] Salt.

Unfortunately, Rutt and Underwood lacked serious funding to continue with their pancake formula as well as keeping their flour mill afloat, so they sold the mill and the pancake formula to the Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company.

The branding takes off

Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company had an excellent reputation in the milling industry, therefore they were financially able to stem the tide of the current flour glut. Davis went to work on improving the taste and texture of the Aunt Jemima pancake mix, as well as making it a “ready-mix” by adding powdered milk.

This new and improved “ready-mix” became wildly popular and so well branded that the Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company seized its opportunity by re-branding their milling company to the “Aunt Jemima Milling” in 1914.

Of interest, the Aunt Jemima® branding became so established and well know that it set trademark law precedent. The “Aunt Jemima Doctrine” was set forth in 1915, judicious protection from others seeking to blur or cause consumer confusion.

Quaker Oats steps on the scene

In 1926, Quaker Oats purchased Aunt Jemima Mills and then formally registered the Aunt Jemima brand. Quaker Oats held the Aunt Jemima® brand as well as the Aunt Jemima® pancake syrups.

Sadly, after the death of George Floyd, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter, Quaker Oats announced that they would be retiring the Aunt Jemima® brand and reintroducing it under its original name as the Pearl Milling Company®.

Look for this new change coming to your local grocery store in the early summer of 2021. It certainly will be different not seeing that friendly iconic face of “Aunt Jemima”.

Aunt Jemima’s history

There are many “Aunt Jemima’s” throughout the history of the brand. Many times there were “regional” Aunt Jemima’s. Some appearing at the World’s Fair, opening the Aunt Jemima Pancake House around the country, as well as appearances at Disneyland in the Aunt Jemima Pancake House.

I think it is interesting to note that during my research of “Aunt Jemima” many news outlets as well as magazines and papers catered to reporting on “Aunt Jemima” in derogatory tones. Choosing to see it as not having benefited black women, rather contributing the stereotyping of “slavery”, “mammy’s” and plantation life.

Meet the iconic Aunt Jemima’s

Here is a list of the iconic Aunt Jemima’s in no certain order:

  • Nancy Green
  • Lillian Richard
  • Anna Robinson
  • Rosa Washington Riles
  • Anna Short Harrington
  • Edith Wilson
  • Ethel Ernestine Harper
  • Rosie Lee Moore Hall
  • Aylene Lewis

Tune in next week when I share details about these great ladies and their contribution to Black American Women’s corporate representation. Here is to good food, good friends and a good life.

Resources: