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
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 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.
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 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’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.