Until I decided to teach a family baking class based on recipes from Malinda Russell, author of the first known African American cookbook, published in 1866, I had never thought about the history of American cooking schools. If I had thought about it, I would have guessed cooking schools were a recent invention, from a world that demanded formal educational qualifications and that had enough people with time and money to take recreational cooking classes. In the 1800s, surely, girls learned to cook and bake at their mothers’ knees.
Many – probably most – did, but not all. Well-off young ladies in Philadelphia in the early 1800s had another option. They could attend Elizabeth Goodfellow’s cooking school, the first in the United States. Mrs. Goodfellow (whose maiden name was, aptly, Baker) was an upmarket pastry chef. In addition to selling fancy desserts from her shop, she had a successful catering business. She also taught marriageable young ladies how to bake elegant desserts.
In Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School, Becky Libourel Diamond uncovers the story of this enterprising woman. For a time, she tells us, Mrs. Goodfellow shared premises, at 64 Dock Street, with an artist who taught drawing and painting to young ladies and gentlemen. Perhaps, Diamond suggests, the pastry chef and the artist collaborated to offer their clients package deals. At the very least, as she points out, students in one of the schools might get interested in the other and sign up.
I didn’t know anything about Mrs. Goodfellow’s cooking school until recently, but that sort of market savvy comes as no surprise to me after having studied American and British philanthropists of the late 1700s and early 1800s. A consumer economy had burgeoned in the Atlantic world in the 1700s. Over the century, merchants and manufacturers had developed new goods and paid new attention to advertising their wares. Philanthropists – who had to part people from their money too – learned likewise about using the media of the day to attract support to their causes. Certainly prominent Philadelphia reformer Dr. Benjamin Rush had, as he showed when a new president arrived to take the helm at Carlisle College (now Dickinson College) in 1785. Dr. Rush was a trustee of the school and had played a role in the recruitment of the new president. Have the church bell rung when the new president arrives in town, he suggested. “The news of these things will make a clever paragraph in our Philadelphia papers,” he commented, “and help allure scholars to our College.” Not the glitz of a media marketing campaign today, but if that’s not media know-how, I don’t know what is.
Cross marketing culinary and art classes? Dr. Rush’s fellow Philadelphians did him proud.
We’ll explore more about Mrs. Goodfellow and her cooking school in coming days.