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143 5 TASTE AND RACE Revisions of Labor and Domestic Literacy in the Early Twentieth Century To spread the divine discontent with such igorance [sic], to open up new opportunities for gaining household knowledge, to exalt the high calling of the maker of homes—such is the noble work which I hope is to receive fresh impetus from the domestic science branch of the woman’s era. Ellen Bartelle Deitrick, “Domestic Science Paper No. 2,” 1894 AS THE homes are so will the nation be, for the nation is nothing more than a collection of what is produced in the homes. The as it is oftener called, domestic science, is thus the very key-stone of the political arch.”1 With these words, Ellen Bartelle Deitrick opens her paper on “Domestic Science,” presented to the Boston Woman’s Era Club, an African American women’s literary society, in March 1894. Developed to expand the opportunities and intellectual possibilities for African American women in the final decades of the nineteenth century, this club and others like it provided a space to discuss literature , politics, and racial progress among women who were doubly oppressed by race and gender. Formed primarily of middle-class women, the club movement promoted taste literacy. These clubs emphasized education in all areas of life that might suggest women’s class status: behavior, conversation, literary selection, appearance, and public participation. Members studied these topics methodically and scientifically, reinforcing the cultivation of taste as an intellectual pursuit. African American clubwomen had to battle the reigning notion that a woman ’s power was found in the private application of her domestic abilities.2 Through papers, discussions, and organized reform activities, these women were able to “represent themselves and expand their identities” beyond their traditional cultural representations as uneducated, unintelligent, and incapa- 144 TASTE AND RACE ble of mental work beyond that demanded by domestic service.3 Good taste, though a category of instruction in formal rhetorical education, had a different meaning in African American women’s domestic history. Skilled taste was a marketable commodity, rather than a distanced, rational judgment. Although both were valued in society, they were distinctly marked by race. The home economics movement offered a scientific language by which African American women could distance themselves from the physical labor associated with cookery and servitude,and this rhetoric was deployed by clubwomen in numerous publications and speeches. Chapter 4 has examined the construction of Progressive taste as an intellectual and scientific pursuit.The Progressive movement brought domestic work to the public sphere as white, middle-class women gathered in reform societies, taught in cooking schools, and arranged safe, sanitary domestic spaces for the urban poor. Domestic experts worked more than ever before to distinguish intellectual tastes from the physical palate. They did this, somewhat paradoxically, to convince middle-class women that the physical labor of homemaking was not a job to be relegated to servants but was instead an intellectual endeavor indicative of one’s American identity and commitment to reform. They sought to professionalize the labor of the home, conferring value upon women’s domestic duties through the description of scientific tastes. This mission presented a unique problem, however, for African American women, whose history of domestic service and cultural associations with physicality , instinct, and sexuality placed significant constraints on their ability to engage taste discourse. Women’s membership in a powerful middle class was demonstrated through a performance of domestic acuity, yet this performance was complicated by the regional and racial nuances in these categories of identification . As domesticity became increasingly treated as an intellectual pursuit, African American women, often viewed by whites as “natural” or “instinctual” domestic laborers, became increasingly marginalized from middle-class identity and the privilege it conferred. The cookbooks examined in this book have argued that literacy, domesticity, and taste are the implicit domain of whiteness. This chapter examines how African American women used domestic rhetoric to lay claim to the rhetorical power of taste discourse, even as popular cookbooks by white authors worked to reconstruct a plantation mythology that reinscribes African American domestic labor as physical and white women’s labor as intellectual. As these cookbooks show, literacy is central to taste discourse: by making literacy visible, African American women reunite the physical and intellectual labor of taste through their challenge to its normalizing function. Two groups of cookbooks published between 1880 and 1930 illustrate competing rhetorical constructions of women’s middle-class domestic identities: mammy cookbooks,or cookbooks written by...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822983125
Print ISBN
9780822965138
MARC Record
OCLC
1032375823
Pages
238
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-13
Language
English
Open Access
N
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