Skip to main content

American Women: Rare Books and Special Collections

Collections Formed by Women

Gastronomy & Cooking

John French. The art of distillation: or, A treatise of the choicest spagyrical preparations, experiments, and curiosities, performed by way of distillation.Together with the description of the choicest furnaces and vessels used by ancient and modern chymists, and the anatomy of gold and silver; with the chiefest preparations and curiosities therof; together with their vertues.1667. Katherine Golden Bitting Collection On Gastronomy. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The Katherine Golden Bitting Collection on Gastronomy and the Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection of cookbooks are significant for the study of women's history in two important ways:

  1. Gastronomy and cookery have traditionally and historically been part of a woman's world
  2. Women were logically the intended audience for many of these books

The collections and related bibliographies also shed light on the two individual women who assembled these collections.

Katherine Golden Bitting Collection on Gastronomy

Katherine Bitting's interest in book collecting was sparked by her career as a food chemist. She wrote extensively on food preservation and began collecting books on gastronomy in the process of her research. More than four thousand volumes that she collected were donated to the Library between 1939 and 1944, among them eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books on food preparation from England and the United States, as well as European works. Bitting included American regional cooking in her collection. Cookbooks produced by churches and community organizations throughout the United States contain recipes for very local and specific tastes. These often hard-to- find cookbooks offer insight into the development of regional cuisines.

A. Viard. Cuisinier royal. 1873. Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection

Elizabeth Robins Pennell's cookbook collection is primarily European and is strongest in French and Italian works from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. She was a journalist, and often worked together with her husband, artist Joseph Pennell.

Both women published extensive bibliographies. Bitting's work, Gastronomic Bibliography (San Francisco, 1939; Z5776.G2 B6 Rare Bk Ref), is a classic in the field. Pennell's My Cookery Books (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903; Z5777.P41 Rare Bk Ref) is a particularly beautiful book, designed by Bruce Rogers.

Both bibliographies are important tools for approaching the collections and are available in the Rare Book Reading Room.

For a fuller description of these collections, see Leonard Beck, Two “Loaf-givers,” or a Tour through the Gastronomic Libraries of Katherine Golden Bitting and Elizabeth Robins Pennell (Washington: Library of Congress, 1984; Z663.4.T95 1984 Rare Bk Ref) .

Marian S. Carson Collection

Harriet Beecher Stowe. Pictures and stories from Uncle Tom's Cabin. c1853. Marian S. Carson Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Another of the division's major women collectors, Marian Carson, amassed an amazing array of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and printed ephemera on a variety of subjects, including early American printing, nineteenth-century social history, culinary arts, and children's literature.

In addition to the cookbooks, conduct books, books on education, and children's books and games discussed in the "Domestic Sphere" section of this guide, she brought to the Library an impressive body of printed material that celebrates the social diversity of American life while documenting the political, cultural, and economic growth of the American Republic during its first century.

Janus Press Archive

Charles G. Finney. The circus of Dr. Lao. Janus Press Collection. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

The Janus Press Collection and Archive (1955-) includes fine press and handmade books and printed ephemera created and published since 1955 by Claire Van Vliet, contemporary printer, printmaker, and publisher. In addition to Van Vliet's contributions, a significant number of works are collaborations with other women authors and illustrators, including Ruth Fine, Susan Johanknecht, Margaret Kaufman, Barbara Luck, and Helen Siegl. Subjects include quilts, recipes, abused women, and a housewife's diary.

The archive also contains material relating to the production of books and ephemera bearing the Janus Press imprint, as well as other projects carried out with the assistance of its founder. An open collection, it currently numbers nearly five thousand items and includes correspondence, proofs, paste-ups and layouts, book designers' mockups, drawings, woodblocks, etched and engraved plates, notes, and receipts. Material is arranged chronologically by publication date of the work to which it relates.

Loading ...