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Community Cookbooks: An Online Collection

This research guide highlights to early charity and community cookbooks from across the United States and digitized from the Library of Congress collections.

Introduction

National Federation of Woman's Clubs. Harris & Ewing, photographer. 1923 or 1924. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

A version of this guide first appeared in 2009, when it was created to serve as as an inventory and portal to a set of community cookbooks digitized by the Library of Congress. As digitizing continues, books are added, along with links to the full text and the Library's catalog.

There are a number of ways to look at these cookbooks, but this guide focuses on two of the most basic filters, place and time. Reading a selection of community cookbooks across a time or place can give unexpected insight into aspects of American culture and public history. Unlike mainstream cookbooks, which tend to have just one authorial and authoritative voice, they are crowded with individuals who, while part of a group, may not always agree. A few books connect directly with historical events and causes such as war or the women's suffrage movement. But it is also possible to trace some of the widespread social and cultural effects of immigration, expansion, urbanization and industrialization through the ingredients and methods, kitchen equipment and household hints, advertising and recipes.

One thing these cookbooks have in common is that they were—almost always—compiled by women for the purpose of raising money for a cause. Often, the funds were raised for church furnishings and other improvements, but many groups compiled recipes for more secular causes such as free kindergartens,establishing a library or planting trees in a new town.Despite their generally small size and the relatively humble subject matter, some of these cookbooks were very successful in raising funds, and went through multiple printings over the years.