Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour was one of the most recognizable brands of the 20th century. The image was based on Nancy Green, a cook and storyteller who was born into slavery in 1834. In 1893, the Davis Milling Company aggressively began the promotion of Aunt Jemima at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Green, as Aunt Jemima, demonstrated the pancake mix and served thousands of pancakes. Her warm personality made her the ideal Aunt Jemima, a living trademark. Her exhibition booth drew such large crowds that special policemen were assigned to manage the large number of people.
The Aunt Jemima product line lies squarely at the intersection of race and consumerism. The company’s products offered housewives a shortcut to pancakes and other scratch-baked items previously prepared by house servants or slaves. The company’s pancake mix appeared in 1889, at the height of the Jim Crow era, and the brand was trademarked in 1893. In 1925, Quaker Oats purchased the brand, and registered their trademark in 1937. Aunt Jemima baking products were among the many labor saving devices, from washing machines and vacuum cleaners to prepared foods and ready-to-wear clothing, rising out of the industrial and consumer economy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Dr. Maruice Manring notes that early Aunt Jemima advertisements were aimed at middle-class housewives who were financially unable to employ house servants as their mothers and grandmothers had previously done. “You see constant notation in the ads that you can’t have Aunt Jemima today, but you can have her recipe and that’s the next best thing.” He further asserts that “Aunt Jemima advertising played on a certain type of racial nostalgia, particularly the first have of the twentieth century, looking back upon how grand plantation life was and how convenient it was, literally, to have someone like Aunt Jemima who could prepare pancakes and other meals for you.” He also notes that in the context of servants doing the housework, the labor saving devices saved servant, not housewives’, labor. For the new generation of American middle class women who could not afford to hire help, the “slavery nostalgia was particularly effective” in easing the transition from “having someone do something for you to doing it yourself.”1
The Aunt Jemima Advertising collection includes original works of art from 1899 and 1904; a fourth composite work (consisting of both drawn and copied elements ca. 1919), and the original contract sale of the Aunt Jemima Mills Company to the Quaker Oats Company in 1925. The artwork is by prominent American illustrator A. B. Frost (1851-1928). Aunt Jemima remains among the most recognizable trademarks in the United States.
Repository: MGHL Dowd Modern Graphic History Library
07/13/2016. There are no accruals.
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This collection was purchased by the Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, Department of Special Collections at Washington University in St. Louis.
Preferred Citation: Aunt Jemima Advertising Collection, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections