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Women In The Driver's Seat

Why does an electric car appear on the cover of a 1913 cookbook? In addition to recipes and first-hand writings, a great number of community cookbooks also feature local advertisements. These ads were often solicited to raise funds for printing. Many are food related, from Los Angeles grocers to new health cuisines, but they run the gamut. Frequently the advertisements are overtly geared towards the home economics of the cookbook's perceived audience: women.

On the cover of The Immanuel Aid Society Cook Book from 1913, directly under an image of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church, is an advertisement for an Ohio Electric Car (with magnetic control!) sold at a local Los Angeles dealership.

Throughout the country, early electric cars were heavily marketed to upper middle class women. They were said to be easier to drive, less messy, and appropriate for a smaller driving radius - all qualities that male car manufacturers attributed to women’s needs. Car makers struggled to create a battery that could take electric vehicles long distances, so they pivoted to marketing the cars for heavy errands, such as going to the market - a natural fit for a cookbook! Before drive-throughs and drive-ins, Los Angeles car culture and food were already linked.

By 1914, the year after this book’s publication, 15 percent of all cars were owned by women. Female celebrities, such as actress Mary Pickford and businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker, were often pictured behind the wheel.

It would take many decades for California to be at the forefront of electric vehicles, but this cookbook offers a glimpse into the less-discussed era of Southern California cars and the women who drove them.

Cosmetic and hair care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, pictured in her Pope Waverly electric car (likely 1911), via the Indiana Historical Society and the Madam Walker Family Archive. Walker collected both electric and gasoline cars, such as the famous Ford Model T.

Actress Mary Pickford, featured in an advertisement for Maxwell Cabriolet, 1915


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All Rights Reserved 2019  © Suzanne Zoe Joskow

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