Saturday, November 28, 2009

. . . and red dresses bloomed like roses

In my post yesterday about a long-forgotten print-and-radio cooking guru I promised to share the FOREWORD of the 1935 cookbook Ida Bailey Allen's Modern Cookbook 2500 recipes. Her book foreword is a tender glimpse into that era, as reported by a woman who was an impressive trailblazer speaking with authority to a large, loyal fan base. Her cookbook is a kaleidescope of the views and tastes of another time, and I will share more of Ida Bailey Allen's recipes and poems in the future.

F O R E W O R D 

IT IS more than twenty years since my first article on food and cookery was published in the "Ladies' Home Journal," and more than fifteen years since I was cookery editor of "Good Housekeeping Magazine." It seems but a flash of time since I talked to half a million home-makers during the war, and the day of my first radio talk is as close as though it were last week.
A very trying day it was, too, for radio was an unknown, to me, almost a fearsome thing. Up to 1923 I had not paid any attention to it, and the little I had heard about it sounded preposterous. Although it seemed wonderful, the results were generally so poor that I felt it was nothing more or less than a fad.
Finally, in 1923, while I was lecturing in St. Louis, one of the editors of the "St. Louis Post Dispatch" asked me if I would give a talk over their radio station. The speaker who preceded me was one well known indeed to these United States--Mr. Davies--the tree man. He went to the ordeal --I felt, almost, to the slaughter--after I got there; and he emerged fifteen minutes later with his once stiffly starched collar wilted to a string. He confessed he had never been so scared since he walked up the aisle to be married--all of which did not bolster up my courage.
When I went into the tiny, heavily swathed broadcasting room with absolutely no ventilation, I understood how Mr. Davies' collar had got that way. But I stayed there and talked before a horn-like thing that they called a microphone, apparently speaking into nothingness.
I  haven't an idea what I said, except that I remember speaking about some very beautiful violets sold on the street-corners of St. Louis, the most fragrant I have ever seen--or should I say smelled?
Soon the event was over, all except the aftermath, some fifteen hundred letters coming from the area bounded by St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico. Even then broadcasting didn't seem real to me, and those letters appeared to me like parasites on the air.
The next week I went to Kansas City to give a series of lectures, and a broadcasting station there asked permission to put a microphone on the stage. This microphone was a sort of swinging horn and worked admirably when I remembered to stay under it. But, as I had a very bad habit of walking around the stage, the listening audience got my talks literally in installments. Broadcasting at that stage seemed to me to be something that conspired to hold me in one place when I wanted to stroll around.

Then I came back to New York with no broadcasting ambitions. Some two or three years later, I was asked to speak again--on a Christmas program; and I remember suggesting that, in the holiday season, children would adore to have their mothers dressed in gay frocks, and I declared that every woman who could, should have a red Christmas dress. The letters poured in from everywhere, and red dresses bloomed like roses.
But still the microphone seemed stiff and unfamiliar and I couldn't get any connection between it,  myself, and the listeners. One by one, the large radio stations around New York City invited me as a guest-speaker. Every time I possibly could I slid out of the engagement. The very thought of a microphone seemed almost to freeze my soul.
Finally I was asked to broadcast regularly. I decided to try to use this new medium for finding out what women really wanted. I would give to them over the air the things that, on lecture tours, I had heard them declare they wanted to hear. I would alk them to write me their frank opinions; in other words, I would test radio and the women themselves.

Within four weeks after I started, the response had become so great I decided to form a radio club--the National Radio Home-Makers Club, to be exact. On the hottest day in July, I asked as many of the listeners as could to come to the ballroom of the Hotel McAlpin to meet me.
Then and there we organized the National Radio Home-Makers Club, soon afterwards incorporated with as broad a charter as ever granted to any organization within my knowledge.
A little later, requests for the broadcasts began to come from nearly every state in the Union and I decided to produce the programs with a coast to coast range.
Since then the programs of the National Radio Home-Makers Club have grown from one to as many as thirty-four per week. We have expanded from a staff of four people to a group of sixty-eight. Visitors number thousands a year, and a half million letters have poured in.
But the principle on which the National Radio Home-Makers Club was founded remains the same. The Club exists by the requests and the desires of the listeners-in. Today the thousands of letters receive just as careful attention as the hundreds got in the days when the club began.
And there is many an evening when I stay here all by myself, read the letters and dream of the home-makers who listen in. They still determine our policy. To them I really dedicate this book, which presents up-to-the-minute advice on the problems they've mentioned.


viridian said...

Wonderful! I think I saw this book for sale at the local independent bookstore - I'll check it out.

francessa said...

Hi Lydia,

What an interesting post about a remarkable lady! And her recommendation to wear red dresses for Christmas reads like a precursor to product placement. It's been long since my last red dress, but maybe this Christmas...? ;-) I love the one with the front slits and the black buttons!

kj said...

ah lydia, what a good reminder that strong women came well before us, and will come well after us...

lydia, do you have any interest in doing 'six word saturday' sometimes? because the title of this post IS a wonderful six word saturday.

best wishes,

Lydia said...

@viridian- There probably won't be a line competing for it, but I think it's worth grabbing if it's still there!

@Francessa- Wasn't she something? And no sponsors, I guess! O, yes, the red dress you liked best is the same one I liked best. And it's been ages since I've had a red dress too. :) It sounds like fun to have one again.

@kj- Yes, here's to strong women.
Um, I'm not sure what "six word Saturday" and it sounds interesting... If you recommend it I'm sure it's a good thing.

Jennifer said...

I'm working through your blog backwards -- so I have yet to see the previous post, but I'll read it next. I have to say that my xmas wardrobe plans -- baggy jeans and a shapeless sweater -- seem, well, umm, not enough for the season now. :)

Lydia said...

@Jennifer- Sounds like we dress much the same. Since I left "the office" in 2000 I may have worn a dress/skirt seven times (I'm sure not ten).
Still....that deep red dress with the black buttons looks like a lot of fun. But with what shoes? God how I hate heels!

Hysterectomommy said...

I just want to thank you for posting this. Ida is my husband's great grand-mother and we are on a journey to collect all of her cookbooks and this was such a wonderful thing to read about her.

Lydia said...

Hysterectomommy~ Your comment made my day! How exciting that your husband is her great grandson and that you share an interest in knowing more about her. I so appreciate you letting me know you found my post because I certainly became absorbed in her amazing story!

Mariana Lynn said...

Greetings, Lydia, Thank you for your interest in my grandmother, Ida Bailey Allen. I am in the process of writing her biography. I feel that it is important to keep her from falling into anonymity. Too, the story of her life before she acquired the title "America's Homemaker" is truly fascinating. I appreciate your efforts to keep her memory alive as I write. Your post has helped to spur me on.

Lydia said...

@Marianna Lynn ~ What a thrill it was to read your message today, Marianna! You have so much to be proud of in such an amazing grandmother, and it is wonderful that you are writing her biography so she does not, as you wrote, fall "into anonymity." What a shame that would be.

I have been quite remiss in blogging since fall of 2016 and miss it. It is a matter of prioritizing and commitment (as you must know with your writing). Thus, your comment has given me the heart to move forward.

Mariana Lynn said...

It gives me great pleasure to know that my comment has inspired you to "move forward", just as your comment inspired me. All best wishes to you, Lydia.



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