Friday, July 3, 2009

The Domestic Side of Uncle Sam

Today, the day before one of our nation's most patriotic holidays, I would like to introduce you to, drum roll please...Aunt Sammy. Ah...You might be thinking. "Louise is going to formally introduce a relative; dear and close to her heart." "How sweet." Well, not quite. You see, Aunt Sammy is or should be near and dear to every American's heart. She is and always has been, Good Ol' Uncle Sam's wife! I digress:

You know that scene in the movie Miracle on 34th Street when Fred Gailey (John Payne) unequivocally proves Mr. Kringle to be the "one and only Santa Claus..."

Fred Gailey: Your Honor, every one of these letters is addressed to Santa Claus. The Post Office has delivered them. Therefore the Post Office Department, a branch of the Federal Governent, recognizes this man Kris Kringle to be the one and only Santa Claus.

Judge Henry X. Harper: Uh, since the United States Government declares this man to be Santa Claus, this court will not dispute it. Case dismissed. source

Well, the proof is in the pudding. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Aunt Sammy is Uncle Sam's wife. I know this to be true because, I found a 1974 edition Index to the USDA Home and Garden Bulletins available online. I quote:

Aunt Sammy came to life with the first radio broadcast of "Housekeeper's Chat" on October 4, 1926. The character of Aunt Sammy—wife of Uncle Sam was created by the USDA Bureau of Home Economics and the Radio Service. Many women across the country played the part as they spoke into the microphones of local radio stations.

The highlights of Aunt Sammy's show were the menus and recipes, but Aunt Sammy also talked about clothing, furniture, appliances, and other family and household matters. Aunt Sammy wasn't just a homebody, however. She commented on world affairs, reported the latest fads, and told jokes. The talk moved easily from one subject to another, always natural and entertaining as well as informative.

Many listeners wrote for copies of the recipes, and the Bureau of Home Economics answered these requests with weekly mimeographed sheets. In 1927 the most popular recipes were assembled into a pamphlet. The demand was so great that it had to be reprinted after only a month. "Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes" was revised and enlarged three times between 1927 and 1931. In 1932 it became the first cookbook published in braille.

I wish I could show you Aunt Sammy's rosy little face. As the story goes, "Aunt Sammy was actually 50 women standing before 50 microphones in 50 radio stations across the country, and reading 50 identical scripts prepared by the USDA's Radio Service." (That old coot, Uncle Sam:)

Aunt Sammy's roots were planted firmly in small town America, just where the United States Department of Agriculture needed her to be. The "purpose" of Aunt Sammy's radio show was "to give homemakers useful information on the scientific practice of their job." Her warm, witty personality was welcomed into millions of American homes everyday. No longer did farming communities remain "out of the loop" when it came to matters that pertained to them. Aunt Sammy warned her female audiences of get rich schemes, while educating them in the use of the innovative appliances invading their homes. I found a most interesting article published in The Free Lance Star dated October 9, 1975. "A morsel please" you say? Surely,

"Housekeeper's Chat" was the high point in a series of radio programs initiated by the Department of Agriculture under Milton Eisenhower...

It just so happens, that Milton Eisenhower was the younger brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also served presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon as a special consultant. His biography attests to the fact that he had rural America's needs close to his heart.

Milton Stover Eisenhower, the last of six sons of David and Ida (Stover) Eisenhower, was born on September 15, 1899, in Abilene, Kansas, a farm-oriented town of about 5,000. His paternal grandfather, Jacob, a farmer and Mennonite minister, had brought his family to the midwest from Pennsylvania after the Civil War. He prospered, but son David, despite a wedding gift of a 160-acre farm plus $2,000 in cash, did not. So Milton Eisenhower grew up in relatively poor circumstances, but he was surrounded by the support of many relatives.

Wise Aunt Sammy and her radio broadcast had a tremendous impact on women of the post war era. As an official radio representative and Uncle Sam's female counterpart, Aunt Sammy gained the trust and loyalty of her listeners. The chats were written in an informal style. Unlike Betty Crocker who "hit the waves" in March of 1925, for the purpose of selling more flour, Aunt Sammy, passed along helpful hints and economical recipes. She discussed the important problems concerning home makers such as meal planning, marketing, cooking, canning, sewing, decorating, gardening and a host of subjects. By 1927, there were approximately 1,251,186 radio sets on farms in the United States. More than 100 commercial stations were broadcasting the USDA's programs including, Aunt Sammy's daily housekeepers' chat, noontime farm flashes, poultry chats, insect and wild animal allies and enemies, farm news digest, primer for town farmers, and the United States Radio Farm School. 

Report of W. M. Jardine, Secretary of Agriculture, November 1, 1926: Page 56: Radio and the Farmer

Early in 1926 the number of rural radio sets in the United States reached nearly 1,000,000. To furnish the users of these sets with timely agricultural information, the department has inaugurated a comprehensive radio program covering the full range of its activities. A new section in the Office of Information, known as the radio service, has been established, to originate programs; to make contracts with commercial stations as an outlet for these programs; and to adapt timely subject matter for radio presentation. Ninety broadcasting stations, representing every section of the country, lend their facilities regularly to the department for an average of half an hour daily. The department's farm programs are brief digests of the most timely, pertinent facts woven into story form, and covering a wide range of topics.

The United States Radio Farm School, which has already brought requests for a half million enrollment cards, is conducted from 25 stations. Lessons take the form of experience talks and imaginary inspection tours. Radio "schoolmasters" at the different stations conduct the classes. All lesson material is dramatized so as to catch and hold the interest of the listeners. Printed lessons are mailed to all enrolled students.

Another outstanding service, released from 50 stations, is called "Noonday Flashes." This program enables a million farmers to listen in daily on a conversation between a county agent and a farmer who discuss current problems. "Aunt Sammy," a new radio friend and neighbor for the 5,000,000 farm women of the Nation who have an opportunity to tune in, is heard from 40 stations. The service known as the "Housekeepers' Chat" is a 15-minute period devoted five days a week exclusively to up-to-date information on subjects of interest to women...During the 1926-27 season, the radio service sent 10,000 questionnaires to individual farmers, county agricultural agents, and managers of broadcasting stations. The replies are incorporated in a report, The Number and Uses of Radio Sets on Farms in the United States, April 1, 1927. In April 1927, there were 1,251,186 radios on farms in the United States, an increase of 128 per cent over the number on farms July, 1925.

The report was used as a guide in planning the radio programs. This season's programs include three of last year's favorites: Aunt Sammy's daily housekeepers' chat, the noontime farm flashes, and the United States radio farm school, as well as eight special features. The special features for 1927-28 are: The poultry chats, a new program worked out in answer to numerous requests for a special poultry program; the young folks' program; insect and wild-animal allies and enemies; primer for town farmers; the farm news digest, and chats by the weather man. Two new special monthly programs are scheduled: The agricultural situation review; and special monthly farm playlets dramatizing agricultural problems.

The services are well received by broadcasting stations. More than 100 commercial stations were broadcasting the department's programs in October. Hundreds of letters received from farmers cite instances of how these programs are put to use. Farmers report increased profits through improved marketing practices learned in farm radio lessons. More cotton on fewer acres, better food in the home, and better crops at lower cultivation costs, are listed among the benefits received. Thousands of individual requests have been received for literature mentioned in the services. Fifty thousand free copies of Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes and 165,219 free Farm School pamphlets have been issued. (Early Radio History)

Aunt Sammy's chats were eventually reduced from 15 minute segments to 10 minute segments. However, Uncle Sam's fictional "wife" competed with the best of them. Betty Crocker still had her radio program as did Ida Bailey Allen. Ida Bailey Allen will be discussed on this blog in the future. Suffice to say now, she was author of Cooking For Two, a real dietitian, and a cooking instructor. Allen's "The National Radio Homemakers Club" ran on CBS radio from 1925 to 1935. By 1935, while Aunt Sammy was being broadcast on 200 stations in 48 states plus Hawaii, "The Radio Homemakers Club" had switched to NBC radio and remained on the air until 1936. Ah...Women in the Golden Days of Radio.

It isn't unusual to have recipe booklets such as Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised stamped with a political name of sorts. I have quite a few "politically driven" books in my collection. My edition of Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised is compliments of James E. Van Zandt; Member of Congress, 23rd Dist. Penn.

I have chosen a "seasonal" recipe to share from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised in honor of today which just happens to be "Eat Beans Day," according to Gourmet Magazine's website; the Nibble. Despite the assortment of baked bean recipes I discovered at this website in honor of another bean speciality of the month, National Baked Bean Month, I have chosen Aunt Sammy's recipe for Boston Baked Beans. Boston Baked Beans require a fair amount of cooking time. However, they are indeed worth the effort.

Boston Bake Beans
2 cups dried beans
1/2 lb. salt pork
4 tbs. molasses
1 tsp. mustard, if desired
1-1/2 tsps. salt (depending on saltiness of pork)
Soak the beans overnight in cold water to cover. In the morning drain, add a quart of fresh water, simmer for 45 minutes, or until the beans begin to soften, and drain. Score the rind of the salt pork and put half of the pork in the bottom of the bean pot. Add the beans, mix the molasses and other seasonings with a little hot water, and pour over the beans. Add enough hot water to cover. Place the rest of the salt pork on top, cover the pot, and cook the beans in a slow oven (about 250 degrees) for 6 or 7 hours. Add a little hot water from time to time to replace that which cooks away and is absorbed by the beans. Keep the lid on the bean pot until the last hour of cooking, then uncover, and allow beans and pork on the top to brown.

A very special thanks to our Military and a Happy & Safe Independence Day celebration to everyone! 

1. Index to the USDA Home and Garden Bulletins
2. The Free Lance Star
3. The Feminine Side of Patriotism & Liberty
4. Popular Culture in American History (@ google books)
5. When Radio Was King
6. Marian Manners, Prudence Penny, the first celebrity cooks (LA Times article)
7. Farm Household Topics Via Radio (1927 newspaper article)
8. Betty Hits the Waves (previous post)
9. Ida Bailey Allen and the Chef (May 1947; podcast)
10. Happy Birthday Uncle Sam (a previous post of mine)
11. Eat Beans Day (@ hicards)
1. Any-meat Rollups (inspired by “Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes”)
2. Aunt Sammy’s Radio Desserts
3. Aunt Sammy's Braised Beef
4. Quick Turnip Soup (from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes)
5. Aunt Sammy's Horseradish Sauce


  1. I don't know how you manage to always find these gems, Louise! I have heard a number of people recently call for the "return of home economics" and it looks like Aunt Sammy was a key part of the original movement. It's interesting that in the UK, there are still a number of regular farming broadcasts. This Independence Day, I will certainly raise a toast to "Aunt Sammy!"

  2. wow I feel like I'm in a history class again! I always loved all my history classes... Thank you for the fascinating education!

  3. This is an amazing post...I am a HUGE lover of history...especially culinary/food history! I did not know that Betty Crocker had a radio show (!)...and I adore homemade baked beans- delicious recipe! Happy 4th Louise!

  4. Though I am not American, I too am raising a glass to Aunt Sammy.

  5. This is absolutely fascinating. You've hit on all the topics I love--and backed it all up. Thanks so much for introducing me--and others-- to 'Aunt Sammy'

  6. That's cool! I never heard of Aunt Sammy.

  7. My dearly beloved is not at all a fan of beans of any sort, so this will never grace our table. I did very much enjoy learning of Aunt Sammy! My grandmother was a window dresser in Boston around WWII, and she created "Mary Christmas" one year; I still have her in a display case in my house!

  8. You know T.W. I was wondering whether Home Ec. was still a required subject in school. I'm going to have to find out.

    On a good reception day in PA, you can sometimes get a farmer's report. I do believe Penn State may be broadcasting a "farmer's bulletin" from the college in the near future.

    Thanks for visiting...Hope you had a toast for me!

  9. I'm glad you enjoyed it burpandslurp:) It was a fascinating post to do.

    I hope you had a Happy 4th too girlchef. Betty does have a rather torrid history as for the Baked Beans, Homemade are the BEST!!

  10. Thanks Cynthia. Did I tell you about the Caribbean Cookbook I have? I think you would really like it. Remind me:)

  11. Janet, you're too kind. "See" ya at the barbecue!

    Hi Duckie, well you have now! Seems like she would have made a wonderful interview.

  12. Wow! Marjie, How cool is that? You should post about it for Christmas. I for one would LOVE to see it!!! Thanks for stopping by...

  13. I have that recipe book also, but mine is stamped "From your congressman Lyndon B Johnson 10th Texas District". I guess because my family has always lived in Texas, that is why his name is on ours. Kind of cool that he went on to become president.

    1. Very cool, Chris! Thanks so much for sharing that info and for visiting too!!!

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise