Have This with Your Cupcake: Betty Crocker Was a Feminist!

June 12, 2014

Would it surprise you to learn that Betty Crocker was an AAUW member? And that in real life she had little in common with the character she created?

A vintage picture of a Betty Crocker cookbook

Betty Crocker’s cookbook, passed down to AAUW’s Rebecca Lanning by her mother

Marjorie Child Husted (1892–1986), a graduate from the University of Minnesota, was a home economist, businesswoman, and the brain and voice behind Betty Crocker.

During World War I, Husted volunteered for the Red Cross and was eventually promoted to field director. In 1924, she was hired as home economics field representative for Washburn-Crosby, the parent company for Gold Medal Flour. Washburn-Crosby would later join General Mills, the company most associated with (and present-day owner of) the Betty Crocker line of products.

Husted managed a staff of 40 in the Betty Crocker Homemaking Service. She voiced Betty on the radio show Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, offering cooking and home-management advice to millions of women for two decades. As her role expanded, Husted even traveled to Hollywood to interview movie stars such as Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow, Helen Hayes, and Clark Gable. Her interviews portrayed the stars as regular people who also enjoyed Betty’s recipes and home-cooked food. Husted also researched and edited the famous Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, commonly known as Big Red. In one year, sales of Big Red neared those for the Bible.

An old photo of Marjorie Child Husted at a writing desk

Marjorie Child Husted

Husted received many accolades for her role in creating Betty. In 1945, Fortune magazine declared Betty Crocker the second-most popular woman in America, behind Eleanor Roosevelt. Three years later, Husted accepted the Woman of the Year award from the Women’s National Press Club. President Harry Truman presented her with the award along with fellow recipients Eleanor Roosevelt, Grandma Moses, and Portland Mayor Dorothy McCullough Lee (another AAUW member!) Husted also won 1949 Advertising Woman of the Year from the Advertising Federation of America.

It can come as a bit of a shock to learn that the real Betty was not much like the Betty most of us have come to know. For example, in one her frequent contributions to the Journal of Home Economics, Husted wrote an article entitled “Would You Like More Recognition?” about the need to empower women. She also created a “bias quiz” for men to recognize and evaluate their innate biases towards women.

A page from a cookbook with tips for housewives on doing chores without getting overworked

The Special Helps page from Betty’s cookbook

An active AAUW member, Husted was appointed to the national AAUW Committee on the Status of Women in 1949. As a committee member, she researched and edited a 1955 handbook for branches titled Adventures in Freedom: Handbook for Improving the Status of Women. In the opening, she exclaimed, “To all the far-sighted, able women who have blazed the trail for the rest of us — our deep appreciation!” Husted also worked on the development of the AAUW Money Management Portfolio for Women, which debuted in 1953.

If all of this doesn’t seem to fit with the image you have of Betty, maybe this will help: Husted believed her work as Betty Crocker gave the work of all women a sense of importance. In Susan Marks’ book on Betty, Husted reflects

It is very interesting to me to look back now and realize how concerned I was about the welfare of women as homemakers and their feelings of self-respect. Women needed a champion. Here were millions of them staying at home alone, doing a job with children, cooking, cleaning on minimal budgets — the whole depressing mess of it. They needed someone to remind them that they had value.

Betty we all know and love, but there is so much more than meets the eye.

By:   |   June 12, 2014

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Pickens says:

    This is so interesting. I have sent an email to all the Virginia branch presidents and to the state board to encourage them to go on the website and read this–especially since my son when he was about 6 years old thought the picture of Betty Crocker on the cake mix box was myself!

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