February 26th, 2009
This is an advertisement dating from around 1893 for Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix. This product was created in 1889 by Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood, but was later sold in 1890 to R.T. Davis Milling Company. The idea for the name came from a black face minstrel show which Rutt attended. A performer sang “Aunt Jemima” with an apron, headscarf and black face on. Rutt decided to use the name due to the song’s popularity and the reflection of the southern mammy it brought up. 1893 was also the year R.T. Davis hired Nancy Green, a former slave, to be the icon for the mix in an effort to launch a campaign.
The woman in the image reflects the sterotypical ideal for an African American cook or “mammy.” She has a bandana on her head, over pronounced lips and nose, and a wide grin on her face. This image is a throw back to the “happy slave” ideal in which the cook made delicious breakfasts along with warm and jolly smile. This would largely appeal to whites in the upper and middle classes. It reflected the common thought that slave women were typically fat, loyal and contantly laughing “mammy” types whose sole purpose was to provide their white family with hearty meals and adoration. This is the image the Aunt Jemima ads achieved.
The actual product was a quick mix, self-rising flour meant to make women’s lives easier and would have been used in the kitchens of the lower, middle and probably upper classes. The mix was made of wheat, corn and rice and only required the addition of water. It is now under the trademark of Quaker Oats.
This is another ad put out by the Milling Company. You can see the copious amounts of Aunt Jemima images along with her famous “I’se in town, Honey!” quote. On many advertisements, even through the 1950s, Aunt Jemima would be portrayed as speaking in “slave dialect” while the white woman she was bringing her cooking skills to, of course, spoke in perfect English.
The evolutionof Aunt Jemima has only been modernized only since 1989 for her 100th anniversary. As we can see, 50 years after her creation in the late 1940s, Aunt Jemima’s happy mammy image had not changed much: