The editor and millworker who bought a bankrupt flour mill in 1889 had aspirations in marketing, not culinary brilliance. They wanted to distinguish their flour from bulk flour by selling it in printed cardboard boxes, which in turn were only a decade old. They came up with the recipe themselves; while wondering what to call it, the editor went to a blackface minstrel show, picked the name 'Aunt Jemima' out of a cakewalk song which had been written by a black musician fourteen years earlier. The cooks and the logo were all originally white men, borrowing images of free labor and (to be generous) nurturance. Manring discusses the transferences and inversions and masks that made this likely in the post-Civil-War US; there are lots, but the catchiest one is that the lifestyle of the prewar Southern rich (pastoral, sensual, irrational, symbolically feminine) was marrying the wealth of the (mechanized, modern, rational, symbolically masculine) North. The examples of actual ad campaigns (illus. by N.C. Wyeth) have three themes: the reconciliation of Northern and Southern men after the war (no white women around); the leisure of antebellum life (Colonel Higbee had female guests and staff, but no wife or daughter of the house); and the helpless little new bride who would lose the love of her husband if her pancakes don't improve. The worst one has Aunt Jemima feeding Confederate officers to help them back through enemy lines.
Presumably the first two campaigns expected the probably-female shopper to imagine herself as the missing mistress of the plantation. She must have been dreaming of having someone else do housework: from 1890 to 1910 white women's participation in the labor force rose and the number of domestic servants declined. That is, more women were doing more of their housework in less time, as standards of housework went up. Some of that was possible because equipment improved; some was an attempt to use up the 'extra' time women no longer spent in the family business or farm, without sending them out to another business or farm. (See The Home-Maker and her Job and For Her Own Good.) They would probably have bought pancake mix just because it was quick and edible - there were campaigns aimed at camping Boy Scouts with just that theme, and no Old South - but it's likely that they bought a lot more to stay on top of the racist, sexist, labor-theft imagery wrapped up in Aunt Jemima.
Black publications recognized the insult at least from 1919. Ad surveys of black consumers established in the '20s that they loathed the image. The NAACP ran protests and boycotts into the 1960s, when Quaker Oats was still hiring women to act as Aunt Jemima on tour. Quaker Oats has now changed the image slightly - she went through a period of being a working grandmother, and is now not very visible on 'her' own website, which announces The Aunt JemimaŽ Brand has a reputation for quality and is used by millions of moms and dads who take pride in preparing hot healthy breakfasts for their families.. Manring has a reasonable circumstantial argument that the offense the Aunt Jemima image still causes is balanced, commercially, by a (to be generous) unthinking racist pleasure in the image.
The copyright on this book is not held by its author, but by the Rector
& Visitors of the University of Virginia. Is that an increasing trend?
If popular works are owned by for-profit corporations, and scholarly
works by academic corporations - legaly nonprofit, but just as
interested in perpetual revenue streams - when will anything come back
in the public domain so that the can resuse and rework what we call
'our' culture? If there had been a real Aunt Jemima, who held the
copyright and trademark in her own image, her heirs might have a
different view of how to sell pancakes. They would have had, for
instance, an image of female strength and competence, not just hard work
and servility. Unfortunately, advertising speaks of love and pride but
it sells with fear.
So wrote clew in