Students, Teachers, and Classrooms Illustrated in the Catalogue of the Cotsen Children’s Library

The last two volumes of the Catalogue of the Cotsen Children’s Library, a comprehensive index, have just been published, bringing this huge project to completion.  This post will offer a survey of the pictures of children appearing in the preliminary pages of the eight volumes that illustrate the subject of teachers and pupils interacting in traditional and innovative classrooms.The frontispiece to vol. 1 of the pre-1800 imprints is a portrait of Margaret Bryan, a pioneering science educator for girls that appeared in her first such work, A Compendious System of Astronomy, in a Course of Familiar Lectures of 1797 (Cotsen 31780).  The two young ladies are her daughters; this plate was engraved by William Nutter after a painting by Samuel Shelley.   Bryan represents just one of many women writers for children whose works are described in the catalogue; she was unusual for attaching a likeness of herself in her book. Mothers are frequently portrayed in their role as their children’s first teacher.  It is no surprise that the allegorical figures of instruction and grammar are also represented as females, as in this mezzotint print ca. 1720 engraved by J. Jacques Haid after a painting by Hans Rottenhammer (Cotsen 38458) used as the frontispiece to the second volume of the index.  The rather masculine-featured woman solemnly shows a toddler a tablet of the letters of the alphabet, the first step towards literacy.  The child seems engaged by the task he is being set.Children like the play the part of teacher.   This little girl is too old for the alphabet blocks scattered on the floor, so perhaps she is preparing the doll in her lap for a lesson. This detail from a drawing in ink and gouache (Cotsen 18123) by British artist Helen Jacobs, possibly for Alice’s Alphabet.Jessie Wilcox Smith’s picture of a studious girl biting the end of her pencil from Carolyn Wells’s The Seven Ages of Childhood from 1902 (Cotsen 18997) was chosen as the frontispiece for the second volume of twentieth century imprints.  We take for granted  girls’ right to an education, but some illustrations in early modern school books are reminders that they were not welcome until comparatively recently, and if they were present, very much in the minority.  The title page vignettes for the pre-1800 volumes, The Parents’ Best Gift: or, The School of Learning [between 1748 and 1776} (Cotsen 26265) and Edward Coote’s The English School-Master (1658) (Cotsen 34054).Documenting the history of visual learning was a subject very close to the donor Mr. Cotsen’s heart, so illustrations of learning spaces full of pictures were essential.  If they really represent actual classrooms used for instruction, they were simply spectacular.  This spacious room shown in the frontispiece to the second volume of the pre-1800 imprints comes from the picture dictionary Primitiva latinoe linguoe circa 1736 (Cotsen 1088).This one, which opens out into a formal garden,makes an extensive gallery and a collection of scientific instruments available to the pupils.  It was taken from Sechzig eroefnete Wekstaette der gemeinnuezigstem kuenste und Handwerk fuer junge Leute of 1789 (Cotsen 91643). The illustration by Adrien-Emmanuel Marie of the father indulgently watching his son intent on assembling a jigsaw puzzle serving as the frontispiece to the L-Z volume of nineteenth-century imprints brings us back into the home, an important site for learning, especially in families that could afford novel aides to education.  This came from Jules Jouy’s Le chanson de joujoux of 1892 (Cotsen 3253), as does the final picture in the post, a critical reminder that all work and no play makes Jacques a dull boy…Special thanks to Stephen Ferguson, Associate University Librarian for External Engagement and designer Mark Argetsinger, who together made Mr. Cotsen’s dream of a fabulously illustrated multi-volume catalogue of his collection a reality.  As all of us who worked on this massive project can testify, along with the great children’s poet Kornei Chukovskii,  “Ach!  It’s no light task to pull a hippo from the marsh!”  Thanks for persevering!

The volume 1 team. Mr. Cotsen is to the far right. Stephen Ferguson second to the left.

Drum Cake for the Fourth of July from Betty Crocker’s Classic 1957 Cook Book for Boys and Girls

“If you use your cook book often I can promise you real fun and lots of good things to eat,” Betty Crocker told her young readers.  And she was as good as her word.  The last chapter, “Rules,”  which ought to have been first because it introduced the basics of kitchen safety, measuring, equipment, and vocabulary came after the recipes.  The book led off instead with “Extra Special,”  cakes, cookies, candies, and beverages “good things to make for parties—for holidays—for your friends—and just for fun.”   Betty may have been a corporate construct, but she was no fool.. She shrewdly figured more children would be lured into the kitchen to  stir up a batch of brownies than a pan of mac and cheese.  Her  beginners and their sweet-teeth learned right off the bat how to  grease and flour pans, use a spatula to scrape the last of the batter out of the mixing bowl, and test a cake for doneness  with straightforward recipes for chocolate sheet cake, cocoa fudge cake, and yellow layer cake.  Recipes and directions for frosting a cake followed, strategically placed to build confidence before introducing the delectable subsection of party cakes.

.The soldier with the marching side drum in Archibald Willard’s “The Spirit of ‘76” (1876) could have been the inspiration for this drum cake, which would bring the family Fourth of July picnic to a cracking conclusion.   It didn’t have to be made  from scratch: Betty Crocker’ mixes would save energy for the all-important job of decoration.   To imitate the zig-zag rope tensioning around the drum’s chocolate devil’s food shell, a pattern of peppermint sticks and maraschino cherries had to be pressed into the thick glossy coat of pure white fluffy icing.

Could eight- to twelve-year-olds, General Mills’ target audience, actually make this cake? Yes,  because a group of home testers,  eight girls and four boys identified on page 6, cooked every dish.  Tester Bette Anne explained that “We had to say if things were easy or hard and did they taste good.”  Veto power was in their hands. “ If we didn’t like it,” said tester Chris, “Betty Crocker didn’t put it in this book.”   The children’s comments were run above the lower margins and they designate the dishes they would make again, offered helpful hints, identified skills they wanted to polish, and even conceded the vegetable recipes were tasty.  The home testers were real kids who lived in Cranbury, New Jersey, but they would have been at home on Klickitat Street.  They made the book for many of the baby boomers who have hung on to their treasured dogeared, sticky copies.The editorial team that compiled Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls in the decade after World War II saw the kitchen as a space where budget-conscious meals were made with what was on hand.  Dinnertime came once a day, not once a year like taxes. As family members, kids were expected to help out with meal preparation, but they were also invited to be creative in the kitchen.  If a child wanted to surprise the family with a heart cake for Mother’s  or Valentine’s Day, a special shaped pan wasn’t necessary, with an 8-inch round and 8-inch square pan around.  Mother didn’t have to hover because the young baker could be trusted to have enough good sense to get the pans in and out of the hot oven and cut up the cooled cakes with a long sharp knife without accident.   It’s easy to point fingers at the outdated gender roles in the illustrations, like the exclusion of girls from the campfire cooking chapter or the insensitive representation of Indigenous and people of color in this cook book. Fifty-odd years out, I could not help but be struck at how refreshing it was refreshing to see no signs of the extravagant consumption signaling wealth and privilege— a batterie de cuisine, a cabinet of appliances, a gastronomic library of print and on-line resources, access to ingredients from around the world, etc.—that so much of today’s far more sophisticated home cooking depends upon upon.   Cakes made with butter taste better than ones made with hydrogenated shortening or from a mix, but Betty Crocker’s drum cake from 1957 is still within the means of more people than the birthday cake dreamed up for  a children’s birthday party in The Best of Gourmet (2005).I read and reread my well-thumbed copy of Betty Crocker  until I had perfect recall of all the color plates of the iconic party cakes.  I never made one of them. If the results were likely to fall short of the pictures (anxiety induced by the food styling?), I was too leery to try.  I  knew my health-conscious mother would nix my favorite, the drum cake, because it required hard candy and maraschino cherries, which were full of sugar and red dye number 2.   She probably would have pointed out that the cake wouldn’t taste as good as it looked and I would have been reluctant to admit she was probably right.  Better to never bring up the subject than to concede the field later.   A face-saving explanation is that the cake construction gene skipped a generation.  My daughter or nieces down under would tackle a drum cake  in a heart’s beat as child’s play.   All I have to do is ask.