Friday, January 1, 2021

The Story about Aunt Jemima and the Illinois Aunt Jemima's Kitchen Restaurants.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


The first Aunt Jemima's Pancake House began at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on August 17, 1955. It was located on New Orleans Street in Frontierland and featured indoor and outdoor patio seating.


Aunt Jemima's Kitchen Restaurant at 4700 Dempster Street, Skokie, Illinois, opened on Sunday, November 13, 1960. The two black hostesses were dressed as Aunt Jemima, with an apron and kerchief on her head, and would greet and seat you. They had a lot of different kinds of pancake syrups to use, with 37 types of pancakes. On each table in their three dining rooms, the Cotillion Room, the Fireside Room, and the Garden Room, a syrup tray held 6 different varieties.
Looking at the Garden Room from the Cotillion Room. You can see the variety of pancake syrups raised above the table in the forefront. The Fireside Room is in the distance, where you see the fireplace on the west wall.
The Cotillion room was carpeted and the decor featured large walnut tables and cane back chairs; hurricane lamps mounted on the walls and set in antique gold frames. Bright watercolor paintings hung on the wall.

The Garden room featured a New Orleans type motif with a sunken garden. it had artificial bushes and small palm leaf bushes and candy cane striped leather seats.

The Fireside room had plank oak floors and paneled walls; burled oak tables; bucket seat chairs; a natural fireplace and a display of Hudson Bay firearms.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen, 801 Rand Road (just North of Central), in Mount Prospect. The Grand Opening was on Thursday, August 30, 1962.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen, 4343 North Harlem Avenue, in Norridge. The Grand Opening was on Sunday, September 16, 1962.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen, Edgewater Beach Hotel, 5555 N Sheridan Road, at Berwyn Avenue, in Chicago. The Grand Opening was on Thursday, October 6, 1966. It only lasted until the hotel closed in 1967.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen, 1016 Dixie Highway, in Chicago Heights. Opening date unknown.

Each restaurant had a seating capacity of 180 people.

Aunt Jemima's Kitchen Paper Plate.
When Aunt Jemima's Kitchen closed its doors in 1968 or 1969, a restaurant called The Bum Steer moved in for a very short time. Next, the Gold Coin Restaurant opened, and then the Barnum & Bagel Restaurant. After 33 years at 3910 Dempster Street, Pita Inn razed the old restaurant and built a new building on the property at 4710 Dempster Street, opening on Wednesday, June 3, 2015.

In 1889, Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, developed Aunt Jemima, the first pancake-ready mix. The initial owners soon went bankrupt and sold their company to Randolph Truett (R.T.) Davis Milling Company in 1890. 

R.T. Davis Milling Company hired Nancy Green to portray "Aunt Jemima" and tour the country promoting her brand. Due to the character's popularity, R.T. Davis Milling Company fabricated a backstory through the booklet "Life of Aunt Jemima: The Most Famous Colored Woman in the World." (The entire booklet is presented below as a footnote.)
Nancy Green as Aunt Jemima.

The image of Aunt Jemima was so popular that the company was renamed in 1914 to the Aunt Jemima Mills Company. 

The Quaker Oats Company purchased the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1926.
The Quaker Oats Company 1926 Aunt Jemima Buckwheat, Corn & Wheat Flour wholesale package label. 12-3½lb packages.

The advertising planners decided to bring the Aunt Jemima character back to life for the Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair in 1933-34. They hired Anna Robinson, described as a large, gregarious woman with the face of an angel. She traveled the country promoting Aunt Jemima until she died in 1951. Quaker's first registration of the Aunt Jemima trademark occurred in April 1937. 

From 1955 until the late 1960s, Aylene Lewis was hired to portray Aunt Jemima at the Aunt Jemima Kitchen restaurant established in the newly opened Disneyland in California. 
The first Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green, was born a slave in Kentucky. She was a renowned "storyteller" and was discovered by Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood in 1890, who were searching for a "Mammy" archetype to promote the first-ever box product they named the "Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix." 

In 1889, the creators of Aunt Jemima, Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood, sold the company to Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company, who soon found Nancy Green in Chicago. The previous owners had already agreed upon her 'look' of a bandana and apron. R.T. Davis combined the Aunt Jemima look with a catchy tune from the Vaudeville circuit to make the Aunt Jemima brand.
Aunt Jemima's Lullaby, by S.H. Speck, 1896.
NOTE: This song was created at a time when
dialect and racial stereotypes were
regularly used as entertainment.

Green's identity was first uncovered at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. She cooked the pancakes, sang songs, and told stories of the Old South. Her charismatic personality helped establish the hugely successful pancake mix. So many people were interested in the Aunt Jemima exhibit that police were called for crowd control. Green was given an award for showmanship at the exposition. As a result of her dedication, Aunt Jemima received 50,000 orders for pancake mix. Because she excelled at promoting their product at the Exposition, Green was signed by Rutt and Underwood to an exclusive contract that gave her the sole right to portray the character of "Aunt Jemima" for the rest of her life. Green's new career allowed her the financial freedom to support her family and also to work as an activist for negro causes and anti-poverty programs.
Nancy Green died on August 30, 1923, in Chicago, when a car collided with a laundry truck and "hurtled" onto the sidewalk where she was standing under the 46th Street elevated 'L' tracks. She is buried in a pauper's grave near a wall in the northeast quadrant of Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery. After 97 years, a headstone was laid on Mrs. Green's grave in June of 2020.
After Green's passing, the owner of Aunt Jemima, R.T. Davis Milling Company, experienced financial issues, and the brand was sold to Quaker Oats two years later. As for the image of Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green was followed by Anna Robinson, whose image was changed to a painted portrait on the mix's packaging. Next was Chicago blues singer and actress Edith Wilson. She was the first Aunt Jemima to appear in television commercials. 

After Wilson, there was Ethel Ernestine Harper, a former school teacher and actress. The fourth Aunt Jemima was Rosie Hall, an advertising employee at Quaker Oats, until she discovered their need for a new Aunt Jemima. After she died, Hall's grave was declared a historical landmark. 

Next, there was Aylene Lewis. She first appeared as Aunt Jemima at the opening of Aunt Jemima's Restaurant at Disneyland in 1955. In 1970, Disneyland ended its contract with the Quaker Oats Company and renamed its Aunt Jemima Restaurant to "Magnolia Tree Terrace," then changed names again in 1971 to "River Belle Terrace."
Ann Short Harrington was The last woman known to publicly appear as Aunt Jemima. Harrington would make television appearances as the brand spokesperson in the New York area.

The Name: "Aunt Jemima" comes from a popular minstrel song called "Old Aunt Jemima" from the late 19th century. This song perpetuated harmful stereotypes about Black women, portraying them as happy, submissive figures who were content with their lot in life, often associated with serving food.

The Brand Image: The Aunt Jemima brand image was initially based on a caricature of a "mammy," a racist stereotype of Black women from the American South in a headscarf and bandana, further reinforcing these negative stereotypes. This caricature perpetuated harmful and inaccurate portrayals of Black people.

Real People Portraying the Image: While the brand image itself was harmful, several Black women were hired throughout history to portray Aunt Jemima in advertising and promotions.

Therefore, it's important to distinguish between the problematic brand image and the real people who were associated with it.

Nancy Green is often considered the first person to portray Aunt Jemima. She was a former enslaved woman hired in 1893 to represent the brand at the World's Columbian Exposition. While Green was paid for her participation, she didn't create the character or control its portrayal.

It's crucial to remember that Green and other women who followed her were exploited by the brand to reinforce a harmful stereotype. They did not endorse the racist caricature they were forced to embody.

The Aunt Jemima brand was retired due to its racist roots in 2020. The pancake mix and syrup are now sold under "Pearl Milling Company."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideals and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact-based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.

Because of the Aunt Jemima character's popularity, R.T. Davis Milling Company fabricated this backstory through the booklet "Life of Aunt Jemima: The Most Famous Colored Woman in the World."
Cover of "Life of Aunt Jemima: The Most Famous Colored Woman in the World," 1895.

Near the junction of the Red River with the Mississippi, in Louisiana, on the left bank of the "Father of Waters," stands a small log cabin, differing but little from the negro cabins so plentiful in the Southern States. It is now old and dilapidated; the wind whistles through crannies between the logs, birds have built their nests under the eaves, and tropical vegetation has overgrown the once-trim little garden. Passengers on the river steamers always look at this cabin with more than ordinary interest. It is one of the "sights" of that section of the country, for it was long the home and abiding place of Aunt Jemima, the celebrated colored cook, whose fame has since extended to the very bounds of civilization.

The cabin is located on what is known as the Old Higbee Plantation, one of the finest in the South before the war, famed for its beauty and the warm hospitality of its owner. Rosebank, for so it was called, was a splendid type of an old plantation home—where the latch-string was always out to the weary traveler, and the elaborate courtesy of its owner showed to the best advantage amid the refined surroundings of his happy home.

Aunt Jemigia was born on this plantation. As a bit of pickaninny she chased the butterflies in the field and found new happiness in the dawn of each coming day. The fields and woods were her playgrounds—Nature was her servant and spread most bounteous gifts before her—and the happy little pickaninny soon grew to be a bright young girl, untutored in the ways of worldly knowledge, but wise in the laws and limitations of Nature. Health was her guide. None knew its value better. To her, happiness meant perfect health and perfect cooking, an infallible prescription that cured all ills. In the very simplicity of her ideas lay their great value and thoroughness. It is not surprising, then, that Aunt Jemima, at an early age, was noted as a cook, unsurpassed in preparing certain dishes, which she prepared in a manner that showed a surprising knowledge of the properties and possibilities of their wholesome ingredients. Jemima was at this time a perfect type of handsome and vivacious negro girl, just bordering on womanhood, and her mistress, Mrs. Higbee, speedily discovered that she was a household jewel and prized her for her kindness and nobility of character, as well as for her cooking.

Aunt Jemima was the first to discover that the three great cereals'—wheat, corn, and rice—could be so combined in pancakes that the beneficial properties and flavor of each could be retained. The knowledge of assimilative flavors—how to produce them by the proper combination of nutritive elements—made her famous as a natural cook—her fame soon spread beyond the vicinity of her home—and Aunt Jemima's pancakes became a celebrity in that neighborhood. Who is there who would not admire this uneducated negro woman, who knew nothing of artificial flavoring extracts or chemical solutions calculated to tempt the palate, yet could prepare the most tempting dishes from the most simple and healthful materials? Not satisfied with the mere ability to cook, Aunt Jemima, with a perspicacity seldom met within her race, carefully analyzed the different properties of the cereal and other foods she prepared, and it is a well-known fact that not one of her many recipes has ever been improved upon.

Aunt Jemima had no more education than others in her class. Many have claimed that she had at least a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry and botany, for her recipes have always shown familiarity with physical and chemical laws that were little short of marvelous for an uneducated person. It has been proven, nevertheless, that her skill was a natural gift.

The illustration is a correct likeness of Aunt Jemima at the Governor's Mansion, as Col. Higbee's dwelling was known during the period before the war. She cooked for many of the most famous people of this continent and Europe. The illustration shows the famous cook bringing in a plate of Aunt Jemima's pancakes, somewhat like the griddle cakes typical in the South. However, the ingredients in her cakes were so combined as to make them digestible and in some manner, Aunt Jemima produced a flavor to her pancakes that no other person could imitate. When the Colonel went to the field and his family moved to New Orleans, Aunt Jemima returned to her home in the plantation cabin whence they had taken her.

Among the notable incidents in her experience might be named the meals served by Aunt Jemima to the leaders of the Confederacy near the close of the war, when those gallant men, harassed and pursued, surrounded on all sides by the Union troops, deprived of almost the necessaries of life, found in Aunt Jemima—the ex-slave—a friend indeed. Many were the frugal meals served at her little cabin, for the gunboats had destroyed the planter's mansion long ago. The illustration on page 9 is a truthful representation of Aunt Jemima serving meals to some of the prominent leaders of the Confederacy. There was nothing very elaborate about those meals, but Aunt Jemima's cooking always liked, tasted like home cooking to the tired and weary generals, to whom her pancakes alone made up for the loss of luxuries.

Aunt Jemima's fame as a cook was accidentally revealed to the outer world several years ago. The handsome river steamer "Robert E. Lee" was en route to New Orleans.

In the main cabin sat a party of choice spirits composed of Southerners and Northerners. Among them was a man who had won fame during the Civil War in the Confederate army and won the double stars of a general before the conflict ended. The conversation drifted into a discussion of famous dinners, how they could best enjoy them, and what the courses should comprise. Finally, the old ex-general said: "You may talk about your big dinners, but the best meal I ever ate in my life was at a negro cabin not far from where we are now. It was prepared by a slave called Aunt Jemima. The meal consisted solely of pancakes, but I tell you, gentlemen, that no banquet ever spread tasted half as good as that 'one-course' re-past did; and, by the way, if I am not mistaken, we are nearing the point now; we stop for wood near where the cabin is located. We will step out there if you want to taste the best food combination ever made. She is probably still living in the old cabin she occupied during the war."

The rest of the party eagerly accepted the invitation, and when the steamer had tied up at the landing, the party, seven in number, led by the ex-general, filed down the gang-plank and started for Aunt Jemima's cabin. She was found residing in the very same place she did during the war and welcomed her visitors with all the courtesy of the antebellum darkey. It took her but a minute to prepare a batch of her famous pancakes, and without a dissenting voice, the party declared the cakes the most delicious they had ever tasted; several of the gentlemen made her tempting offers for her recipe, but all were refused. A representative of the R. T. Davis Milling Company of St. Joseph, Missouri, was at the party. He was on his way to New Orleans to prepare for some heavy shipments of the celebrated R. T. Davis Milling Company No. 10 Flour, which the firm was sent to that city. He made a mental note of the location of Aunt Jemima's cabin and, on returning to the steamer, notified the firm of his discovery.

When he reached New Orleans, a reply awaited him, instructing him to secure the recipe, if possible. He followed the instructions to the letter, but when the firm saw the size of the draft demanded, the senior member protested strongly. Subsequent developments showed that the agent had not been mistaken in the value of the much-prized recipe.

It is said that nothing created so much of a stir among the negroes of Louisiana in that year, 1886, as the sale of Aunt Jemima's Pancake Flour recipe to the representative of the R. T. Davis Milling Company. One of the particular stipulations of this sale was that the money should be paid in Gold, as Aunt Jemima and her father and mother (who are represented in the picture) could not understand why United States banknotes were any better than Confederate money, which they knew, to their sorrow, was worth very little after the war was over. Another condition of the sale was that Aunt Jemima was to be taken into employment by the firm to supervise the mixing of the ingredients that make up the pancake flour. She is now considered the most valued employee of the firm.

No exhibit of a food product created so much of a stir at the Chicago World's Fair, held in 1893, as that of the R.T. Davis Milling Company of St. Joseph, Missouri. It had been known to interested persons that this firm would make an effort to secure the medal and diploma for their Royal No. 10 Flour and their Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour, which they had been making for some time and now have a wonderful sale. Their exhibit was remarkable in many ways. It consisted, first, of a huge barrel, the largest ever constructed in the world. This barrel was 12 feet across the end, 24 feet long, and 16 feet in diameter in the center.
R.T. Davis Milling Company and Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

Inside were an office and parlor beautifully fitted up for the reception of visitors and the use of R.T. Davis Milling Company officers. Around the room were the different medals and diplomas won by this Flour in all portions of the world at various exhibitions. A few feet away from the barrel, however,d commanding the wonder and admiration of all visitors to the agricultural hall, was the most remarkable and successful exhibition of the food product. This display was neither more nor less than the original Aunt Jemima herself, making pancakes from Aunt Jemima Flour, each package of which bears her portrait. It can be imagined that it did not take the visitors to the World's Fair, especially those from the South, long to learn of this attraction. The consequence was that, at times, the crowd was so great around this exhibit that the assistance of special police had to be secured to keep it moving, as it often blockaded seriously that portion of the building. 

The World's Fair Committee on awards did not hesitate to bestow the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Medallion and a parchment certificate for the excellence of the Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour from R.T. Davis Milling Company. 

It had been surmised by the competing millers that the R.T. Davis Milling Company would carry off the first premium. Still, no one was prepared for the sweeping language of the award given them—a medal for every line they exhibited.

Over 50,000 orders for packages of Aunt Jemima's Pancake Flour were received at the booth alone. These orders came from Europe, Canada, and all parts of the United States.

It will be interesting for everybody to know that this matchless preparation. Aunt Jemima's Pancake Flour combines the great food triumvirate, Wheat, Corn and Rice. It is now kept in stock by almost every grocer in the land, and much of its phenomenal success is due to the guarantee that is given with every package, as follows: 
''Buy a package of Genuine Aunt Jemima's Self-Rising Pancake Flour, and if you do not find it makes the best cakes you ever ate, return the empty box to your grocer, leave your name, and the grocer will refund the money and charge it to us."
If your grocer does not keep it, tell him the trade is supplied by all wholesale grocers.

U. S. A.