London Cooking Schools for Women in 1902

Shhh. I’m supposed to be writing fiction. I took a break to look for images for my new Facebook page (please like it, pretty please), when I came across “London Cooking-Schools and Their Teachers” in a 1902 issue of The Lady’s Realm. I couldn’t stop myself.  I excerpted some interesting (and infuriating) bits, but please take a look at the entire article if you interested in the names of the schools and the teachers. 


Here are eighteen girls from the School Board, ranging in age elven to fourteen, learning to be clever little housewives and competent cooks of the working man’s dietary. Forty happy hours of their school year are spent here in the concoction of “poor man’s venison,” shepherd’s pie, and other cottage charities.

In another classroom are “ladies of high degree” learning to lard quails, make ice puddings, fold serviettes in the daintiest fashion, and write menus in approved French.


In another classroom, a posse of uniformed Queen’s Jubilee Nurses are being initiated into the art of distract nurses’ cookery. The knowledge so gained will carry comfort and appetizing sick-room dishes into many a poor home

Workhouse diets are compiled at this school, Poor Law recipes tested and the committee has published a manual of model cookery for workhouses.


Visiting the various workrooms, one notes the enterprise of aspiring domestics anxious to ” better themselves.” For £5 15s. such ambitious young women can take a plain cook’s certificate, which is an investment yielding a quick return in increased wages. This course is open only to the domestic servant class. The highest branch of all is known as the Cordon Bleu Corps. To belong to this entails a forty-week training at an outlay in fees of £40. Students gaining 80 per cent, of the marks obtainable in all branches of cookery are granted the Cordon Bleu silver badge and blue ribbon. A 60 per cent, average brings the blue ribbon minus the badge.

The working-expenses of a large cooking school are very heavy. Something like £2,200 a year is spent here on food. A good deal of this is consumed on the premises by the resident pupils, some twenty five of whom are comfortably boarded and housed. There is a big dining-room, too, where many of the day pupils buy their meals at moderate prices. It rarely happens that there are fewer than a hundred and fifty pupils preparing for the full cookery teacher’s certificate. The resident pupils have bright, cheerful bedrooms, and a nice sitting-room furnished with books, rocking chairs, and a piano. Board and lodging in the school costs 25s. a week. The results of their and other pupils’ culinary labours are served up at a seven o’clock dinner, where many unsold delicious dishes figure on the table. Friday evening is set apart for concerts, theatres, and entertainments, for which “late passes” are granted. A large percentage of the pupils live at boarding establishments in the neighbourhood, or make arrangements as paying guests in private families.


What a pity—and what a topsy-turvy anomaly too !—it is that cookery and housekeeping are not taught as a matter of course in our girls’ high – schools, at Oxford, Cambridge, and all Varsities admitting feminine undergraduates! In a fair number of the leading American colleges for women a model home is attached where every branch of housewifery, housemaiding, and cookery is thoroughly learnt. A woman may possess all the diplomas and certificates that all the combined colleges and ‘varsities can bestow upon her; but if she be a domestic dunce no such titles or degrees warrant her in a claim to be a cultured, finished woman.


“Nearly all our lady-pupils want to begin with elaborate dinner-party dishes. They don’t like the drudgery of simple boilings and bakings,” complain most of the cookery teachers. What opening is there for a gentlewoman who graduates and takes her cookery diploma?” No woman who is either a practical cook or a good teacher ever fails to find lucrative employment,” agree all the experts. There is an encouraging demand at the present time for trained lady-cooks and housekeepers in schools, colleges, and institutions, such posts commanding good salaries. A few women lecturers who give demonstrations of cookery by gas-stove manage to clear something like 300 a year. This is one of the best-paid branches of cookery.


A staff of trained cools is kept in readiness to go out to private houses to prepare and serve dinners, luncheons, and ball-suppers. Mrs. Marshall does not think this kind of peripatetic cookery is suited to gentlewomen, unless they happen to be endowed with a strength of constitution beyond the powers of an average woman.

“Sometimes,” she says, “a day-cook going into the country for a dinner, leaver her home at 7:30am and does not return till after midnight. She is “on the go” and standing throughout the long, hard day.” Experience seems to show that this branch of cookery is better done by women of the domestic servant class.

A dinner for sixteen persons can be compassed in one day by a cook who receives 21s. for her task. For a ball-supper on a large scale, cooks need sometimes to stop at a country house for several days. Some “lady cooks” make long visits to country houses in order to train the cook already in possession, and impart a smattering of their art to the ladies of the household. Experienced cooks, with a special knowledge and skill in shooting-box menus, command very good fees in the autumn for duty done in distinction, inquiring young cooks are taught the latest idea in flower and fruit decoration, table illumination, and serviette architecture.


“What do the gods care for a woman?” is a cynical Chinese proverb. However indifferent the gods may be to the sex, it is perfectly certain that man here below most thoroughly appreciates a wife who is at the same time an excellent cook. If men possessed the strong instinct of self preservation with which they are accredited —especially by women—they would look to it that the law of the land should speedily enact that no girl be allowed to receive a marriage certificate till she could produce accredited diplomas in cookery, domestic economy, and housekeeping.

At the present time the percentage of girls who trouble to go through a course of cookery is infinitesimally small. They are secure in the knowledge that man is not a sufficiently logical person to demand that his mate shall possess some qualification for the partnership she assumes. Any girl who enters into matrimony minus a thorough knowledge of every art and cunning device of domesticity obtains her lifelong  position under false pretences!

Partying at the Royal Society in 1886

Recently, I’ve been dabbling in English scientific history.  A couple of nights ago, I read a fascinating essay by James Gleick titled “At the Beginning: More Things in the Heaven and Earth” found in Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, & The Genius of the Royal Society edited by the fabulous Bill Bryson. Gleick’s descriptions of the history of the Royal Society and their early scientific inquiries made me chuckle. Today, as I was searching for images in Cassell’s Family Magazine for another post on Victorian love letters, I ran across a description of a typical meeting and soiree of the Royal Society in 1886. I couldn’t resist posting it on my blog. Enjoy!

At A Soiree Of The Royal Society

rom its history and standing the Royal Society of London is unquestionably the chief scientific body in these islands. It has all the dignity of a State institution as well as the lustre of a famous past; and, in the minds of many, to have the privilege of writing ” F.R.S.” after one’s name is to have gained the blue ribbon of science. Like other great associations, it began in a very humble way.

During the year 1645—just two hundred and forty-one years ago—a small band of friends were wont to meet in Dr. Goddard’s lodgings, Wood Street, London, to talk over the various observations of natural things which had been made, in a curious and philosophical spirit. The notion of holding these meetings is said to have been suggested by one Theodore Haak; and Dr. Goddard’s lodgings were selected because he had an assistant working there who was skilled in grinding glasses. Subsequently the meeting-place was removed to Oxford, and after that to Gresham College, London, where after the Wednesday lecture of Mr. Christopher Wren, the celebrated architect, the colleagues met in the classroom to carry on their discussions, from which all political and theological topics were excluded. This was in the year 1659, the year of the troubles with King Charles II., and the philosophers, despite their harmless attitude in politics, were obliged to give up their meeting-place, which was turned into a soldiers’ barrack.

Next year, after the Restoration, the meetings were, however, resumed on November 28th, in Mr. Rooke’s room, Gresham College, and Mr. Ball’s room in the Temple. Forty members were enrolled, including the Hon. Robert Boyle (” the Father of Chemistry, and brother of the Earl of Cork”), Sir Kenelme Digby, Mr. Evelyn, of the ” Diary,” Mr. Christopher Wren, Dr. Cowley, and Dr. Wallis.

At the meeting on December 5th, Sir Robert Moray announced the welcome news that his Majesty King Charles II had been pleased to signify his approbation of the young society, and their objects. The king afterwards took further interest in their proceedings, and it is his Majesty’s picture which holds the place of honour in their meeting-hall at Burlington House to-day.

It is curious to read some of the minutes of the young society. Thus Mr. Pope was deputed to “procure the experiment of breaking pebbles with the hand ;” and later on Mr. Wilde agreed to “show the stone kindled by wetting.”

Again: “The Duke of Buckingham promised to bring to the society a piece of a unicorn’s horn.”

This remarkable substance was afterwards made the subject of an interesting experiment, for we read that (on July 24th) “A circle was made with powder of unicorn’s horn, and a spider set in the middle of it; but it immediately ran out.”

“Sir John Findis’ piece of an incombustible hatband was produced.”

“Mr. Croune was desired to inquire into the manufacture of hats.”

Also: “ Sir Kenelme Digby related that the calcinated powder of toads reverberated, being applied in bags upon the stomach of a pestiferate, cures it by several applications.”

On another occasion: “Sir Gilbert Talbot’s experiment of the sympathetic powder were ordered to be registered.”

Vegetable life also came in for its share of study. Among others, Dr. Clarke made some “observations on the humble and sensible plants, in Mr. Chiffin’s garden in St. James Park, made August 9th, 1661;” and Col. Tuke “brought in his history of the rained seeds, and some ivy berries, the kernels of which were the same that were reported to have fallen down from the sky in Warwickshire, Shropshire, etc.”

These examples serve to show how little true science, as we know it, was current in those days; and also the true inquiring spirit of the members, who took up any matter that seemed to call for explanation. Their earnestness is likes exemplified in Mr. Powle’s very liberal off to the Society, “to employ himself in the country about anything which they should direct him to.” Let us trust that Mr. Powle was duly dispatched, like Pickwick, to the country.

These early members of the Royal Society were, indeed, as Newton afterwards described himself, like children picking up shells upon the great shore of Truth. Their observations spread over a wide field, however; in fact, the whole circle of the sciences; and if some of them appear to be trivial, others were of the first importance. For instance, experiments were instituted at Teneriffe to prove the weight of the atmosphere. Capillary attraction, the recoil of guns, chemical reactions, and astronomical effects were carefully discussed. As the members settled to their work, the subjects treated of became more serious and important, as the minutes of their meetings curiously show. The “sympathetic powders,” the crushed vipers, and divining rods of the earlier days were left behind for weightier matters ; and the proceedings of the Society assumed more and more that classic character which they have borne so long. At last the illustrious Newton, with his theory of universal gravitation, gave an enormous impetus to their researches.

Susanna’s note: Newton’s relationship with the society wasn’t as harmonious as you might be led to believe.  According to Gleick, Newton sent the society some letters describing how by using prisms he had split light into different colors. He further claimed that white light was produced by the combination of primary light colors. Fellow society member Robert Hooke sent back a hasty, cursory critique refuting Newton.  Pissed off at Hooke, Newton didn’t return to the Royal Society for a number of years.

Since Newton’s day, Michael Faraday, Davy, Thomson, and many others have added glory to the Royal Society; and at their ordinary meetings, or their annual soirees, some of the most eminent savants of the day are to be met. These meetings are held on Thursdays during the winter, in the Society’s rooms, Burlington House, at three in the afternoon; because it was found that wits were clearer then than after dinner in the evening. The after-dinner mind is not quite capable of grasping the lively molecule.

The visitor to one of these meetings is ushered into an ante-chamber where tea and coffee are provided for his refection, before the business of the day begins, as well as after it has ended. This is a custom which has been imitated by some other learned societies— notably the Linnean.

The meeting-hall is a large sombre chamber, hung with dark oil paintings of dead immortal worthies, such as Huyghens, Newton, and Priestley. At the farther end sits the President on an antique high-backed chair, with a secretary on either side, and the great mace of King Charles lying in state before his desk. The ordinary Fellows sit on benches across the body of the hall.

A grave and impressive dignity presides over the assembly. If it is trying for a new member of Parliament to address the House, it is almost equally trying for a young Fellow to take part in a discussion here. The papers are on subjects which would bea sealed book to the original members of the Society; their very names would sound like Cherokee to Evelyn and Mr. Powle, supposing the latter to have returned from the country. They are even unintelligible to all except those Fellows who are specialists in the particular science they belong to. For example, there may be a mathematical paper “On the Invariants and Covariants of Quantities,” or an electrical one “On the Determination of Magnetic Susceptivity.” A renowned palaeontologist (the very man who is popularly supposed to build the skeleton of an extinct animal from its tooth) will perhaps discourse on some new ” missing link,” to wit, the Thylacolea, or flesh-eating marsupial of New South Wales; or a well-known geologist will communicate a paper by somebody else “On the Occurrence of Pterygotis and a Limuloid in certain Flagstones.” If the lay visitor escapes the seductive subject of vortex-rings, and the dissipation of energy, he may consider himself lucky ; and will probably not regret the mysteries of “orthagonal and isothermal surfaces,” or the “forces experienced by inductively ferro-magnetised or dia-magnetised non-crystalline substances.” Science has taken such gigantic strides of late years that it has almost coined a language of its own.

There are two annual soirees, or conversaziones, of the Royal Society, one being known familiarly as the “ladies’ night.” These gatherings are attended by the Fellows and their friends, together with a sprinkling of distinguished guests, such as foreign savants—a Helmholtz or a Pasteur—ambassadors from other Powers, a few presidents of other societies, a famous general or two, and occasionally a royal personage.

The guests are received by the President, and disperse themselves about the halls of the Society, which are brilliantly illuminated for the occasion by some new system of electric lighting. Numerous tables are covered with scientific apparatus illustrating recent inventions, the telephone, the microphone, the photophone, or something newer still. Nor are the exhibits confined to physical instruments, but extend over the whole range of science. Novelty, of course, is a desideratum, and especially some novelty of the year which has just elapsed. Illuminated microscopes stand ready to reveal their splendid secrets; some rare orchid from the tropical forest hangs its alien blossoms in the heated air; meteoric stones from Russia, and even corroded jewels from the site of Troy, may perhaps be seen there, along with fossil scorpions from the Silurian rocks, or tiny crystals of a new element, and microbes from the snows of Norway.

There is a little licence as regards the range of exhibits; and perhaps it is as well, for some of the experiments might lack interest to other visitors than men of science. As it is, the soirees are in general most successful gatherings, and form a relaxation in the scientific year.

So, you’ve been invited to the Royal Society’s Soiree in 1886. What are you going to wear when you show off your brilliant invention that you would have described at a meeting had you been allowed to attend? Here are some ideas from The London and Paris Ladies’ Magazine of Fashion from 1881. (Okay, these fashions were five years old in 1886. But you’re a nerdy scientist. What do you care about fashion anyway?)