While looking into the online exhibition for Lunch Hour NYC I came across an interesting individual that I was surprised to have never heard of: Juliet Corson.
Ms. Corson, originally from Massachusettes, had a tough time earning a living in New York as a young adult. She made $4 a week, equal to $68 in today’s figures, working at the Working Women’s Library, where she would sleep. She began volunteering with the Women’s Educational and Industrial Society of NY, a training center for women, in 1873. There she was asked to teach a course on cooking, a topic she was not much familiar with. After studying cookbooks from Germany and France, she began teaching, and her class sizes exploded, prompting her to open the New York Cooking School.
Corson, always conscious of the plight of the poor as her experiences had taught her, charged fees on a sliding scale for her school. Her lessons were focused on making wholesome meals at the lowest cost, and soon she would publish her first cookbook, The Cooking School Manual of Practical Directions for Economical Every-day Cookery, and a pamphlet, Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Families of Six. In her obituary in the New York Times, Corson is credited for handing out 50,000 copies of her pamphlet for free at around the time when the great railroad strike hit in 1877.
I’ve volunteered and worked at a non-profit that serves the homeless in California, and while working there I learned all about Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s work in NYC: during the Great Depression they opened up hospitality houses in abandoned buildings throughout the city to house the poor and homeless. My learning soon branched out to more current operations that taught the homeless culinary skills as a means for employment and self-sufficiency, and I am surprised that having dipped my toes into that realm, I had yet to hear about Juliet Corson, who seemed to have been doing something very similar to these establishments. I wonder if her work is as readily known as that of her contemporaries.
Finally, I wanted to include more photographs from the exhibition: