by Briannah Letter
What you see here is a recipe for Cheese Balls from the cookbook Fifty-two Sunday Dinners: A Book of Recipes, Arranged on a Unique Plan, Combining Helpful Suggestions for Appetizing, Well-balanced Menus, with All the Newest Ideas and Latest Discoveries in the Preparation of Tasty, Wholesome Cookery.1 (Yes, that is the full title.) Published in 1915 by the N. K. Fairbank Company, this mouthful (haha pun INTENDED) of a cookbook was written by a woman named Mrs. Elizabeth O. Hiller.
I didn’t make these. For many reasons, but mostly because I was lacking two crucial things; any ventilation in my kitchen whatsoever (or the means to fry these puppies outdoors), and Cottolene (which was weirdly, and somewhat cryptically, advertised at the beginning of the cookbook – but we’ll get to that). The former is because I live in an 80 year-old house with windows that are nearly sealed shut from layers of paint, and the latter is because Cottolene is no longer in production because, well, it’s bad for you.
Regardless, and despite the fact that the recipe was what initially caught my attention because I LOVE cheese, I found myself far more interested in the author of this cookbook: Elizabeth O. Hiller. Who was she? Where did she come from and what made her qualified to write a cookbook in the 1910s?
I began my research knowing only her name. Come to find out, she has a Wikipedia page on her! This only further piqued my curiosity. How could a housewife from the 1900s have a whole Wikipedia page written on her? She must’ve made some sort of splash in the domestic cooking world, right? Thus began my seemingly endless search through newspapers.com.
LIFE AND COLLEGE : MRS. JACKSON H. HILLER
Where to even begin? Birth, of course. Mrs. Elizabeth O. Hiller was born sometime during 1856. I’m not entirely sure when, I am certain there’s a record of it somewhere out there, although inaccessible to me.
She married Jackson H. Hiller in 1876.2 The two had a daughter, Helen, together in 1882.3 Of course, Elizabeth becomes your classic housewife of the 1800s. She is referred to by her husband’s name, “Mrs. Jackson H. Hiller.” There are a couple of clippings here and there in a local newspaper about Helen, and a couple here and there about Jackson. Helen’s birthday or Jackson was bit by a cat, you know, the usual things you may find in a small town, local newspaper. However, nothing incredibly notable for Elizabeth until she leaves Freeport for the East Coast with Helen, and they both attend college in 1897. Elizabeth attends the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn studying domestic science, and Helen enrolls in the Morgan Park Academy.4 Elizabeth eventually graduates from the Boston Cooking School and returns home, Freeport’s The Daily Journal from August of 1898 writes, “Mrs. Jackson H. Hiller is home from the east. On the 28th of last June Mrs. Hiller was graduated from the Boston School of Domestic Art, being one of a class of twenty-seven. Mrs. Hiller had a very high standing in the class and was awarded a diploma. She has not yet decided upon her plans for the future, but will remain in Freeport for several weeks, and she may decide to open a domestic service kitchen in Chicago.”5
CAREER BEGINNINGS : CHICAGO DOMESTIC SCIENCE TRAINING SCHOOL
This is the last time we see her under her husband’s name, as well as when Elizabeth’s life picks up speed exponentially. Just a year after graduating, Elizabeth settles in Chicago where she founds, opens, and becomes the principal of the Chicago Domestic Science Training School in October of 1899.6
Thus only just beginning her very long career of lecturing, and the first stepping stone in becoming one of the nation’s most famed cooking experts.
Despite Hiller’s success in lecturing around the country, she gave her final lecture at the Chicago Domestic Science School, and it closed in July of 1902, just three years after it initially opened.7 Despite the fact that she was no longer lecturing at the school, she was still referred to as the principal until what seems to be 1907, when journalists switched to “former” principal. Two events happened to coincide with the closure of Hiller’s Chicago Domestic Science School. First, her daughter, Helen, married her childhood sweetheart, Lester B. Brady, in August of 1902.8 And second, Hiller struck a deal in December with the Housekeeper magazine where she was to “conduct several helpful and authoritative departments each month.”9 This deal would eventually prove to be beneficial to her career as multiple newspapers all around the country (in states including, but not limited to Kansas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) began to publish her recipes or small excerpts of advice that she wrote for the magazine. However, this was only one piece of Elizabeth Hiller’s vastly growing career.
Obviously preoccupied with her career success, Elizabeth O. Hiller filed for divorce against her husband, Jackson H. Hiller, in August of 1904, “on the charge of desertion in 1900.”10 He had left Elizabeth and Helen to their own devices, and moved in with his sister and her husband in September of 1900. It was now clear to me why Elizabeth O. Hiller had made the career moves she did: to support herself and her daughter. Unfortunately, Jackson H. Hiller died of apoplexy in July of 1907,11 the same year of the Corn Exposition.
BUSINESS WOMAN : THE CORN CARNIVAL
From October 5th to the 19th in 1907, the city of Chicago hosted a national corn exposition. Which does not seem like an event that should get its own heading and section. However, advertising and planning for the show began in August. The Chicago Tribune published an article stating, “Two interesting features for the corn exposition were announced by G. A. Shamel, general manager of the exposition. One will be a corn kitchen, the other a corn household department.” And who else to run the corn kitchen other than our beloved Elizabeth O. Hiller, in which she was to “demonstrate three times a day the proper way to cook various kinds of corn and the many ways each kind may be prepared.”12 Not only was the advertising for the corn exposition months in advance, but it was also nationwide. An article ran in The Atchison Daily Globe that headlined, “EXPERT COOK TO PRESIDE,” and highly praised Hiller for her knowledge and skill in cooking.13 The same article addressing Hiller and the corn exposition was even published in California.14 Despite the importance the corn exposition held for Elizabeth O. Hiller’s career, I could not find any actual reviews or articles on her cooking or lectures during the exposition. Regardless, this was yet another building block in growing her fame.
BUSINESS WOMAN : THE AD GAME
The first ad / endorsement we see from Elizabeth O. Hiller is printed in April of 1904.15
This was just the first of what would become a streamline of income for Elizabeth O. Hiller. Her face begins to get plastered on ads in newspapers for things from gas ranges to cereals, from refrigerators to, you guessed it, Cottolene. In the beginning of the 1915 cookbook that landed us here in the first place, a short excerpt on Cottolene from the publishing company, the N. K. Fairbank Company, reads:
“In the interest of health and economy, a number of recipes suggest the use of Cottolene – a frying and shortening medium of unquestioned purity and efficiency. Cottolene is not only pure in source but it is manufactured amid the most sanitary and cleanly surroundings.”
Would you believe me if I told you that the ad for Cottolene that was published in The Boston Globe in 1904 was sponsored by the N. K. Fairbank Company?16 (Highly suspect, if you ask me.) The ad listed many “household” endorsers, including our Mrs. Elizabeth O. Hiller along with plenty of other well known housewives and cooks across the country. Regardless, Hiller’s name was popping up in advertisements all the way through the 1910s.
It was to my surprise that as I was looking through advertisements that included Elizabeth O. Hiller from the 1900s and 1910s, I came across a picture of her, published in the The Montgomery Advertiser in 1909.17
I practically screamed with excitement. This was the first picture I found of her in all of my hours searching through twentieth century newspapers. Assuming this photo was taken around the time it was published, she would have been in her 50s.
BUSINESS WOMAN : LECTURES, PUBLICATIONS, AND THE RADIO
In the late 1900s and early 1910s, Elizabeth O. Hiller traveled all across the country giving lectures as a part of an ad campaign for gas ranges. She would demonstrate her cooking abilities, and at the end of the course, give away one free stove away to whomever she deemed her most “apt pupil.”18 She did these courses in states including, but not limited to, Washington, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Tennessee.
All throughout the aforementioned happenings in Elizabeth O. Hiller’s life and career, she submitted recipes and wrote articles for The Chicago Tribune. Pictured here is the headline for an article she wrote in November of 1907.19
This was only one of many. She was writing for the Tribune well throughout the 1910s, publishing work for what seemed like every other month for several years.
On top of her newspaper work, she was also publishing multiple cookbooks at the time. Pictured is an ad for a collection of calendar cookbooks she wrote in 1914.20
Finally, starting in the 1920s, Elizabeth O. Hiller landed herself a radio show titled the “Household Hour.” 21This was the final career move for Hiller before her death in 1941. She died at the age of 85 in her daughter’s home in Park Ridge, Illinois.22
I sifted through probably well over one thousand online newspaper clippings for what felt like hours on end. (I guess that’s what happens when you’re researching a nationally acclaimed cooking expert.) Elizabeth O. Hiller was a famous cook and housewife, a single and working mother, and overall, a powerful and prominent woman of the twentieth century.
- Elizabeth O. Hiller, Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners: A Book of Recipes, Arranged on a Unique Plan, Combining Helpful Suggestions for Appetizing, Well-Balanced Menus, with All the Newest Ideas and Latest Discoveries in the Preparation of Tasty, Wholesome Cookery (N. K. Fairbank Company, 1915), https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=flUEAAAAYAAJ.
- Tri-County Press, August 1904, p. 3.
- “Social Events,” Freeport Daily Bulletin, May 1888, p. 3.
- The Daily Journal, September 1897, p. 4.
- The Daily Journal, August 1898, p. 1.
- The Inter Ocean, October 1899, p. 7.
- “Last Lecture Given,” The Daily Democrat, July 1902, p. 1.
- “Married Ten Days Ago,” Freeport Bulletin, September 1902, p. 2.
- “A Domestic Authority,” The Minneapolis Journal, December 1902, p. 7.
- Tri-County Press, August 1904, p. 3.
- “Jackson H. Hiller Died Suddenly,” Dixon Evening Telegraph, July 1907.
- “Corn and Dairy Shows Coming to Chicago; Plan to Enlighten City Dwellers,” Chicago Tribune, August 1907, p. 8.
- “Corn Cooking Show,” The Atchison Daily Globe, September 1907, p. 7.
- “Corn Cooking Show,” The Long Beach Telegram and The Long Beach Daily News, October 1907, p. 4.
- The American Israelite, April 1904, p. 7.
- “Nature’s Gift From the Sunny South: Cottolene,” The Boston Globe, February 1904, p. 8.
- “Lectures on Domestic Science For the Women of Montgomery,” The Montgomery Advertiser, October 1909, p. 24.
- “Domestic Science Course,” The Daily News , June 1909.
- Elizabeth O Hiller, “Cut in Rations of Fat Husbands,” The Chicago Tribune, November 1907, p. 3.
- “Volland Book Calendars Make Welcome Gifts,” The Evening Star, November 1914, p. 4.
- The Baltimore Sun, December 1924, p. 8.
- “Obituaries,” Chicago Tribune, August 1941, p. 10.