Cooking Up History
The Wise Wives community cookbook showcases some of the more commonplace social and gender norms that women were expected to abide by in Canada in the early 20th century. Within the book, the recipes have what would be classified as simple instructions, but the dishes require far more knowledge and attention to detail than is indicated. The women providing the recipes, as well as the women who would have purchased the book were expected to know how to prepare the recipes with just basic instructions provided. For instance, in some cases, it is not specified how long a dish should be baked or in what order the ingredients should be added. Although, by the 1920s, there were more opportunities for women to pursue paid work, leisure, or other pursuits outside of the home, generally it was still assumed that most women would seek out the roles of wife and mother in adulthood. To excel in these roles, women were expected to have extensive knowledge of and experience with cooking.
This cookbook was published seven years after the end of the First World War in 1918. Two years before that, women in Manitoba earned the right to vote in provincial elections, the first province within Canada to grant this right. The cookbook was also published just 3 years before women were legally identified as "persons" under the law. In 1928, 5 women, nicknamed the "Famous Five" -- Emily Murphy, Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby -- petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to designate women as persons in order to be eligible for the Senate. Up until this point, under Canada's constitution, the British North America Act, women did not qualify as persons. These advances in women's rights that took place during and after the First World War demonstrate that Canadian society was becoming more comfortable with the idea of women having more say in social and political matters. However, the content and scope of Wise Wives suggests the opposite, as the book reinforces the popular notion that women should seek to please their husbands and cooking was their obligation.