One Hundred Years of Cooking

Mabel Mather making bread

Photograph of Mabel Mather (later Mabel Haberer) of Alton making bread ca. 1900. Courtesy of Ramona Rodriguez. Early photographs of people doing household chores are very rare. This photograph was taken by Mabel’s brothers Russell and Hiram Mather, who were photography hobbyists with a studio in North Alton.

Fleischmann Company recipe booklet

Cover of a booklet of recipes for bread dishes. Published by the Fleischmann Company in 1919 to promote yeast. MCHS document.

At the time of this writing (June 2020), Madison County is beginning to lift restrictions put in place to contain the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19. The pandemic caused economies around the world to shut down many in-person services. Some people worked from home, others were furloughed or lost their jobs. People providing or obtaining essential services wore face coverings when they couldn’t maintain a safe “social distance” of six feet from others.

Madison Countians learned to “shelter-in-place”: unable to attend church, visit a park, get a haircut, or eat at a restaurant. Residents who counted themselves fortunate to escape infection or economic hardship nonetheless had to cope with feelings of isolation.

During the crisis, many people learned (or re-learned) how to cook out of necessity, gaining a new appreciation of what it takes to make a meal in the 21st century. But cooking was even harder in the past. This online exhibition showcases a small portion of the cooking-related items held by the Madison County Historical Society (MCHS), focusing on the period circa 1830-1950. The exhibit was written and designed by Mary Z. Rose, Assistant Curator at the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library. Please send your feedback and/or any questions about this exhibition to