Louisville’s Women’s City Club Helped Establish Food Safety Standards in 1920s

When I first started the “Recipes from the Archives” blog series, I really had just one goal in mind: use the monthly post as a vehicle to better understand our collections. It wasn’t long into the process that I realized (but wasn’t surprised) that the series would be a bit more random than I had first intended. That is, all food posts involve a recipe but not all recipe posts involve food and some posts didn't really include either. So while the initial idea had been to post recipes from our collections, I’ve found far too many interesting topics that intersect and relate to the founding topic but are perhaps a bit, well, random.

In keeping with this theme, this month I’m focusing on two things: women’s history and food safety.

If you didn’t know already, March is Women’s History Month and no better of a time to share a bit about Louisville’s Woman’s City Club. Founded in 1917 with the goal of civic improvement, the women of the City Club succeeded in identifying and solving community problems. From the creation of a jail library to the support and promotion of education and social policy, these women were passionate advocates for effective change.

The Filson has records of the Louisville Women’s City Club [Mss. BM L888 1-84], including meeting and committee minutes (1917-1970s), correspondence, club pamphlets, financial records and bound volumes of the club’s bulletin. You can read more about the club via our online finding aid.

Within the Club’s 1918 and 1919 minutes is something I found interesting and relevant to the topic of food. During their May 251918 meeting the Club hosted Major Fricks of the U.S. Public Health Service who discussed how the Club and its members could be of service, especially by promoting awareness of the following topics: communicable diseases, food, sanitation, child welfare and housing. A few weeks later, during the June 22nd meeting, Dr. Gary, also of the U.S. Public Health Service, presented on the topic of local ordinances regulating the sanitary conditions of groceries. He explained that “approval cards would be issued to all grocers who complied with the requirements as to ice boxes,  walls, ceilings, floors, screens, lavatories, covers, milk, etc.” He asked the Club to aid the U.S. Public Health Service by asking to see local grocers’ approval cards and should those cards be absent, inquiring with the grocer the reason.

One year later, the topic was still an item on the agenda; during the March 1, 1919 meeting a letter written by Dr. Fricks was read to the group. In his note, he reminded the ladies of the U.S. Public Health Service’s request for aid in “demanding that Grocers carry sanitary approval cards.” It was also reported during the meeting that the group was seeking support and cooperation from the Parent-Teacher League and potential support from the Woman’s Club. Finally, it was announced that on the 5th of March a representative from the Club's Foods and Markets Committee would meet with Dr. Gary and “check off with him the Grocers having a card and form Committees in each district of the city among the housekeepers.” During the April meeting progress was reported by the Foods and Markets Committee, stating that they had organized a health committee through the Parent Teachers League, who would assist in placing the sanitary approval cards.

For those of you who thought that the beginnings of publicly displayed food vendor ratings was something of the (19)90s, I'm afraid you've been mistaken. The ladies of Louisville Women's City Club knew what was up and had that on lock nearly 100 years ago. So next time you consult the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness Food Hygiene Program guide, give a little hat tip to the members of Louisville Women's City Club Foods and Markets Committee.

Johna Ebling

Johna Ebling is an Associate Curator of Collections and Exhibits Manager. She studied Journalism and English at Ball State University and earned her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she isn’t orchestrating an exhibit or engaging in public outreach, Johna is working with the Filson’s architectural holdings. When away from The Filson, Johna enjoys reading, cooking and spending time with her Chihuahua, husband and friends.

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