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Journalist Jennie June Was "Having It All" in the 19th Century

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Striking a happy balance between work and home has been a struggle for women for decades. Long before “having it all” permeated acclaimed sitcoms like 30 Rock and just about every women's magazine, it was the groundbreaking reality of journalist Jane Cunningham Croly, better known to her readers as Jennie June.

Jane Cunningham was born in England in 1829, but she grew up in the United States after her family emigrated in 1841. As a child, she ravenously ripped through the books in the library of her Unitarian preacher father. She also dipped her toe into journalism by volunteering on the semi-monthly newspaper her brother's ministry published in Massachusetts. After her father died in 1854, she boldly moved to New York City to seek work in the newspaper business under the pseudonym Jennie June. 

June faced a steep climb. The publishing industry was incredibly sexist, with editors effectively barring women from writing anything but “soft” news intended for female audiences. Unruffled, June leveraged one article in The New York Tribune into a column for Noah's Weekly Messenger called "Parlor and Side-walk Gossip." The column took off, and by 1857 papers as far away as New Orleans were printing June’s work, making her one of the first—if not the first—female journalists to be nationally syndicated.

Jumping Out of Hoops 

By the 1860s, she began writing for women's magazines like Mme. Demorest's Mirror of Fashions, Demorest's Monthly Magazine, Home-Maker Magazine, and The Cycle (which she founded). Within these pages, June ignored fashion magazines’ standard of celebrating traditional looks and spurning innovation. Instead, she used her platform to promote clothes that were both fashionable and functional. Her column "Talks With Women" suggested more "healthful" dress. June harbored a special hatred for bloomers, support hoops, and skirts that dragged on the ground, and favored cord corsets over whalebone ones. 

June columns championing practical clothes resonated with readers, and before long, other fashion writers were quoting her views. She was doing more than just talking, though—June’s position as Demorest’s chief staff writer enabled her to put savvier fashions in women’s reach. The title offered a pullout dress pattern with each issue, which allowed June to give 19th century American woman the tools they needed to reshape their wardrobes.

Written Pep Talks

June wanted to inspire women to change more than how they dressed. Her “Talks with Women" series pushed other issues close to June's heart, including success stories of accomplished women, the importance of women in the workplace, women’s access to education, equal pay, and their value in the home. The talks were a hit with readers and newsstand owners—The American Bookseller praised them as “sprightly and sensible.” In 1864, she collected her columns for the book Jennie Juneiana: Talks on Women's Topics. The intro gives some sense of her warmth and wit:

Dear Friend: Do not be angry that I have presumed to give you these simple thoughts in the pretentious form of a book. It was not my fault: I was told to do so, and I did it, - exactly how or why I cannot tell. I think I should not have done so, however, if I had not been conscious that, poor as they are, and written, some in sorrow, some in pain, and all in the hurry and excitement of a busy newspaper life, they contain nothing which can do any harm, and some things which may do a little good; that they are at least true, as the expression of thought, feeling and conviction; and from the very nature of the circumstances which produced them, may contain words which will go straight to the locked recesses of some woman’s heart, as others have to mine.

A Balancing Act

Amid her "busy newspaper lifestyle," June was also a devoted mother and proud homemaker. By 1877, she was her family’s sole breadwinner after a quarrel with his employers and eventual declining health forced her husband to stop working. For June, "having it all" required careful planning. She devoted the first three hours of her day to her children and household chores. By noon, she'd be in her office, where her husband and children knew not to disturb her as she worked through the wee hours of the night.

That is, unless she and Mr. Croly had plans to socialize with their famous friends, a group that included Louisa May Alcott, Alice and Phoebe Cary, and Oscar Wilde. To that entertaining end, June gladly shared recipes with her readers in the form of magazines as well as Jennie June's American Cookery Book, which notably contained Susan B. Anthony's preferred method of making Apple Tapioca Pudding.

Surprisingly, June did not share Anthony's passion for women’s suffrage. Although June was outspoken on gender equality in her writing, she shied away from pushing for voting rights, which may have helped make June a forgotten figure of early feminism. Historians have suspected that June felt other issues—like access to work and education—were more pressing matters for women. Once those goals were achieved, she believed, "All the rest will follow."

Building a Movement

On top of her storied journalism career, June also founded a series of women's clubs where issues of gender equality could be discussed within a strong community. She called the first Women’s Parliament in 1856 and the second in 1869. After June and fellow female journalists were barred from a talk Charles Dickens was giving in New York in 1868, she created her most famous club, Sorosis, which sought “collective elevation and advancement.” The rise of similar groups across the U.S. urged June to found the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1890. In her book The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America, she succinctly explained their origins and importance: "The woman has been the one isolated fact in the universe. The outlook upon the world, the means of education, the opportunities for advancement, had all been denied her.”

June thought the social connection and support system these clubs could provide would be a cure to this sense of isolation and powerlessness. Her efforts earned June the nickname Mother of Women's Clubs. Meanwhile, her expertise and acclaim as America's best-known female journalist helped her pioneer another profession when Rutgers University made her the first woman to teach journalism at the college level.

June worked in journalism and within her clubs until a fall at 69 forced her to slow down for the last three years of her life. Her 1901 New York Times obituary hailed June as the “first American newspaper woman,” and in 1994 June’s tireless advocacy for all women earned her enshrinement in the National Women's Hall of Fame. Whether women chose a path in education, homemaking, employment, or all of the above, the important thing for Jennie June was that they were able to choose. 

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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