“Live dangerously and follow your convictions”: Seattle’s First Prudence Penny

Bernice Redington and her sisters in Tacoma, Washington, 1902

As Women’s History Month 2011 draws to a close, I bring to you part of the story of Puyallup-born journalist and home economist Bernice Redington (1891-1966).  Bernice Redington first revealed herself while we were in the process of getting the scrapbooks of her father, John W(atermelon) Redington cataloged.  A colorful character in his own right, John W. Redington was an enterprising jack-of-all-trades.  He found a niche as a newspaperman in Oregon and Washington, along the way becoming the father of four daughters, each of whom (as clippings in his scrapbooks proudly attest) seemed to have had some involvement with journalism and/or writing at various points in their lives.  Of the four, Bernice was the only one who never married and who remained the most connected with the Puget Sound region, although, like her father, she was quite peripatetic.

Bernice Redington began working for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1923, while attending the University of Washington part-time, where she apparently changed her major with some regularity.  She had worked for a time as a dietitian for the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver, Washington and at Seattle advertising agencies before joining the staff of the P-I.  She published a weekly food page and a daily column under her own byline for about two years, but her role began to expand during the time of Royal Brougham’s editorship of the newspaper (1925-1928).  By the early 1930s, Bernice had added the moniker, “Prudence Penny” to her column, sometimes in tandem with her own name, sometimes on its own.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Prudence Penny letterhead

A pseudonym shared by numerous home economics columnists at various Hearst publications, Prudence Penny, was described in a 1924 article in Time Magazine, as “an institution through which Mr. Hearst dispenses good advice, human kindness, and valuable aid in exchange for the good will of prospective newspaper buyers.”  The Seattle Prudence Penny department grew to be a quite large and profitable concern — at its height, the newspaper hosted its own “Dream Kitchen” on site, provided a daily radio broadcast each weekday morning (with suggestions for that evening’s menu), and required the services of eight women to handle incoming telephone calls.

Cover of "Cosmopolitan Seattle" (1935)

It was exciting to try to learn more about the Prudence Penny phenomenon and to discover that we had two related items already cataloged in Special Collections, including Cosmopolitan Seattle, a  1935 edition of an earlier pamphlet that compiled recipes from a variety of “ethnic” and other restaurants.  A quick perusal of the finding aids database also showed that there was some correspondence between Bernice Redington and Edmond S. Meany contained in the latter’s papers, which yielded two examples of Prudence Penny letterhead, the “Dream Kitchen Bulletin” (pictured above) and one for “Prudence Penny’s Recipe Studio.”  A couple of  digitized Prudence Penny photographs led Deidre and I to make a field trip to the MOHAI Library and Archives on a soggy day to try to see if we could turn up an elusive portrait of Bernice Redington in her Prudence Penny persona.  Although we did not locate one, we were very fortunate to be shown an assortment of negatives from the Seattle P-I Collection which depicted the enormous crowds that attended Prudence Penny cooking schools and other events held in Seattle through the decades (thanks, MOHAI!).

Perhaps the most unexpected and informative discovery, however, was an interview with Bernice Redington conducted in 1959 that was housed in the Roger A. Simpson papers.  The Redington interview was one of several that formed part of the research for the book, Unionism or Hearst (1978), a study of the American Newspaper Guild’s 1936 strike against the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which Simpson co-authored with William E. Ames.  As Bernice Redington recounts her own experience in the transcript, she had grown dissatisfied with working conditions at the P-I by the end of 1935, not having much of a say as the more experienced women on her staff were suddenly being replaced by lower-paid, less experienced ones.  Perhaps sensing the writing on the wall, she decided to quit her P-I job to focus on finally completing her degree and quit abruptly in early 1936.  Although she professed not to be much of a union sympathizer (“because my father was a small-town newspaper publisher and didn’t allow you to even mention the word unions”), she did testify before the National Labor Federation and supplied the “Molly Mixer” food columns for the Guild Daily newspaper (put out by the Guild during the strike).

After receiving her degree, Bernice found employment for part of the year with the Ball Brothers (glass fruit jar) company and the rest of the time as a social worker in Kitsap County.  She eventually left for Hawaii, where she returned to journalism, working for several publications, including the Honolulu Star Bulletin (1946-1948) and also completing an (unpublished) novel.  She returned to Washington State in 1948 and became the head of the test kitchen for the Fisher Flouring Mills, also appearing on radio broadcasts for Fisher.  She settled in Normandy Park, where she continued to do freelance writing and also was involved in community affairs until her death.

Bernice Redington at age 13

Although only a very partial portrait emerges from these few scattered facts, it seems pretty clear that Bernice Redington was a strong-minded woman who did her best to live up to the journalist’s credo she expressed in an interview so much later in her life.   In addition to the materials at the UW, the University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives also holds its own set of John Redington papers (AX 93), as well as a collection on Bernice Redington (AX 92), which contains correspondence on food preparation, fashion, and careers in home economics, as well as a number of cookbooks.


Women Studies at the University of Washington: 40 years of growth

To close out Women’s History Month, I looked into our records for the Department of Women Studies at UW. The department recently transferred its meeting minutes for the Women Studies Advisory Committee (WSAC), dating back to 1974, which piqued my interest; I wondered when the Women Studies program was initiated and how it has developed over the years.

The progressive atmosphere pervasive on college campuses across the country in the 1960s was healthy and active here in Seattle. Sue-Ellen Jacobs, now professor emeritus, was one of the individuals responsible for the fledgling efforts to organize a Women Studies program at UW, beginning in 1969. San Diego State University is credited with establishing the first official Women’s Studies academic program, in May of 1970; at the same time, in Spring quarter 1970, the first session of “Women 101” was offered at the University of Washington [classified as General & Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS) 407].  Jacobs became the program’s first director in 1974, when the Women Studies major was officially offered under the “General Studies” bracket of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In Winter quarter, 1974, the first two courses classified as Women Studies (rather than GIS) appeared in the catalogue. The following academic year (1974-1975), seven courses were offered, along with more related classes from other departments than ever before. Yet despite this growth, a letter was submitted in February of 1975 by representatives of “the Women Studies Student Union” to director Jacobs, the WSAC, College of Arts and Sciences Dean George Beckmann, and UW President John Hogness, which bemoaned lack of funding for the Women Studies program and limited course offerings for students that wished to major:

“At present the number of courses being taught is woefully inadequate. What a let down to hear that we only had twelve courses funded for next year. This is not enough. There are forty-five majors in our program and we do not believe that we can seriously purchase an education with a core offering of only twelve courses in a total year. We demand a minimum of eight to twelve courses per quarter.”

In the WSAC meeting minutes from this period, the possibility of offering some Women Studies courses despite lack of funding was debated. Members worried that allowing instructors to teach for free could be construed as “exploiting faculty wives” and “setting a precedent of having women teach in the program without pay.” Among these records, I found the following excerpt from a statement Sue-Ellen Jacobs wrote in May 1975 as a response to the students’ letter:

“In 1975, we are women in a world mostly governed and defined by men. In 2001, we may be women in a world governed and defined by women and men. But we have a lot of work to do in many areas before this latter can happen. […] From my point of view, Women Studies must survive and grow in academia. If it does not, then we will have abdicated our share of responsibility for the whole movement, and thereby, I would say, for the whole of humanity.”

In 2001, Jacobs (still serving as Director of the Undergraduate program) would find that the Department of Women Studies was again facing budget reductions and defending its curriculum to the Dean – however, this time with a total of 71 courses offered during the last academic year. At present, 79 courses will have been offered for the year, with eleven faculty and three lecturers on staff. It might have taken more than twenty years to fulfill students Theresa Miles, Karen Rudolph and Liz Ilig’s request that a Graduate program be established, but this slow and steady growth is exactly what Jacobs prescribed. These students also wrote of their hope for a Women’s Center at UW, serving students as well as the wider community – another vision that has since come to fruition.

This month, we should salute the students and instructors in Women Studies for all that they have contributed to the department’s mission, “…to push the analytic edge of scholarship foregrounding gender, race and sexuality as integral components of local and global social structures, particularly within the contexts of capitalism, globalization, nationalism and neoliberalism.”

The records of the UW Department of Women Studies are open to the public, and detailed inventories are available in the Special Collections reading room.

The students writing in 1975 also pointed to the "outrageous" budget allocation of five dollars per month for paper and office supplies; had they been better funded, perhaps they might have been able to create more attractive event fliers than this mimeographed example! (From accession no. 10-001)

Hazel Wolf: Washington State Environmentalist

Hazel Wolf (far right) with others looking at field guide, Seattle Audubon Society Field Day, May 1966.

March is Women’s History Month.  The life of Hazel Anna Wolf (1898-2000), longtime environmentalist and political activist, is an example of the highest personal contributions made by a Washington State woman to community service.  When Wolf died at the age of 101, more than 900 of her friends and acquaintances crowded Seattle’s Town Hall to honor her memory and share the outrageous “Hazel stories” they had collected over the years.

As a youngster, Hazel Wolf caroused in the salt water of the Gorge in the inlet intersecting Victoria, British Columbia.  Her daily playing, swimming, and rough-housing with friends translated into an equally action-packed adulthood of fighting for human rights, feminism, labor, and environmental protection.  Wolf was a prominent member of the Seattle Audubon Society, served as its secretary for over 35 years, and was awarded the National Audubon Society’s Medal of Excellence in 1997.  She frequently lectured at schools and universities across the nation, lobbied Congress on many environmental and peace issues, and corresponded with global leaders.  Wolf also revitalized the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs and edited the organizations newsletter, “Outdoors West.”  In addition to these and many other activities, she laid groundwork for a unique coalition of Native Americans and environmentalists who began working together on issues relating to nuclear energy, fisheries, and oil pipelines.

Part of Hazel Wolf’s success had to do with getting people to laugh.  She had a knack for telling short stories that were full of anecdotes and one-liners and ended with a punch line.  Wolf admitted that she often wondered where those one-liners came from:  “They just pop into my head and out […]  It’s part of fighting the establishment, I think.”  In Hazel Wolf:  Fighting the Establishment (University of Washington Press, 2002), Susan Starbuck, biographer, follows Wolf’s “lifetime of burning with a fierce desire for justice […] Whether organizing for labor rights or founding chapters of the Audubon society, battling to save old-growth forests or fighting deportation to her native Canada as a Communist, over and over she put herself in the line of fire.  ‘I was just there,’ Wolf said, ‘powerless and strong, someone who wouldn’t chicken out.’”

Preliminary Guide to the Hazel Wolf Papers 1916-2000

Image credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division, Seattle Audubon Society Photograph Collection, PH Coll 671.

Submitted by Chery