This Day in Jewish History / The Creator of the Settlement Cook Book Is Born

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Men's role isn't to cook, it's to be pleased by what's on the table, she believed.Credit: Daniek Tchetchik

May 28, 1858, is the birthdate of American social reformer Lizzie Black Kander, who, in compiling in book form the recipes she and her colleagues were teaching Jewish immigrant women in Milwaukee, became the editor of the fabulously successful “Settlement Cook Book.”

Elizabeth Black was the fourth of six children of John Black and Mary Pereles Black, both of German-Jewish origin. The couple had moved in 1844 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from Green Bay, where they had been farmers. Now, in the big city, John Black owned a successful dry-goods store. As one of some 200 Jewish families, the Blacks were among the original members of Reform Temple Emanu-El.

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Lizzie, as she was known throughout her life, graduated from Milwaukee East Side High School in 1878. As class valedictorian, she delivered a speech entitled “When I Become President,” in which she laid out what she saw as the main problems facing American society. While her analysis pointed to such specifics as political corruption, excessive concentration of wealth and an education system detached from reality, the solution she proposed for it all was a rather vague return to the values of “truth, honesty, virtue and love.”

Though concerned with the role that women played in society, Lizzie Black was not a suffragist. In her graduation speech, in fact, she suggested that “social decay could not be entirely blamed on the effects of rapid industrialization, urbanization or capitalism, but from the general wiliness of women to escape personal responsibility.” 

Having been taught by her mother that “home reigns supreme,” Lizzie wanted to introduce women to the great project she called “municipal housekeeping.” (She later said that she didn’t believe a man’s place was in the kitchen: “I want him to be surprised and pleased when he gets to the table. That is where he should forget all of his worldly cares.”)

In 1881, Black married Simon Kander, a traveling salesman from Baltimore who, on moving to Milwaukee became involved in sales of real estate and insurance, as well as state politics.

In the early 1890s, Lizzie Black Kander functioned as a social worker among the Jewish-Russian immigrant women then pouring into Milwaukee, helping to Americanize them, and training other women to do the same. In 1894, she became president of the Ladies Relief Sewing Society (which collected, repaired and redistributed clothing). The following year, she established, at Bn’e Jeshurun Temple, the Keep Clean Mission, which instructed children ages 5 to 10 in matters of personal hygiene.

When it became clear that the needs of the new Americans went beyond a shortage of clothing, the sewing society became the Milwaukee Jewish Mission, which in 1900, turned into the city’s first settlement house, the community-center model pioneered in America by Jane Addams. The settlement house offered not only instruction in cooking and nutrition; it also had a bank, and athletic and bathing facilities, heated by excess steam diverted from a nearby brewery.

In 1900, Kander had the idea of publishing a collection of recipes that she and others had been teaching at the settlement house. The house’s board of directors would not approve her request of $18 for the project, so she came up with the idea of funding it by selling ads. The first edition of “The Way to a Man’s Heart … the Settlement Cook Book” — 174 pages of American (not ethnic) recipes and housekeeping hints (and ads) — was published in 1901, in a print run of 1,000 copies.

The first printing sold out, and from then until her death, Kander oversaw publication of an additional 23 corrected and expanded editions. Royalties from the book, which over the past century, has sold 2 million copies (it’s still sold in a facsimile of the 1903 edition), financed construction of two new homes for the Milwaukee settlement house.

From 1907 to 1919, Kander served on the Milwaukee school board, from which she helped establish both nursery schools and a vocational school for girls.

Lizzie Black Kander died on July 24, 1940, of a stroke. She and Simon Kander did not have any children.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen

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