Source of the Month: Mill City Museum Test Kitchens Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society

Josh Levy Discussion

November’s source of the month is the Mill City Museum Test Kitchens Oral History Project, which aimed to gain insight into the work of the General Mills and Pillsbury test kitchens. Interviews, conducted in 2002, featured five women employed as home economists between 1952 and 1996. Audio recordings and transcripts from all five interviews are fully digitized and available online on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website.

Interviewees were asked about their educational backgrounds, job responsibilities, product development, work environment, and career opportunities for women at each company. Students may be especially interested in intersections of race, gender, and labor that appear in several of the transcripts. Barbara Jo Davis, for instance, speaks about her work as a home economist and supervisor in the Betty Crocker Kitchens between 1968 and 1988, and as one of the few people of color employed in the Kitchens at the time. Davis also discusses her work designing early Hamburger Helper products, and the popular adoption of prepackaged foods.

Former Betty Crocker Kitchens director Marcia Copeland speaks about her role in recruiting people of color with backgrounds in food science, food chemistry, or food engineering. She notes that, “many of the students of color went into dietetics and dietetic students don’t necessarily cook… they don’t do the hands-on work that home economists do… In some ways – I heard it from several African American students – working as a home economist seemed more like being a cook, so it was a little too close to what their moms might have done or their grandmothers might have done.”

An additional interview with Barbara Jo Davis, conducted for Twin Cities PBS documentary series “I Am Betty Crocker” can be viewed at this link.

Would you like to suggest a Source of the Month, or contribute to the H-Nutrition bibliography? Contact Josh Levy at For more resources on the history of nutrition, please see H-Nutrition's Zotero library: