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19th Century Girl Satirizes the 2016 Candidates: Lizzie Black Kander Valedictorian Speech—“When I’m President” (June 28, 1878)

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19th Century Girl Satirizes the 2016 Candidates: Lizzie Black Kander Valedictorian Speech—“When I’m President” (June 28, 1878)

Young Lizzie Kander

This is the first known picture that we have found of Lizzie Black Kander. It was donated recently to the JMM Archives in an album.

By Sharon Levy, Intern

In June of 1878 a young woman graduated as valedictorian from East Side High. Her name was Lizzie Black. She’s more commonly known in the Milwaukee Jewish community by her married name—Lizzie Kander, the founder of The Settlement House and the creator of The Settlement House Cookbook.

Lizzie’s speech was titled “When I’m President” and took a satirical look at the social issues of the day. Quoting Henry Clay, “I’d rather be president than be right,” she proceeded to spout rhetoric evocative of today’s political climate. She joked that the underpaid congressmen were too busy taking bribes to be able to get their work done so the best way to increase their productivity was to raise their salaries. Also, despite graduating as valedictorian of her class, she accused education of creating an economic drain on American society and changing people’s ideals.

“The Earth will scarcely have moved fifty times around its orbit before the sun will look down on a deserted country, unless a change takes place in the government, and we have at is head, an honest, reliable person, one who shall be a friend to the rich, and the poor, alike.”

Lizzie combined the hyperbole of all politicians trying to get a rise out of the voters in order to bring a larger turnout—political tactics have not changed significantly since then. Big issues like immigration, climate change, and women’s reproductive rights are often used to move crowds to vote.

While climate change wasn’t a big issue in the 1870s, immigration and especially commerce were important topics.

“Commerce, on which the very life of our nation depends, is almost entirely destroyed, and if we allow this state of affairs to go on much longer, we shall soon be isolated from the rest of the world, like China. The wealth of the nation is in the hands of a few individuals, who are accumulating more every day, while the poor are becoming more miserable. Our men are forgetting that truth, honesty, virtue, and love are far more valuable to the happiness of mankind than extravagant modes of living… Would you have these sorrows removed? Then elect me as your president and I will…[establish] free trade.”

Lizzie’s reasons for wanting economic change are based on the principles of helping the poor but she never exactly explains how her economic plans could benefit anyone other than the rich, competing for buyers and profits on a controlled market. Instead of outlining any legitimate plans, she simply makes her claims that one will equal the other, similarly to today’s political tactics.

Even though politicians have always been paid well and are generally on the wealthier side, they are always in control of salaries and insurance for working people.

“We cannot blame the congressmen for taking bribes. If we would give enough reward for their services, they would be tempted to forget that they are in a position of a great responsibility, and that they are working for the benefit of the masses, and not for the sake of a few rich individuals; and so, if we would have to give out a few thousand dollars more, yearly, work would be done more cheerfully and better.”

The average congressman’s salary in 1874 was $5,000—about $100,000 dollars today with inflation rates. That’s double the “average person’s” salary today!

By the end of this speech, the parody is clear. But at the beginning of the speech, some of Lizzie’s concerns are legitimate problems in the community around her, which she tends to her in her later life and career.

One part of her satire, however, was the very fact that she was a woman announcing her presidential platform. Lizzie was a progressive reformer and a very liberal-minded individual for the time she lived in. Despite her jokes about forays into politics, she wasn’t a believer in women’s suffrage. She chose to use her time helping women in the settlement house integrate into American life, calling suffrage an “unnecessary distraction.”

What would she think of Hillary Clinton today, even closer today to the office of president than she was in the 2008 election? Hillary definitely doesn’t meet Lizzie’s ideals for a woman—but those were also based around the 1890s standards. Would she be able to accept a woman’s more pronounced role as it is today and deny it all and push things back into the past?

In 2016, for the past two elections, the US has finally had its first viable bids for a female president. However, women have been running consistently since the 1970s. But these women weren’t the first to run either. Lizzie Kander’s speech came six years after Victoria Woodhull ran for president—and almost 50 years before women’s suffrage!

This portrait of Kander is located in Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

This portrait of Kander is located in Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

The full text of this speech is available in the archives of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; you read it here>>

Publication Day! No Jokes about it!

By Ellie Gettinger, Education Director

Today you may be expecting to see something funny or unexpected, it is April Fool’s Day after all. But I want to mark another celebration on this day. Today is the 115th anniversary of the publication of The Settlement Cook Book. This is an artifact that just keeps coming up–we hosted a successful program with the Wisconsin 101 project, in which we detailed the cookbook’s impact on state and national culture. I was interviewed recently by a national source to talk about the book and its Jewish content and next week I am giving a presentation about it at a local senior center. I won’t say that it gets the most attention, but it is certainly one of our most central stories. I have had visitors from everywhere–Atlanta to Ashwaubenon (one of my favorite Wisconsin town names), Jewish and non-Jewish–who relate to this cookbook and tell me their stories of growing up with it.

The cookbook appeared in numerous editions, but here is the story of the first. Lizzie Kander, leader extraordinaire of the Settlement House, goes to her board of directors, all men that she had recruited to be part of this endeavor to ask for $18 (roughly $500 today) to publish a cookbook. While the men signed on to Lizzie’s mission to acculturate new immigrants, they did not really see the practical application of a cookbook. Most of these men had cooks and I would venture that none of them had ever made anything in a kitchen. She went to her friend and publisher Merton Yewdale, who agreed to help her find advertising. They sold their product at the Boston Store and gave the first twenty to her students. This is the beginning of an icon…it became nationally known and famously James Beard said, “If I consult a cookbook at all, it is likely to be by one of these sensible flat-heeled authors like the famous Mrs. Kander.” That first edition raised over $500–more than $13,000 by today’s standards.

Below are two of my favorite icons from Settlement Cook Books–the formal table setting and some of the early ads that made it possible. Perhaps you can celebrate Settlement Cook Book Day as I like to call it, by using just as much cutlery as the illustration below shows!

Table Setting Cookbook Ads