“Take Heart, For Mrs. Pankhurst Has Been Clapped in Irons Again!” (Recipe: Applesauce Cake)

Perth Amboy Evening News, July 5-11, 1914

On July 5, 1914, Germany promised to support Austria-Hungary if Austria-Hungary went to war against Serbia. This was a key moment in the choices leading up to WWI, but readers of New Jersey’s Perth Amboy Evening News did not hear anything about it. To be fair, no one really did. These were behind-the-scenes diplomatic interactions. While there was still public falling-out going on after the Archduke’s death – the Washington Evening Star reported on nobles angered at their exclusion from the funeral, and continued conflict in the Balkan region – they were not major incidents, and the Perth Amboy Evening News was not alone in moving on after the assassination. (1) Beyond a quick mention of Hungarian Count Karyoli’s trek to the States to “resume his labors of awakening his 2,000,000 countrymen in this country to a realization of their native land’s plight,” Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and their troubles were absent from the reporting for the week of July 7-11.(2)

What did happen that gained some attention on July 8th was the release, followed by the immediate re-arrest, of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst in England. This event was followed by an apartment raid resulting in the arrest of four fellow suffragettes found in possession of “a grenade, a quantity of fuse, and information as to various houses.” (3) Right below this small front-page article was a brief mention of a group of suffragettes who had arrived in Scotland to “[h]eckle the King and Queen,” using a megaphone to repeatedly bellow at them “Stop torturing women!” Later on in the week, readers could read about how the King and Queen came under attack again, as a suffragette managed to leap on to their car and attempted to bash in their car windows, in an effort to give them a petition. (4)

These events give a good idea of the wide variety of activities involved in the “militant” period of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s suffragette campaign in England. Pankhurst had encouraged women towards “deeds, not words” in varying levels of militancy as part of their push for women’s right.This meant, as we see in the Perth Amboy Evening News, every militant suffragette had an option. Some would heckle, some would harass, and some would collect downright dangerous explosives and pair them with housing information to nefarious ends.

Interestingly, while the paper had brief articles on militant actions, the incident that a Perth Amboy writer thought was worth an entire column at the start of July 1914 was not the bombings, or arson, but a highly publicized incident of iconoclasm: Mary Richardson’s attack with a hatchet on the Rokeby Venus.

The Rokeby Venus – actually a Velasquez Venus, by Diego Velasquez – is quite the painting. Originally titled “The Toilet of Venus,” the painting features the goddess doing her toilette – aka getting herself ready — by reclining, naked, looking into a mirror. You know. Just like every woman does.

The depiction of Venus in the painting makes one call to mind the poetic language of the illustrious 90s lyricist, Sir Mix-A-Lot:

Diego Velázquez The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’) 1647-51 Oil on canvas, 122.5 x 177 cm Presented by the Art Fund, 1906 NG2057 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG2057

The painting had only recently been acquired from a British MP, John Moritt, who called it “his fine picture of Venus’s backside.” (14) Moritt had hung it at Rokeby Hall –hence the name it’s best known by—before its sale to the National Gallery for 45,000 pounds. (15)

It was at the National Gallery that Mary Richardson, dressed nicely and with her weapon concealed under her sleeve, strolled up to the portrait, where “[with] the sharp edge of the hatchet she made cut after cut on the nude shoulders and back of the reclining Venus and also hacked out a piece of canvas about two inches in diameter.” She was immediately apprehended. To explain her actions, she told the arresting officers “I tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythology as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, the most beautiful character in modern history.” (16)

Columnist Barbara Boyd used the attack as the subject for her column “Snapshots” on July 8th. She put into play a dialogue between two characters representing two different views on suffragist actions. The “Soulful Woman” was not a fan of the militant approach, proclaiming she found it “dreadful the way that English suffragettes ruined that lovely painting of Venus.” On the other side was the “Statistical Lady,” who tried repeatedly to explain to the “Soulful Woman” why the attack was necessary and what the suffragettes were trying to achieve.(17)

The conversation did not go well. The “Statistical Lady” tried to explain that the suffragettes needed drastic action to make sure they got attention, but the “Soulful Woman” was not convinced. Suffragettes would do better, she retorted, if instead of violence they combined “qualities of Venus with the good points of the suffragette,” being sure to “keep [Venus’] loveliness and charm.”

Boyd’s “Statistical Lady” tried multiple times to explain the suffragettes’ motivation to the “Soulful Woman” before giving up, sighing in despair “I fear you do not understand the fundamentals of our movement. You have a lot of the Venus in you yet.”​

“And I am going to hang on to it, too,” Boyd’s “Soulful Lady” replied, laughing. “Don’t count on me to help you until you dispense with hatchets.”

The column was meant to take down the militant approach. The Statistical Lady gives up, and the Soulful Woman gets the last word. It’s an argument for the value of keeping traditional femininity and avoiding violence in protest – topics still debated today.

But it also showed, if unintentionally, that the suffragettes’ methods were working: their actions had caught people’s eye, even across the pond, in a small paper in New Jersey.

The outbreak of war in just a few weeks’ time would drastically change the suffragette movement, with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst campaigning for patriotic causes and their newspaper, the Suffragette, re-emerging as the much more nationalist Brittania. (18) Women would get partial suffrage after the war; Pankhurst would be praised for her role.

The Rokeby Venus was restored and still hangs today in the National Gallery. You can visit it.

Just leave your hatchet at home.


This week’s recipe comes courtesy of Nellie Maxwell, who for years ran a nationally-syndicated column called “The Kitchen Cupboard.” In it, she provided a wide array of recipes, often highlighting seasonal foods, and including varying amounts of instructions, as we’ll see. She also worked at the Department of Farmers’ Institutes at the University of Wisconsin, where she ran cooking classes and, per this anecdote from a 1915 article in the Wisconsin Agriculturist, knew how to put both ingredients and sexist men in their place:

“Miss Maxwell gave an interesting talk at one of the morning sessions. Mr. Scott introduced her by telling the story that God made the world and then rested, made man and then rested, then made woman and since then neither God nor man had rested. Miss Maxwell got it back on him by saying that she considered it a compliment that women were capable of keeping things moving in this world[.]” (19)

That same issue includes an article entitled “Cleaning the Husband’s Clothes” that includes the line “Buy six gallons of gasoline.” That is often how I want to deal with dirty laundry.

Even more impressive for Miss Maxwell: according to Dan White in his book Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping, she came up with one of the earliest recipes for a  “s’mores-like snack.” (20) So she’s basically my cooking spiritual guide.

(I should note that White says Nellie’s recipe involved peppermint fondant on the marshmallows and salted wafers, so she clearly wasn’t quite there yet, but points for any effort that brought the world closer to s’mores.)

The column for July 6, 1914, in the Perth Amboy News included no marshmallows or graham crackers but a series of recipes deemed “Good Things to Try,” and started with the star of the day: our applesauce cake.

The following cake is the original of the now famous cake and worth setting down in the family cook book:

Apple Sauce Cake

Take one cupful of unsweetened, strained apple sauce, one and a half cupfuls of sugar, one half cupful of shortening, the yolk of one egg, one half cupful of buttermilk (sour milk will do), one teaspoonful of cinnamon, half teaspoonful of cloves, one teaspoonful of soda, one teaspoonful of baking powder and two cupfuls of flour. Cream the shortening, add sugar and beaten yolk; divide the soda, putting half in the apple sauce and half in the sour milk. The white of the egg is to be used for frosting.

This, I think, is wonderfully indicative of 1914 expectations. There’s no need to explain how to combine any of the ingredients beyond the shortening, sugar, and yolk. You can figure it out. And why bother telling you what pan, how hot an oven, or how long to bake it? Or how to turn an egg white into frosting? You know how to put a cake together. Go ahead and do it!

My preparation of this was like a public service announcement for the need to think ahead. I read through a bunch of other applesauce cake recipes to get an idea for temperature and pans, and decided on an 8×8 pan and 350 degrees. Only then it turned out we don’t have an 8×8 pan. So I settled for a 9×9. Luckily, my oven does reach 350 degrees.

I also thought that brown sugar would work better with a spice cake like this than white sugar, so I set out to use it instead. Except after I started measuring it out, I found out we only had a cup of brown sugar in the house. So I improvised, and my cake had one cup of brown sugar and ½ cup of white. It’s all good. I suspect any combo could work. Heck, make multiple versions of the cake, varying the sugars as you go. All brown. All white. ¾ brown, ¾ white. 1/8 white and 1 3/8 brown, just for kicks! Live it up a little.

Finally, while I’m intrigued by how one morphs one egg white into icing, it seemed pretty obvious to me that what this cake needed was cream cheese frosting. So I went for that instead. I used a recipe I found in the store. On a can. Okay, in a can. I bought a can of cream-cheese frosting. From scratch would probably taste better, but you can’t beat Duncan Hines for ease.​

Now Famous Applesauce Cake
Prep: 10 minutes
Bake: 50 minutes



  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (brown seems best)
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ + ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease your pan, 8×8, 9×9, whatever rocks your boat. (If you use multiple pans to make the cake a layer cake, decrease the baking time, or burn your cake to a crisp. Your call.)
  3. If you do not have buttermilk, the internet tells us you can make it by adding 1 tbsp vinegar to 1 cup milk. Logically we can therefore add ½ tbsp. vinegar to ½ cup milk and also get buttermilk. Let’s do that.  
  4. Put ½ tsp of baking soda in the ½ cup buttermilk. Put the other ½ tsp in the 1 cup of applesauce. Set aside for now.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp cloves, and 1 tsp cinnamon. Set aside.
  6. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl.
  7. In your mixer, cream the shortening and sugar.
  8. Add yolk and mix until fully incorporated.
  9. Add in the ½ cup buttermilk (with baking soda already added) and the 1 cup applesauce (with baking soda already added).  Mix until fully incorporated.
  10. Add in flour mix in increments, mixing until fully incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
  11. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing out.
  12. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Mine was done at 45.  
  13. Run a knife around the edges to make sure the cake is loose, and then let it cool in the pan on a rack for a bit.
  14. When it’s cool to the touch, flip it out of the pan onto a plate. Ice with frosting of your choice, homemade or not, or just eat as is.

This cake would probably keep in the fridge for a few days, but we ate it too quickly for me to vouch for that. 

Verdict: Now wonder this cake was famous – that was good.  Didn’t even need the icing. I’d make it again in a heartbeat, or after multiple heartbeats and a few naps. It also seems like a good recipe to mess around with: you could sub out butter for the shortening, if that’s how you roll, or make it as muffins instead of a cake, and based on how sweet this was you could definitely decrease the sugar amount without materially harming the cake flavor at all. I’d also wager it’d be quite good with diced apple in it, although my family disagrees. Good call, Nellie!


(1) “Resent Exclusion from Final Rites,” Washington Evening Star, 7/5/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1914-07-05/ed-1/seq-1.pdf; “Peace Between Greek and Turk,” Washington Evening Star, 7/5/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1914-07-05/ed-1/seq-18.pdf. The front page with the article on the angry nobles also features a horrifying story of an African-American nearly getting lynched for refusing to give his seat up on an electric car, decades before Rosa Parks’ actions. The violent passengers claimed he had pulled a gun. “Gun Flourisher Badly Beat Up,” Washington Evening Star, 7/5/14.

(2) “Greet Karyoli As He Arrives,” Perth Amboy Evening News 7/6/14. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-07-06/ed-2/seq-1.pdf. The Perth Amboy Evening News did report on Ferdinand’s death, so this is a decrease in coverage, not just a lack from the beginning. See for example: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-06-30/ed-2/seq-10.pdf and https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-06-29/ed-2/seq-1.pdf

(3) “Mrs. Pankhurst Arrested Again,” Perth Amboy Evening News 7/8/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-07-08/ed-2/seq-1.pdf

(4) “Heckle King and Queen,” Perth Amboy Evening News, 7/8/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-07-08/ed-2/seq-1.pdf; “Militant Jumps on King’s Auto,” Perth Amboy Evening News, 7/10/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-07-10/ed-2/seq-1.pdf

(5) A letter from Emmeline Pankhurst to WSPU members, January 1913. British National Archives CRIM 1/139/2 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/britain1906to1918/g4/cs3/g4cs3s4b.htm

(6) “Great Speeches of the Twentieth Century: Emmeline Pankhurst’s Freedom or Death,” The Guardian 4/27/2007 https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/apr/27/greatspeeches

(7) Vicki Iglikowski, “Emmeline Pankhurst Day: Our Records on Women’s Suffrage,” National Archives https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/emmeline-pankhurst-day-exploring-womens-suffrage-records/ accessed July 11, 2018.

(8) “Cartoon Depicting Force Feeding from the Daily Herald,” British Library, https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/cartoon-depicting-force-feeding-from-the-daily-herald accessed July 11, 2018.

(9) “May Bar Suffragette Risks,” New York Sun, January 6, 1914 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1914-01-06/ed-1/seq-3.pdf

(10) Pankhurst, “I Incite this Meeting to Rebellion,” from Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneir, reproduced at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/pankhurstincitetorebel.html

(11) C. J. Bearman, “An Examination of Suffragette Violence,” English Historical Review Vol 120 No 486 (April 2005), pp 365-397.

(12) Liz Lightfoot, “Suffragettes ‘were like al-Qaeda,’” The Telegraph 2/10/2007 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1542248/Suffragettes-were-like-al-Qaeda.html accessed July 11 2018.

(13) June Purvis, “We Owe Them the Vote,” The Guardian 7/10/2008 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jul/10/women accessed July 11 2018. For more on the debate between the two, and other historians who have used “terrorist” as a descriptor, see https://www.pressreader.com/uk/bbc-history-magazine/20180614/281934543638616 and https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16945901

(14) Letter from Moritt quoted in Philip McCouat, “From the Rokeby Venus to Fascism,” Journal of Art in Society http://www.artinsociety.com/from-the-rokeby-venus-to-fascism-pt-1-why-did-suffragettes-attack-artworks.html . McCouat’s essay goes on to examine one of the more fascinating facts about Richardson’s life: after the war, she swung drastically right and  became heavily involved in the British fascist movement, rising to a position of prominence, before leaving it in the mid-30s.

(15) Ibid.

(16)“Militant Uses Axe on ‘Venus,’”  New York Sun 3/11/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1914-03-11/ed-1/seq-3.pdf .

(17) Barbara Boyd, “Snapshots: Venus and the Suffragettes,” Perth Amboy Evening News 7/8/14 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035720/1914-07-08/ed-2/seq-7.pdf

(18) Angela K. Smith, “The Pankhursts and the War: Suffrage magazines and First World War propaganda,” Women’s History Review  12:1 2003 pp 103-118 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09612020300200349

(19) “The Farmer’s Institute at Elk Mound,” The Wisconsin Agriculturist 2/25/15 p 20 

(20) Dan White, Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping (St. Martin Griffins, 2017), p 123

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