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«Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, September 2010, Number 9. ISSN 1832-2522. Copyright © Alison Wishart. ...»

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Pell was called before the director and the two top bureaucrats in the Education Department on Saturday 14 July 1928 and informed of the 'undesirability of officers being interested financially in books of which they could officially influence the use, and advised to apply for permission to accept royalties'. 40 The publisher, Specialty Press, feared that this profitable cookbook, which was in its 11th edition, could be banned and wrote to the department on 11 June 1928 requesting permission to continue to publish the book but with no recipes containing alcohol and no advertisements. They submitted a proof of the cookbook for approval in July. The department sent this copy to Miss RS Chisholm, headmistress of the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy, seeking her opinion on the suitability of Our cookery book as a school textbook. One month later Miss Chisholm submitted her confidential report. She cattishly stated in her cover letter: 'if I had not been selected for this post [of headmistress] I should probably have asked for your cooperation in some such scheme, as it is I am the more qualified to do it'. She planted a seed in the director's mind by suggesting that the cookbook could be re-written and expanded to include general household hints 'by a little group of whom I could be one'. In the body of her four-page report, Chisholm admitted that 'I have myself taught from it in Domestic Arts Schools and cookery schools and used it in home cookery,... and sold many copies'. She concluded that 'until a better text book is written, or this is revised as indicated, Our Cookery Book is a fairly suitable text for girls of 12-15 [years]' (emphasis in original). 41 Based on this advice, the Director of Education recommended that Our cookery book be used as a school text, provided it was published without any advertisements or recipes containing alcohol.

He had already received the government's permission for Pell to receive royalties, although this was never communicated to Pell. However, the Minister for Education chose to go against the advice of his director and the confidential report prepared by Miss Chisholm and in September 1928 he ordered that schools revert to using recipe cards, which they had not used for thirteen years, until all the remaining 1,900 sets of cards were distributed. In the meantime, a committee of experts, including Miss Pell and Miss Chisholm, was to write a new textbook on 'cookery, laundry and dietetics, and housewifery' that the department would publish. The minister was presented with figures showing that, based on the current retail price of 1s 6d, and the demand for 10,000 books per annum, the department expected to make a profit of £311 5s each year. 42 Pell was outraged by the minister's directive and wrote a strongly worded letter to the director on 9 October 1928 stating that it would be a retrograde step to use the cookery cards that were printed twenty-seven years ago. She was so keen that Our cookery book remain in schools that she was prepared to forgo some of her profits, writing that 'if it is a matter of royalties, perhaps some arrangement could be made'. She told the director that Our cookery book was used by students in Tasmania and that exchange teachers visiting from London and Leicester purchased extra copies to take home and use in their schools. She said that there was no need for another book, such as the one that was proposed by the department.

Pell's letter was acknowledged but ignored. So too was a letter from Miss Grace McLaren, headmistress of the domestic arts college at Geelong, who wrote on behalf of all headmistresses of domestic arts colleges urging the continued use of Our cookery book. 43 Pell was asked to attend a meeting with the co-authors of the new domestic arts textbook on 29 October 1928 and instructed by her superior, Miss Flynn, Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools, to work on the cookery chapters with another cookery supervisor, Miss Keiller. 44 This must have been quite humiliating for Pell to be told to work on the cookery section with another expert after she had written three successful cookery books herself. Sometime in the week following, Flora Pell went on three months' sick leave.

While on sick leave, this highly motivated and passionate teacher still felt obliged to answer correspondence and check over exam results. When asked by the departmental secretary if she would be able to fulfil her commitment to write her section of the new textbook, she replied that, given she had to continue working while on leave, she felt able to return to work on 14 December and planned to finish her section of the book before the new school year commenced in 1929. 45 When Pell returned to work, she found that her good friend and colleague Miss Grace McLaren had been doing some lobbying on her behalf. She had sent a circular around to all the cookery centres and domestic arts colleges in Victoria which stated: 'I urgently request that the use of "Our Cookery Book" be continued in our Cookery Schools'. Senior staff were asked to sign the circular, add their own comments and send it back to Miss McLaren. Most of these circulars were included with McLaren's letter to the director in October, but sixteen were sent in late and were shown to Pell. One circular was signed by Miss Keiller, a fellow author on the new textbook.

When a new Minister for Public Instruction was appointed with the change of government on 22 November 1928, 46 Pell seized the moment and wrote to the Director of Education on 22 December enclosing the circulars, asking that the matter be reconsidered and 'respectfully and strongly requesting' the continued use of Our cookery book in schools, now that all recipes containing alcohol and all advertisements had been excised.

Pell's campaign backfired. The director accepted the advice of his senior officers to adhere to the decision of the former minister and called Pell in for an interview with himself and the three most senior bureaucrats - a tactic he had used six months earlier. The typed notes of the meeting record that Pell defended herself admirably and denied any prior knowledge of Grace McLaren's actions in sending out the circulars, which were interpreted as undermining the department's authority. Pell was again reprimanded for allowing Our cookery book to be used in schools and accepting royalties without the department's permission. She was instructed to continue working on the new textbook.

–  –  –

Miss Flora Pell, 1922.

From E Sweetman, Charles R Long and J Smyth, History of state education in Victoria, Education Department of Victoria, Melbourne, 1922, p. 260.

When Flora Pell was promoted to Inspectress of Domestic Arts Colleges in 1924, the Argus reported that 'probably no woman has had greater influence than her on the promotion of domestic happiness among the younger generation in Victoria', which by that time comprised 'the greater proportion of householders of today'. 50 Young girls' limited opportunities to learn the domestic arts provided a strong argument for their place in the curriculum, and the elevation of the home as a 'dignified activity of national importance' supported this. Beyond being a blueprint for meals, the turbulent history of Our cookery book attests to the political power of the temperance movement in the 1920s and the authoritarian rule of large government departments.

One wonders if loyal, highly skilled teachers with passion and enthusiasm who rise through the ranks of the Education Department would be treated in the same way today.


1. The Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888, for example, provided the occasion for the production of a small book, later used by students of the author. MJ Pearson, Cookery recipes for the people, 3rd edn, H Hearne, Melbourne, 1893.

2. PROV, VPRS 13719/P1 Database Index to Teacher Record Books, 1863-1959, Teacher Record Card 11684 (Flora Pell).

3. Argus, 7 June 1918, p. 8.

4. F Pell, 'Report of the supervisor of cookery', in Report of the Minister for Public Instruction, 1913-14, Appendix L, Victorian Parliamentary Papers, p. 80.

5. PROV, VPRS 13719/P1, Teacher Record Card 11684.

6. Argus, 17 November 1923, p. 21.

7. J Young, The school on the flat: Collingwood College 1882-2007, Collingwood College, Melbourne, 2007, p. 29. Flora Pell, Our cookery book, George Robertson, Melbourne, 1916.

If any readers have used Our cookery book, or know of anyone who has used this book or other cookbooks written by Flora Pell, please contact the author.

8. Argus, 22 March 1927, p. 14 and 15 November 1928, p. 15.

9. F Pell, 'Cookery', in CR Long (ed.), Record and review of the State Schools Exhibition... 1906, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1908, p. 69.

10. Federation Index, Victoria 1889-1901: Indexes to births, deaths and marriages in Victoria, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, August 1997 (CD-ROM).

11. Edwardian Index, Victoria 1902-1913; Great War Index, Victoria 1914-1920; Death Index, Victoria 1921-1985 (all published on CD-ROM).

12. PROV, VA 714 Education Department, VPRS 892/PO Special Case Files, Unit 105, Special Case Number 1213, letter from Pell dated 5 September 1928. I am indebted to Kerreen Reiger for a footnote on page 63 of her book Disenchantment of the home: modernizing the Australian family, 1880-1940, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985, which led me to this file.

13. ibid., letter from Pell dated 20 December 1915.

14. Argus, 8 July 1916, p. 6. Additional publicity was in the Argus on 16 July 1916 and the Herald on 11 July 1916.

15. PROV, VPRS 892/PO, Unit 105, Special Case Number 1213, letter from Pell dated 28 July 1916; Argus, 16 July 1916.

16. Our cookery book was subject to the Copyright Act 1911 which meant that if Pell did write the book in her own time, then she owned the intellectual property in the work and was entitled to receive royalties. The Education Department had no legal right to prevent her from receiving royalties. However, the way the book was promoted as a textbook written by an experienced and senior cookery teacher was a moral issue they were entitled to comment on.

17. PROV, VPRS 892/P, Unit 105, Special Case Number 1213, letter from WCTU dated 24 August 1926 and letter from Pell dated 24 August 1926.

18. ibid., letter from WCTU dated 21 May 1928; The white ribbon signal: offical organ of the Women's Temperance Union of Victoria, 8 June 1928, p. 85.

19. PROV, VPRS 892/P, Unit 105, Special Case File 1213, memo from Pell dated 24 May 1928.

20. The white ribbon signal, 8 September 1930, p. 136.

21. P Grimshaw, 'Gender, citizenship and race in the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Australia, 1890 to the 1930s', Australian feminist studies, vol.13, no. 28, 1998, p. 201.

22. Supporters of prohibition were encouraged to wear a white ribbon, hence the name of the newsletter.

23. Many of these issues and more were discussed at the WCTU annual conventions: see The white ribbon signal, 8 December 1927, pp. 182-3.

24. P Grimshaw, 'Only the chains have changed', in V Burgmann & J Lee (eds), Staining the wattle, McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1988, p. 77.

25. J Smart, 'A mission to the home: the Housewives Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Protestant Christianity, 1920-1940', Australian feminist studies, vol. 13, no. 28, 1998, p. 219.

26. 'Referendums and plebiscites held in Victoria', in Victorian Parliamentary Handbook, compiled by Victorian Parliamentary Library, 2001. About 43% of Victorians voted to abolish liquor licenses in Victoria in 1930.

27. F Pell, Miss Flora Pell's tested cookery dishes and valuable home hints, Specialty Press, Melbourne, 1925, p. 5.

28. The values of the Housewives Association are discussed in Smart, 'A mission to the home', p. 217.

29. Pell, 'Cookery', in Long, Record and review of the State Schools Exhibition, p. 69.

30. R Ward, Concise history of Australia, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1992, p. 209.

31. 'Nation builders' is a term that was used to describe the men who attended the Convention on Federation. Nicholls quoted in Grimshaw, 'Gender, citizenship and race', p. 204.

32. Pell, 'Cookery', p. 69.

33. Pell, 'Report of the supervisor of cookery', p. 80.

34. Argus, 4 June 1924, p. 6, article by 'Vesta', 'Training of girls'.

35. Smart, 'A mission to the home', p. 220.

36. J Smart,'The Great War and the "scarlet scourge": debates about venereal diseases in Melbourne during World War I', in J Smart & T Wood (eds), ANZAC muster: war and society in Australia and New Zealand, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, Monash University Publications in History: 14, Clayton, Vic., 1992, p. 69.

37. Pell quoted by 'Vesta' in the Argus, 4 June 1924, p. 6.

38. Reiger, Modernizing the home, p. 63.

39. The white ribbon signal, 8 June 1928, pp. 85, 92.

40. PROV, VPRS 892/PO, Unit 105, File 1213, Education Department file note dated 14 July 1928.

41. ibid., confidential report submitted 10 August 1928.

42. ibid., departmental memo dated 5 September 1928.

43. ibid., departmental memo dated 10 October 1928, letter from Miss McLaren dated 15 October 1928, and memo dated 17 October 1928.

44. ibid., departmental memos dated 10 October 1928 and 29 October 1928.

45. ibid., correspondence dated 30 November 1918 and from Pell dated 10 December 1928.

46. Victorian Premier Edmond Hogan resigned on 20 November 1928 after a no-confidence motion and a censure were carried in the Victorian Parliament. The Leader of the National Party, Sir William Murray McPherson was called to form government, which he did until the Legislative Assembly election of 30 November 1929.

47. ibid., memo from Miss Flynn dated 18 February 1929; correspondence from Pell dated 19 February 1929, from Richmond Domestic Arts School dated 11 February 1929, and from Fitzroy Domestic Arts School dated 21 February 1929.

48. PROV, Teacher Record Card 11684.

49. The party was advertised in the Argus on 17 March 1930, p. 17.

50. Argus, 31 May 1924, p. 20.

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