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“Sisters of the Skillet”: Radio Homemakers in Shenandoah, Iowa, 1920-1960

Lori Lynn Rohlk, University of Nebraska--Lincoln

Copyright 1997, the author. Used by permission.

Abstract

Radio homemaking shows were the mainstay of two radio stations in small-town Shenandoah, Iowa. These stations were founded in the 1920s by competitive seed and nursery moguls Earl May and Henry Field to promote their businesses. Both saw the benefit of programming that catered to female listeners. The format, “radio homemaking,” consisted of informal talks by local homemakers - often broadcast out of their own kitchens – on everything from cooking to raising families. The radio homemakers were immensely popular, receiving as many as 700 letters a day. Listeners not only wrote, but visited Shenandoah in droves for formal events or visits to these women’s homes. By the 1950s, 14 radio homemakers were broadcasting daily from Shenandoah, several of which were nationally syndicated. Their influence spread beyond the airwaves, as they published a variety of magazines, newsletters and cookbooks. One example is Leanna Driftmier and her Kitchen-Klatter Magazine – household names still familiar to many Midwestern families.

What does the popularity of these radio homemakers suggest about the needs of their mostly rural audience? And what ideologies were, in turn, promulgated by their programs and publications? In this thesis, I explore the development of radio homemaking within the context of rural radio, and its role in promoting consumption in the rural Midwest. I discuss the lives and work experience of these radio homemakers, and how their attitudes and advice reflected or subverted broader cultural trends regarding domesticity and women’s roles. Radio homemakers gave rural Midwestern women a sense if worth in a patriarchal system when their work was often devalued or diminished. They offered a venue for women to learn to augment their homemaking skills, trade recipes, and purchase needed good without their roles as producers being trivialized. Finally, they served as a form of “fictive kin” for many women whose daily responsibilities or social situation precluded them from sharing their lives with family and neighbors.

Advisor: Kenneth J. Winkle