In 1890, a former slave named Nancy Green was hired to be the spokesperson for Aunt Jemima brand food products. Nancy Green was born into slavery in 1834 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1889 the creators of Aunt Jemima, Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood, sold the company to R.T Davis, who soon found Nancy Green in Chicago. The previous owners had already agreed upon her ‘look’ of a bandana and apron. Davis combined the Aunt Jemima look with a catchy tune from the Vaudeville circuit to make the Aunt Jemima brand.

Green’s identity was first uncovered at the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition in 1893. There were so many people interested in the Aunt Jemima exhibit, police were called for crowd control. Green served pancakes to thousands of people. People loved her warm personality and friendly demeanor, not to mention her cooking. Green was given an award for showmanship at the exposition. As a result of her dedication, Aunt Jemima received 50,000 orders for pancake mix. Not only did flour sales soar, but Green received a lifetime contract to serve as spokesperson.  She was a living legend of the brand until she died in a car accident in September 1923.

After Green’s passing, the owner of Aunt Jemima, R.T. Davis, experienced financial issues and the brand was sold to Quaker Oats two years later.

As for the image of Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green was followed by Anna Robinson, who’s image was changed to a painted portrait on the packaging of the mix. Next was Chicago blues singer and actress Edith Wilson. She was the first Aunt Jemima to appear in television commercials. After Wilson there was Ethel Ernestine Harper, a former school teacher and actress. The fourth Aunt Jemima was Rosie Hall who was an advertising employee at Quaker Oats until she discovered their need for a new Aunt Jemima. After she died, Hall’s grave was declared a historical landmark. Next, there was Aylene Lewis. She made her first appearance of Aunt Jemima in 1955 at the Aunt Jemima restaurant at Disneyland. The last woman known to appear as Aunt Jemima publicly was Ann Short Harrington. Harrington would make television appearances as the brand spokesperson in the New York area.

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8 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: The History of Aunt Jemima

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  6. A. Prince on said:

    Also, you would think, given the subject matter, pictures of all these ladies might have been included as points of interest – as i am sure the changing image had to have had something to do with the changing of the women, though I understand what you are getting at, going from buxom, dark skinned former slave to youngish, lighter, fine featured glamour girl….

  7. carleen jamison on said:

    I wish the article spoke more on how the image (not just the representative) of Aunt Jemima has changed over the years.

    • Frank Palazzolo on said:

      As a little boy in Chicago we went to visit Aunt Jemimah for silver dollar pancakes every Sunday after church. She was everybody’s auntie. Always a hug and friendly chat, we really loved her. Even though some may consider her as an embarrassment to black Americans today.we loved her image for the maternal kindness she made us feel.

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