Dinner with Suffragists: Experiencing History through Meals and Menus
What we eat and how we eat tells us a great deal about ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our history. A menu can be far more revealing than a first glance at the list of dishes would suggest. The big picture of human history—the great agricultural and industrial revolutions, the massive waves of migration of peoples around the world, and the recurring struggles for dominance—is often evidenced at the dinner table.
Menus also provide us with snapshots of pivotal moments in history.
- In 1913, two suffragists from different continents met in solidarity for an evening in New York City.
- As the conclusion of World War II neared in February 1945, a dinner was hosted in Yalta, Ukraine, in a villa overlooking the Black Sea, for the three most powerful leaders in the world: Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin.
- On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth—and also the first person to eat in space.
The shared experience of food has created a historical record of its own, opening a window into the lives of great leaders and explorers who changed the course of world history. Sometimes, the ingredients of a historical menu can be fascinating, and, to modern audiences, disturbing. Note the bill of fare introduced at the Calves Head Club Annual Feast in 1710 or the even more peculiar 1862 Dinner of Exotic Animals.
Use the Resource links on the left to explore some of history's most noteworthy meals. Each entry includes a summary of the historical context surrounding the meal, as well as a reproduction of the original menu provided to guests. These entries will provide students with a unique access point for the study of various time periods, events, and individuals in world history.
Disclaimer: A cautionary note is needed about recreating old recipes. Many of the dishes that appear in these entries would not be sensible, safe, ethical, or even legal to eat today. Should you wish to follow any of the recipes, or recreate any of the menus, you should forsake historical accuracy in the interests of food safety, and follow accepted rules of food preparation, hygiene, and so on. If in doubt, consult your local food safety authorities.
Clarkson, Janet. Menus from History: Historical Meals and Recipes for Every Day of the Year [2 volumes]. Greenwood, 2009. https://publisher.abc-clio.com/9780313349317
"Dinner with Suffragists: Experiencing History through Meals and Menus." History Hub,
Entry ID: 2174702