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Sarah Tyson Rorer

Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849 - 1937) was a nineteenth-century American prodigious writer of cookbooks. In addition, she was a cooking teacher, a speaker and a newspaper columnist.

She wrote columns for Table Talk magazine (of which she was part owner, 1886-1892.) She then became editor of Household News for four years (1893-1897 ), which was then absorbed into Ladies Home Journal, which she edited for the following 14 years (1897-1911.) She was then lured to Good Housekeeping Magazine where she was put in charge of the food section. [1]

Mrs Rorer was particularly interested in the scientific impact of food upon the body. For this, some consider her to be America’s first dietician. She referred to her area of specialty as "dietetics" and "hygienics", as did many of her era. Even though most of her professional knowledge came from self-education (it being a new field and all), that didn't lessen the strength of her convictions. She was highly and firmly opinionated, inviting her audiences to believe that her views on food had the full force of morality behind them. She was also one of the first major proponents of the "chafing dish."

Sarah Tyson Rorer (who also went by the name of "Sallie") was born as Sarah Tyson Heston on 18 October 1849 in Richboro, Bucks County, Pennsylvania in her grandparents home. Her parents were Charles Tyson Heston (19 July 1825 - 1876) and Elizabeth Sagers (died 1879.) Her father was a manufacturing chemist.

Shortly after Sarah was born, the family moved to Buffalo, New York for her father's work. There, her brother Albert was born in 1851.

Sarah went to school at the East Aurora Academy in East Aurora, Erie County, New York State (today, 25 miles south of downtown Buffalo.) Many graduates of the apparently now-defunct Academy went on to become minor American notables. As a student, Sarah was interested in sciences, focussing on chemistry and astronomy. The chemistry interest she presumably got from her father; it's assumed the study of astronomy came about because it was considered an acceptable science for young women at the time. Her actual interest was chemistry, though, and she wanted to be a pharmacist.

During the American Civil War, her father served as a druggist in an army hospital unit [1]. Like many others, he returned in poor health. Sarah helped her mother prepare foods that would help him.

In 1870, the family moved back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shortly after the move, Sarah started trying to do the placement work necessary to become a dispensing pharmacist. However, the entry barriers for women to the trade at the time were too high, and she decided not to fight the battle. Particularly, presumably, because marriage was on the horizon. In 1871, she married a William Rorer; the couple would have three children, a daughter who died as a child before the age of two, and two sons, William Albert Rorer and James Birch Rorer.

When they married, the couple lived at first in Colebrook, Pennsylvania, then moved back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1880, Sarah decided to take a cooking class at the New Century Club in Philadelphia. She was by most accounts a star pupil, so much so that when the instructor, a Miss Devereux, suddenly resigned, Sarah was asked by the club to actually teach the class. She was 32 at the time.

Sarah intensified her programme of self-education, attending lectures at the Woman's Medical College in Philadelphia. She was then asked to speak at the same college, narrowing in on the topic of the relationship between health and food.

In 1882, with four of her cousins, she founded the Philadelphia Cooking School at 1518 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. There, she taught the science behind cooking, and how to serve food, as well as kitchen chores such as cleaning. She would run the school for the next 18 years.

In 1886, she published Mrs. Rorer's Philadelphia Cook Book. She decided to follow the methodology established in 1884 by Mary J. Lincoln in the "Boston Cook Book" and separate the ingredients from the instructions.

During these years, she began travelling to give her lectures. "She traveled the country demonstrating tableside cookery, with her own jewel-encrusted chafing dish..." [3] In 1893, during the six months of the first Chicago World Fair, "a 'corn kitchen' was conducted in one section of the woman's building by Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer of Philadelphia, the well known lecturer and authority on cookery, under the auspices of the women of Illinois, a large sum having been set aside for that purpose. Cooking demonstrations were given daily, as were also lectures on the food value and properties of the cereal." [2] In 1895 she gave lectures at the concert hall at Madison Square Garden.

In 1896, she separated from her husband.

For a few years at the turn of the century, she gave cooking lessons in the autumns at the H. Batterman department store in Brooklyn.

At one point, she regularly taught in a lecture hall at Mt Gretna, Pennsylvania, during the summers. The hall was named Rorer Hall after her (Mt Gretna's Hall of Philosophy is now on the site.)

Starting in her sixties, she began wintering in Trinidad. Her son James was living there, working as a mycologist. [1] She used the post to keep up with her editing and writing work back in the States during these Caribbean winters.

In the 1920s, she also began giving weekly radio talks on cooking, though her activity otherwise started to get restricted to various product endorsements.

Despite the changing times, the roaring 20s, and Sarah's accomplishments, she was no "woman's libber." In 1925, she was honoured at the second Chicago World Fair, and she used this occasion to attribute the advances of women to a change in men, and to devices that men had created:

"Clubwomen from many states of the Middle West, gathered here today for a special program devoted to their interests at the Women's World Fair. A paradox was presented at the "cooking day" demonstrations at the fair on Monday. Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer, aged 80, of Colebrook, Lebanon County, Pa, one of the greatest living authorities on cooking, declared that "it is the men who create, even in the fields dominated by woman.... We have electric and mechanical apparatus for lightening the burdens of house work, thanks to the ingenuity of the new man, who invented and manufactures them." [4]

In 1928, she worked on the presidential campaign for the Democrat Al Smith.

During the 1930s, Sarah was plagued with money problems. She lost all her royalties and investments during the Depression, and came to rely upon financial assistance from others. The Pennsylvania Dietetic Association, for instance, set up a small pension for her.

In the 1930s, she also disappears from all but local newspapers, where she is mentioned for her political work. In July 1933, for instance, at the age of 85, she was elected the first president of the Lebanon County League of Democratic Women. The same year, though, she had a bad fall which restricted her movements, and her sight was failing badly.

"Yet today the wheel of fortune has left her penniless. Not only penniless, but badly crippled by a fall. With a bright courage that smiles in the face of misfortune but can no longer carry on unaided, she has been fighting a desperate battle for existence on a little Pennsylvania farm. Her only companion is a son who is practically blind. Sitting in a chair between the table and the stove, since she can walk only with the greatest difficulty, this woman whose witty, vibrant personality once graced so many hundreds of lecture platforms, and who once presided over the best of laboratory kitchens, now does her simple cooking." [5]

Despite her personal problems, the next year, on 1 June 1934, she delivered a lecture on "Early Dietetics" at the Buck Hill Falls resort in Pennsylvania [1] at which she was apparently in top form.

When she was 88, in 1937, she had another fall, suffering a hip fracture from it. Bronchial pneumonia then set in, of which she died at the home of her son William on 27 December 1937 in Colebrook, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. She was buried in Hill Church Cemetery in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. [1]

In the 1970s, her former home was used as the Colebrook Post Office.


Mrs Rorer gave stern, healthy-eating advice, much of which is very much of the era and goes counter to today's thinking (don't eat breakfast, etc.)

She was very opinionated about healthy ways to eat, and very sure of her opinions.

"Bananas. Are They Good to Eat Uncooked? Sarah Tyson Rorer, the famous food expert, answered this question. "No, except in the countries where they grow." [6]

"It is the advice of this very good authority that only two meals a day should be eaten. Luncheons should be given up, notably by brain workers, who can do much better work without it. In the matter of potato eating, Mrs. Rorer shares the views of Mrs. Terhune (Marlon Harland), whose dietetic authority is equally indisputable. Both set their faces against the potato, and never serve it in their own homes, except when guests are present." [7]

Many practical and helpful points are brought out by Mrs. Rorer in her talks. She reminded the ladies yesterday that no starch and no sugar are digested in the stomach, but only albuminous substances. In emphatic terms she paid her respects to those who are ignorant enough to take soda in order to sweeten the stomach. It is a vile habit. "You don't want your stomach sweetened. The more acid in it the better," were the decisive words used "and if you take soda into the stomach you will have indigestion and you deserve to have it." [8]

Her strong point is now considered to be the topic of vegetables: she taught over and over again not to destroy their nutritional value by overcooking them; she was less interested in desserts.

Philadelphia Cooking School

Mrs Rorer's Philadelphia Cooking School ran from 1882 to 1903.

Subjects taught, according to the Philadelphia Cooking School catalogue, included "sewing, biology, mycology, table setting, theoretical laundry work and the chemistry of scrubbing." The topic of mycology (mushrooms) seems odd at first, until one realizes that mushrooms were one of her most favourite foods, and her son James went into that field of work.

The school awarded diplomas which were well-recognized. Many graduates used the diplomas to get jobs in hospitals or found other cooking schools.

The school had four locations over its lifespan. It started at 1518 Chestnut Street, moved to 1525 Chestnut Street, then to 1617 Chestnut Street, and finally to 1715 Chestnut Street. By 1901, it had taught more than 5,000 people. It closed in 1903.


Postum Cereal Endorsement

Daily Telegram. Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
28 September 1897. Page 3.

Here are some of the products that Mrs Rorer endorsed, presumably as a form of income:
  • 1882. Olive Butter.
  • 1897. Postum Cereal.
  • 1898. Fairy Soap.
  • 1900. Shredded Wheat: "...then all about the 262 ways of cooking Shredded Wheat, Nature's natural food the food that Sarah Tyson Rorer says is the most perfect of all foods..." [9]
  • 1901. White Cottolene Shortening
  • 1915. Pyrex: "Sarah Rorer, the Martha Stewart of her day, gave Pyrex credibility: She was a prolific cookbook writer, director of the Philadelphia Cooking School and a home economics editor of "Ladies' Home Journal'' magazine. After being challenged to cook in a Pyrex dish by Dr. Eugene Sullivan, director of Corning's lab, she made baked Alaska with great success. The 65-year old Rorer then travelled the country preaching the virtues of Pyrex." [10]
  • 1926. Perfection Oil Stoves
  • 1929. March. Demonstrated Sterling Corporation Cooking Tools at the Tall Cedars' Cooking School in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. "STERLING CORP. COOKING SCHOOL AT FOOD SHOW Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer Will Impart Valuable Data: STERLING GOODS Will Be Used Entirely During Experts' Many Demonstrations. Mrs. Sara Tyson Rorer, internationally-known cooking expert, will conduct a cooking school on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday as a special feature of the Tall Cedars' Pure Food Cooking School and Business Show, which is being hold all this week in the Plasterer Auditorium, Twelfth and Cumberland streets. This school is being conducted under the auspices of the Sterling Wholesale Corporation, and all Sterling products will be demonstrated by Mrs. Rorer at her classes. The school will be held on the afternoons of the last four days in the week, starting at 2 o'clock and concluding about 6 p.m." [11]


1882. A booklet on "How to use Olive Butter"
1886. Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Economics. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co.
1886. Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book. Philadelphia: Arnold and Co.
1887. Canning and Preserving.
1888. Hot Weather Dishes. 124 pages
1889. Home Candy Making. 92 pages
1891. How to Cook Vegetables. Philadelphia: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
1894. Quick soups. 71 pages.
1894. Colonial Recipes.
1894. Dainties.
1894. Fifteen New Ways for Oysters
1895. Victorian guide to fruit preserving. 32 pages
1898. Home Games and Parties.
1898. Mrs. Rorer's Good Cooking
1899. Bread and Bread Making
1900. Home helps with illustrations: a practical and useful book of recipes. 74 pages.
1902. Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book, Philadelphia: Arnold and Co.
1904. St. Louis Worlds Fair Souvenir Cook Book‎. 212 pages
1905. Mrs. Rorer's Cakes, Icings and Fillings
1905. Mrs. Rorer's Every Day Menu Book
1907. My Best 250 Recipes
1909. Mrs. Rorer's Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes, Philadelphia: Arnold and Co.
1910. Home Helps: A Pure Food Cook Book. 84 pages.
1912. Canning and Preserving. 134 pages (re-issue)
1912. How to Use a Chafing Dish.
1912. Sandwiches. 86 pages.
1913. Ice creams, Water Ices, Frozen Puddings, Together with Refreshments for all Social Affairs. Philadelphia, Arnold and Company.
1913. Snowdrift secrets: some recipes for the use of Snowdrift, the perfect shortening for all cooking. 52 pages.
1914. Mrs. Rorer's Diet for the Sick, Philadelphia: Arnold and Co., 1914.
1915. Mrs. Rorer's brand new salads. 20 pages.

Literature & Lore

An 1891 interview with Sarah Tyson Rorer:

Although in private life she will not talk "shop" unless importuned, it is a temptation when in her company to seek the solution of some of the dietetic problems that perplex the housemother — a temptation that Mrs. Rorer's prompt and comprehensive replies continually renews.

Personally, this priestess of hygienic living is an admirable example of her doctrines and teachings. Of rounded figure, not overplump, clear-eyed, and with a complexion a girl of sixteen might envy, Mrs. Rorer does not look as if she could be the mother of two sons, one of whom has finished college, and the other is a Harvard sophomore. Her life is a busy and exacting one, yet her splendid health never falls. The most interesting part of it all is that she grew to early womanhood with a weak and ailing frame. Her elder son was for the first years of his life a sickly child, and it was not till she became convinced that the cause and remedy for her own and her boy's condition were within her control that any betterment resulted. To exercise, regularly and properly practiced, and hygienic food she attributes all of the weal that she has evolved from this woe of ill health. Her sons are both athletes, and have responded so perfectly to her system as to be her very best advertisement. " I have made a great study of bringing up boys," she says." I don't know that I should understand the care of girls. I never had a daughter, and I was the only girl in my own family. I consider athletics a most valuable thing for boys, mentally and morally, as well as physically. It affords an outlet for the animal nature with which all men seem to be born. Boys must have something to talk about, and if they are interested in athletics they will never be at a loss for a topic.

"I don't think very much of football or baseball," she went on. " I don't think they give the body any very desirable exercise. But work In the gymnasium and running, which exercises the lower part of the body, and pole vaulting, which develops the upper part, are excellent.

"My boy told me with delight the other day that the boys at college who were interested in athletics were at the heads of their classes, while those belonging to the glee club and dramatic association were at the foot....

"My son at college has quite a record in athletics, and won a number of medals, but the other day he came to me and said that he had lost a race. ' Why! how did that happen? I asked. 'Well,' he said, 'the whole-wheat bread gave out, and how can you expect a fellow to run on white flour?" Mrs. Rorer tells this as a little joke on the hygienic training she has given to her sons. She shows her interest in athletic excellence in the brooch with which she pins together the soft lace kerchief she wears at her cooking lectures, and which is a medal won by her son. "My college boy wrote me the other day," continued Mrs. Rorer: ' Mother, what can I chew on and not spoil my training? I replied to him, ' Apples.' There is nothing but fruit that can be used to advantage in that way, and apples are particularly healthful for any one. A boy can eat four or five of them at noon." -- A Talk with Mrs Rorer: Chunks of Wisdom from This Experienced Dietist. New York Times. 20 October 1891. Page 32.

New Century Cooking. Mrs. Rorer Says It Will Be One of the Fine Arts: Gas the future kitchen fuel (1901)

In the new century the fact will gradually be made clearer to men and women that it is much more sensible for them to eat to live than to live to eat. With the advent of the educated cook and the intelligent housekeeper we shall know more about the right food for different persons, said Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer to a Philadelphia Press reporter. By the educated cook I mean the one who, especially trained for this branch of woman's work, must surely in the near future take the place of the ignorant woman in the kitchen. The girls in our cooking schools and public schools who are taking the trouble now to learn the right principles of cooking will reap their reward.
The men and women who are to do the important work of the coming century will eat less meat. Vegetarianism has acquired a stride that no cry of fanaticism from prejudiced meat eaters can possibly check. The growth of vegetarianism means the disappearance of the ignorant cook. Much greater care must be given to vegetable than to meat cookery. Water soaked vegetables are not appetizing or sightly. The woman from the 'intelligence' office usually knows enough to take a piece of meat, even of the poorer quality, put it on the stove, get up a fierce blaze and produce something fairly fit for the table.

But what does she do with vegetables? Simply ruins them. She boils them at a gallop, dissolves all their flavor and pours it without flinching down the drain. Then she dishes up the woody fiber and seasons it liberally with salt and pepper. If one wants the flavor of 'tasty' vegetables and good coffee under such management, go to the top of the house. They are there, and there they stay if one has draperies. Badly cooked vegetables are absolutely devoid of nourishment and prime promoters of indigestion. The men and women of the twentieth century are not going to put up with these blunders. In fact, they cannot do so and live. The educated cook must come.

The properly regulated kitchen which I see in the near future will have no use for coal. The cook who wants to prepare a dainty and nourishing table would rather have her coal burned a long distance from her kitchen and supplied to her through pipes in the form of gas. I am not enough of a mechanic to discuss the probable utility of electrical stoves, but I do not think that they will ever prove much of a factor in the kitchen. Special electrical appliances to lessen labor in the kitchen may be more or less useful, but gas will be the cooking fuel for a very long time to come.

In the new century kitchen a thermometer will occupy a conspicuous place on the shelf.

As time goes on the dinner table will be made more attractive by pretty lamp shades and dainty flowers and ferns. It will appeal to the eye as well as to the palate. In satisfying their appetites men will drift more into the idea of esoteric Buddhism. The coarser forms of food will disappear. Less time will be spent in preparing dishes that have no value as nourishment.

The woman who has no ideas of household economy beyond making an attractive but indigestible layer cake will be eliminated." -- Sarah Rorer Tyson interview. North Adams, Massachusetts: North Adams Transcript. 1 January 1901. Page 5.


[1] James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, Paul S. Boyer. Notable American women, 1607-1950: a biographical dictionary, Volume 1. Harvard University Press, 1971. Page 193 - 195.

[2] The Uses of Corn Meal. Troy, Illinois: Weekly Call. 23 June 1900. Page 3.

[3] Levenstein, Harvey A. Revolution at the table: the transformation of the American diet. University of California Press, 2003. Page 84.

[4] Emancipation of Women Due to Mere Man. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: Lebanon Daily News. 22 April 1925. Page 12.

[5] She Made Cooking a Science. Billings, Montana: Billings Gazette. 15 October 1933. Page 25.

[6] Postum Cereal Advertorial in Logansport Reporter. Logansport, Indiana. 14 May 1898. Page 8.

[7] A Talk with Mrs Rorer: Chunks of Wisdom from This Experienced Dietist. New York Times. 20 October 1891. Page 32.

[8] Jorgenson, Judith. Around The Evening Lamp. Des Moines, Iowa: Des Moines Daily News. 2 June 1896. Page 2.

[9] Advertisement placed by the Shredded Wheat Company, Worcester, Massachusetts in The Portsmouth Herald. Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 30 August 1900. Page 6.

[10] Two women responsible for success of Pyrex. Chicago, Illinois: Daily Herald. 28 November 1993. 2 Home & Garden / Section 4.

[11] Advertisement in Lebanon Daily News. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. 18 March 1929. Page 9.

Hines, Mary Anne. Larder Invaded: Reflections on 3 Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink. The Historical Society of PA, 1987. Page 63.

Robbins, Jean. "Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer." Virginia Culinary Thymes. Summer 2004. Issue 6. Retrieved December 2009 from http://spec.lib.vt.edu/culinary/CulinaryThymes/2004_06/tyson.html .

Vaccaro, Pam. Beyond the Ice Cream Cone. St Louis, Missouri: Enid Press. 2004.

Weighly, E.S. Sarah Tyson Rorer: first American dietitian? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 01/08/1980; 77(1):11-5.

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Oulton, Randal. "Sarah Tyson Rorer." CooksInfo.com. Published 22 December 2009; revised 08 December 2010. Web. Accessed 03/17/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/sarah-tyson-rorer>.

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