Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 6 Summer 2004

Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer (1847-1937)

by Jean Robbins

Sarah was born in Richboro, Bucks County, PA at the home of her grandparents. Sarah was educated at NY State's East Aurora Academy and after her marriage she attended lectures at the Woman's Medical College in Philadelphia. She was married to William Albert Rorer (later the marriage ended in separation). Her children were William Albert Rorer and James Birch Rorer. The family lived in Colebrook, PA and later moved to Philadelphia.

Highlights of her life:

After moving to Philadelphia, "Sallie" enrolled in a cooking class, 1879, for members of the New Century Club and became interested in cooking and earned the reputation as "the best student in the class". Later a Committee from the Club approached her to teach the class and also to lecture at the Woman's Medical College and the Woman's Hospital. She prepared herself by practicing appropriate recipes; she read to acquaint herself with the chemistry of foods and the reasons for doing culinary tasks in a certain way. For relevant information, she turned to "Food and Feeding" by Sir Henry Thompson, who wrote on balance of foods, and to "Food for the Invalid" by J. Milner Fothergill, who wrote on specific diets for specific diseases. Doctors were fascinated with her lectures. To continue to prepare herself she attended lectures in chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and hygiene at the Woman's Medical College.

As more people learned of Sallie's teaching, there were more requests for her services; some of these included: the Franklin Institute, the House of Refuge (for wayward children), evening classes for working girls and women, classes for middle-income women and children, private cooking lessons for the wealthy, private lessons in her home for a small number of doctors, classes at a Finishing School (emphasizing the connection between cooking and chemistry. In 1882, a company requested that she test and write a booklet on "How to use Olive Butter". She also worked with the Bedford Street Mission to give classes in neighborhoods on basic cooking, economical shopping, and elimination of waste of food; she reached many ethnic groups.

Throughout these years, the Philadelphia Cooking School continued to expand. The School started at 1518 Chestnut Street (a prominent business street), moved to larger quarters at 1525 Chestnut Street, later moved to 1617 Chestnut Street, and finally moved to 1715 Chestnut Street. By 1901, 5000 students had been trained by the Philadelphia Cooking School.

As Mrs. Rorer's reputation grew, a delegation of Philadelphia's best known physicians approached her and requested organization of a diet kitchen to prepare and deliver to the hotels special diet food that the doctors ordered for patients from out of town; and to consult the patient for an appropriate and acceptable diet.

All of this seemed to be the beginning of Academic Dietetics. Requests for a detailed course embracing all facets of cooking and nutrition designed for women who were interested in becoming cooking teachers. In Oct. 6, 1890, she added to her instruction a few outside experts to teach digestion and hygiene, chemistry, food adulteration and food analysis, and home and food sanitation. The students now included these subjects and courses on food as it related to health and disease, accounting, marketing, and practice teaching. Later physiology and biology were added to the curriculum.

By 1893, a new field of employment had opened—hospital dietetics. The Presbyterian Hospital organized a diet kitchen and hired Martha Byerly, 1892 graduate of the Philadelphia Cooking School. Martha's title was Superintendent of Diet.

In 1899, a series of conferences were held at Lake Placid, NY, to discuss the problems, progress, and future of home economics. Ten conferences were held between 1899 and 1908 and culminated in the founding of the American Home Economics Association. At least 10 of the founders were graduates of the Philadelphia Cooking School. When the PA Dietetics Association was founded in 1933, Mrs. Sarah Rorer and Martha Byerly were made honorary members. In 1937 Mrs. Rorer spoke to the PA Dietetics Association about the development of Dietetics in hospitals beginning with her work in Philadelphia fifty years from this date.

Indeed Mrs. Rorer can qualify as the first Dietitian and her student Martha Byerly, the first hospital dietitian. History shows that Mrs. Rorer was a pioneer for both the American Home Economics Association and the American Dietetics Association.

Authored the following titles:

Mrs. Rorer's Philadelphia Cook Book, 1886 (This title is in the Peacock-Harper Collection.) The author presented each class of foods and discussed the chemistry of cooking these foods. The book sold for $1.75.
Bread and Bread Making, 1899
Mrs. Rorer's Brand New Salads, 1915
Mrs. Rorer's Cakes, Icings and Fillings, 1905
Canning and Preserving, 1887, 1912
Colonial Recipes, 1894
Dainties, 1894, 1904, 1912
Mrs. Rorer's Diet for the Sick, 1914 (This title is in the Peacock-Harper Collection)
Mrs. Rorer's Every Day Menu Book 1905
Fifteen New Ways for Oysters, 1894
Mrs. Rorer's Good Cooking 1898
My Best 250 Recipes, 1907
Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book, 1902 (This title is in the Peacock-Harper Collection)

Sources of information:

"A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks" by Colonel Bob Allen

"America's Collectible Cookbooks" by Mary Anna DuSablon

"Sarah Tyson Rorer" by Emma Seifrit Weigley, Philadelphia; The American Philosophical Society, 1977.

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