Early Print

Racism in Modern Advertising
Case Study: Aunt Jemima
History and Evolution
Role in Society
The "A" Word
Various Ads


An early image of Aunt Jemima




Aunt Jemima began as a character in a minstrel show. In an almost mythical fashion, Chris Rutt, who had recently invented a self-rising pancake batter, stumbled upon comedians Baker and Farrell performing in blackface (Morgan 88). Their act included a character named Aunt Jemima. Rutt and his partner, Charles Underwood, adopted the image of Aunt Jemima in “aprons and red bandanas” (“Aunt” 21). There are two reasons as to why Rutt may have picked Aunt Jemima as the icon for the pancake mix: Morgan argues Rutt considered Aunt Jemima to be the epitome of southern hospitality (88). On the other hand, Maurice Manring claims that Aunt Jemima “already resonated with northerners and southerners” (21). Regardless of the rationale behind choosing Aunt Jemima to be a mascot, the character became enormously popular, even spawning its own catchphrase: “I’se [sic] in town, honey!” (“Aunt” 25). However, beginning in the 1950’s, Aunt Jemima was heavily criticized for the portrayal of the mammy stereotype (Ad Age). The term “Aunt Jemima” soon became the female equivalent of “Uncle Tom” (Slave 160).

Additionally, her manner of dress was worth noting. She was dressed in typical slave attire and wore a headdress (Kern-Foxworth 92). The headdress, formally known as a chignon, was a reminder of slavery to African Americans. It is easy to understand why African Americans were offended by the caricature of their race that was “symbol of servitude and ignorance” (Slave 157). Furthermore, her speech was written in a specific African American dialect, which substituted the “th” sound with a “d,” and used incorrect grammar, as seen in her famous slogan “I’se in town, honey” (Kern-Foxworth 93). After several protests, Quaker Oats eliminated her headdress and also “slimm[ed] her down and ma[de] her look somewhat younger” (Slave 169). Yet, the Aunt Jemima consumers know today was last altered in 1989. She was given graying hair and “a pair of earrings. The attempt was, as a company spokeswoman said…, ‘to make her look like a working mother…” (Slave 172).



Aunt Jemima today





Click to hear a radio spot of Aunt Jemima from 1947:

Sound clip courtesy of: http://members.tripod.com/~s_snailham/1940s.html