As the end of the school year draws near and students’ heads are down for impending exams it seems appropriate to revisit Dolly Youngein’s school cookery achievements at Fort Street Public School in 1912.
For readers who are not familiar with our previous posts about Dolly and her cookery book (links at the end of this article), her proper name was Jenny Youngein but everyone knew her as Dolly. She lived with her family behind the shop at 64 Gloucester Street, in Susannah Place, The Rocks, In 1912, when Dolly was 12, she undertook the NSW public schools’ Plain Cookery course, which was taught to girls only, along with laundry skills, while boys did carpentry. According to her family, Dolly was a very good cook, and took great interest and much pleasure from cooking throughout her life. There is evidence of her cookery homework book being in use at least until the mid-1960s.
Dolly’s Plain Cookery certificate, signed by her teacher ‘J. Rowohl’, shows that she passed the year, despite the many marks lost for spelling mistakes and poor handwriting and misplaced margins in her homework book. Mrs Jessie Rowohl (nee Bailey) was highly competent and played a key role in the founding of the Cookery Teachers Association which published the first Commonsense Cookery Book as an educational text for schools.
Searching the archives
Cookery was formalised in the late 1800s as an important part of the curriculum, and particular schools throughout the State were fitted with teaching kitchens and specially trained teachers. Under Jessie Rowohl’s leadership, Fort Street became one of Sydney’s leading or ‘model’ cookery schools in the early 1900s. Sensing that there was more than a tenuous link between Dolly’s homework book and the Commonsense Cookery Book (herein CSCB) resulted in Susannah Place curator Anna Cossu and I taking a trip to NSW State Archives and Records, which proved a highly provident exercise. Surviving NSW Education Department records have given us a wider view of Jessie Rowohl’s involvement in the development of cookery education in Sydney, and, happily and extraordinarily, has added to our knowledge about Dolly’s schooling.
A lucky find
Among the many documents in the ‘Cookery General’ files (which range from requisitions for buckets and brooms to teachers’ letters of resignation pending marriage*) is correspondence in Jessie’s handwriting as the Cookery Teachers Association secretary. They state cases for professionalising teaching staff with formal training qualifications, the need for a standard published cookery text (the CSCB) and claims for equal pay with other female domestic arts teachers.
To our great surprise and joy, the files contain the examination results for Jessie Rowohl’s students in 1912 – including Dolly’s.** You can imagine our excitement finding Dolly’s name on the one examination record in the files! Not only does the document show Dolly’s marks but those of her classmates, along with their names and ages, giving us a comparative base for Dolly’s performance against her school cookery peers.
At 12 years 9 months Dolly was one of the younger students, some of them almost 15. The theoretical exam was obviously not Dolly’s strong point, scoring 59%. Some quick maths reveal however that this was the average mark for the whole Fort Street class. At 88% Dolly’s in-class assessment mark is well above the class average of 68%, and given her age level, supports her family’s understanding that she was a ‘good student’.
* Jessie Rowohl was unusual in that she was married and had a daughter, Willa. Willa attended Fort Street Public School which must have been convenient. Willa later became an acclaimed medical doctor.
** Jessie also taught cookery at Manly Public School, on Fridays. She lived in Manly and most likely used the ferry service to Circular Quay to access The Rocks on the other days. Cookery was taught to 5th or 6th grade girls, and records show that in 1912 there were 77 Plain Cookery students across the two schools.