Chocolate Chip Cookies: A Symbol of the Housewife

The chocolate chip cookie is now a staple of almost every American home. From the original recipe to cookie dough to pre-made cookies, they surround us in a multitude of forms. The invention of the chocolate chip cookie has revolutionized the chocolate industry, and the treatment of chocolate chip cookies over time illuminates key aspects of traditional gender roles in American society.

Within the context of chocolate, chocolate chip cookies were invented and rose to fame relatively recently. While forms of chocolate have been consumed since the Aztecs and Mayan civilizations, and solid chocolate was adapted by Europeans, chocolate was not used in cookies in America until the mid-1800s (Stef). The chocolate chip cookie does not play a role in the chocolate industry until one hundred years later, when it was invented in 1937 (Moore). During this time, chocolate became more industrialized and readily accessible to the American public.

A common tale for the invention of chocolate chip cookies is that Ruth Wakefield, the owner of the restaurant Toll House in Massachusetts, ran out of baker’s chocolate to put in cookies and instead put chunks of bittersweet chocolate (Michaud). However, this story has been contested multiple times with claims of Wakefield’s expertise in baking. Wakefield would never have allowed her famous bakers to run out of key ingredients for cookies, so she must have deliberately worked to create the chocolate chip cookie (Michaud). One author debunks the claim that Wakefield was simply adding chocolate to a drop do cookie recipe by investigating the recipe: there is no brown sugar or vanilla in the recipe, which are necessary ingredients for chocolate chip cookies (Cooper). These theories seem to give Wakefeld that credibility that she deserves, but the fact that the more common origin story of the chocolate chip cookie is that she discovered the recipe by accident demonstrates how society can easily discount qualifications and instead simply follow the popular version of events.

Nestlé bought the rights to Wakefield’s recipe and the name “Toll House” in 1939, giving rise to the commercialization and spread of the chocolate chip cookie (Michaud). (Interestingly, the story says Wakefield was paid for the recipe with a lifetime of free chocolate!) The accidental creation of chocolate chip cookies may be the most popular origin story to boost Nestlé’s ability to advertise chocolate chips, or for Nestlé to more easily take ownership of the concept of chocolate chip cookies. In fact, chocolate chips themselves were created as an item in response to the invention of chocolate chip cookies, and did not exist before then (Moore). Estimates of Nestlé’s net sales from a chocolate chip cookie-themed cafe in 2011 range between 35 and 40 million dollars, portraying the large financial impact chocolate chip cookies have had on the industry even recently (Dishman). Nestlé even still prints the original recipe for chocolate chip cookies on its bags of semi-sweet chocolate morsels, emphasizing Nestlé’s branding as a symbol of expertise and tradition.

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This display of the recipe showcases how chocolate chip cookies have changed the face of chocolate. The primary purpose of chocolate chips is to create these chocolate chip cookies; thus, by having the recipe on the back of the bag, Nestlé is able to market the use of chocolate chips even more and show directly how to use the chocolate chips. The ownership of the recipe gave Nestlé a unique advantage over other chocolate companies to market the recipe as its own:

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This advertisement from 1942, the early days of chocolate chip cookies, mentions the ease of the recipe on the back of the morsels package. The morsels were made specifically for chocolate chip cookies to be made. In this way, Nestlé was able to use the recipe and the concept of the chocolate chip cookie to its advantage.

This advertisement portrays the typical gender roles during the time period as well, and perpetuates these roles. Chocolate chip cookies were usually marketed to the housewife of the family, since the woman was in charge of the home. This ad in particular depicts a woman using her easy chocolate chip cookie recipe in multiple home settings: Bridge Club, her husband’s friends, and other friends. In this way, it claims that the housewife can easily make a strong impression on guests by baking chocolate chip cookies using Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate. As Katherine Parkin claims in her article “Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America”, “Food advertisers throughout the twentieth century wanted white women to believe that they had the power to influence their families’ identity through their cooking. They…suggested that women should see their purchasing decisions as opportunities to ensure their families’ stability and mobility” (79). This ad exemplifies this notion by offering women a way through chocolate to impress others and keep their husband happy. This ad also substantiates feelings of class dichotomies in America, by suggesting that Toll House cookies will help the housewife entertain guests.

ccc ad 1941

This ad from 1941 is another example of Nestlé Toll House cookies supporting the image of the traditional housewife. The outright claim “Your reputation as a housewife will increase” serves to bolster the separation of the duties of wife to the kitchen. In fact, the initial reason for the chocolate chip cookie popularity on a national scale was its debut on the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air radio show (Eric T). This radio show emphasized a woman’s role in the kitchen. Arlene Voski. Avakian and Barbara Haber explain in From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies : Critical Perspectives on Women and Food,  “Betty Crocker often made a point of praising the housewife’s importance… emphasized that good cooking was an achievement in which women could take a great deal of pride” (34). Betty Crocker helped women “feel satisfied with their domestic careers” (Avakian and Haber 34). Thus, the Betty Crocker show in reality gave comfort to women in the home and encouraged the standard gender roles to continue. In this way, chocolate chip cookies added to the housewife standard by being endorsed by Betty Crocker.

The chocolate chip cookie gave comfort to Americans right after the Great Depression (Michaud). The rise of the chocolate chip cookie was propelled even further during World War II (Michaud). During the war, gender roles were especially perpetuated.

An article from 1945, during the war, , demonstrates how soldiers loved to have chocolate chip cookies sent to them by their loving wife or mother. The article also extends the reach of chocolate chip cookies to the home as well as to soldiers, claiming “it will be just as welcome to the home folks who frequent the table two or three times daily”. Thus, chocolate chip cookies were portrayed to American society as the perfect item for housewives to send abroad as well as bake at home, adding pressure on women to stay in the home.

ccc ad ww2

This advertisement further exemplifies how chocolate chip cookies and World War II interacted to reinforce traditional gender roles. It speaks directly to the housewife, directing her to send chocolate chip cookies to the soldier. Although chocolate needed to be rationed during the war, these ads still encouraged women to use chocolate to make chocolate chip cookies—thus showcasing the importance and popularity of chocolate chip cookies in wartime. The bottom right-hand corner of the advertisement, “Back the Attack with War Bonds”, solidifies the relationship between chocolate chip cookies and support for the war.

After the war, chocolate chip cookies continued to be an iconic American figure. The chocolate chip cookie remained a symbol of the home and by extension, of the woman baking the cookies. Advertisements continued to support this concept. This Pillsbury television advertisement is a fitting example: 

In this video from the 1980s, Drew Barrymore acts as the daughter who needs chocolate chip cookies to improve her mood. The telling aspect of the commercial is that her mother is baking the cookies for her, showcasing a mother-daughter relationship that is built on the mother’s responsibilities in the kitchen and for her kids. There is no father present in the advertisement at all, suggesting that the father is not required to be involved in the kitchen or with the children. Thus, the role of a woman as the caretaker has persisted through the marketing of the chocolate chip cookie.

While advertisements with direct declarations of the woman as a housewife have declined in recent years, the chocolate chip cookie remains emblematic of the traditional American family and the woman in the kitchen. This video is posted on Nestlé Toll House’s current Facebook page: 

This video, although contemporary, still showcases the women and children in the kitchen baking the cookies. The first family is the mother and two kids baking the cookies together, portraying a stereotypical happy American family baking together. The father is not present in the first clip, but later appears when the cookies are finished to eat some—this perpetuates yet again the idea that women simply serve their husbands. The second couple in the video also has the same mentality, since the video shows the woman zipping up the cookie dough package and subsequently the man smiling at her ability to make delicious cookies. There are other aspects of the video that encourage inclusivity, with different ages and races portrayed in the video eating cookies, but the traditional housewife aspect has remained attached to the chocolate chip cookie.

Overall, chocolate chip cookies have made an impact on how our society views the household. The chocolate chip cookie has become a symbol of the doting housewife and companies have perpetuated this idea through advertising and marketing. Chocolate has always played a large role in society, and the fairly recent advent of the chocolate chip cookie has added to our perception of baking as a necessary part of the woman’s role in the family.

Works Cited

Avakian, Arlene Voski., and Haber, Barbara. From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food. Amherst: U of Massachusetts, 2005. Print.

Cooper, Kathleen. “Toll House Cookies: A Secret History.” The Toast. N.p., 05 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ad WWII. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2015. <é.jpg&gt;.

“Chocolate Chip Cookies Favorite of Everyone.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 7 Apr. 1945: n. pag. Google News Archive Search. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

Dishman, Lydia. “The Humble Chocolate-Chip Cookie Goes Global.” Fast Company. N.p., 02 Apr. 2012. Web. 06 May 2015. <;.

Moore, Jessie Oleson. The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America’s Favorite Desserts. Sasquatch. Print.

Michaud, Jon. “Sweet Morsels: A History of the Chocolate-Chip Cookie – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. N.p., 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

Nestlé Cookie Ad 1941. Digital image. N.p., 1941. Web. 5 May 2015. <és-cocoa-ad-toll-house-cookies&gt;.

Nestlé Cookie Ad 1942. Digital image. N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 5 May 2015. <–files/food-history%3Awhere-did-Nestlé-get-toll-house-cookies-name/early-chocolate-chip-ad.jpg&gt;.

Nestlé Cookie Recipe. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2015. <é-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html&gt;.

Nestle Toll House Facebook VideoFacebook. Nestle Toll House, 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 6 May 2015. <;.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. Print.

Stef. “The First Chocolate Cookie.” Cupcake Project. N.p., 28 Nov. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <;.

T, Eric. “Where Did Nestlé Get the Name ‘Toll House Cookies’ for Its Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe?” N.p., 4 Sept. 2014. Web. 05 May 2015. <é-get-toll-house-cookies-name&gt;.

Vintage 80’s Drew Barrymore Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies Commercial. Youtube. Tracy80sgirl, 17 July 2009. Web. 5 May 2015. <;.


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