The Pearl Milling Company introduced ready-mixed pancake flour to American consumers in 1889. It provided all of the dry ingredients pre-mixed in a single package. Home cooks only needed to combine the dry mix with the wet ingredients to create pancake batter. This new invention made making pancakes and other recipes at home much easier and changed the way Americans thought about home cooking. Following the Pearl Milling Company’s example, many new businesses began to sell ready-mixed products in stores.
In 1893, the R.T. Davis Milling Company purchased the Pearl Milling Company and began to explore new ways to advertise and increase sales of its pancake product. This new advertising effort led to the creation of the Aunt Jemima pancake brand.
The advertisement shows Aunt Jemima as portrayed by Nancy Green. Nancy was a formerly enslaved woman hired by the R.T. Davis Company to play the role of Aunt Jemima at events across the United States.
Advertisers based the character of Aunt Jemima on the minstrel song “Old Aunt Jemima.” White enslavers frequently called enslaved women who worked in the home “aunt.” White men in blackface typically performed the song. The white salesman who created the fictional character of Aunt Jemima rooted the character in slavery and connected white consumers’ romanticized view of the “Old South” with their easy-to-make homemade pancakes.
Aunt Jemima is also associated with the racist stereotype of the “mammy,” a Black female housekeeper. The mammy is devoted to her white enslavers and appears happy to serve them. She is depicted as loyal and kind but lacking intelligence. As the family’s nanny, the mammy was shown to lovingly raise the white children, while ignoring her own.
Quaker Oats, the current owner of the Aunt Jemima brand, announced in 2020 that they would discontinue the name and image. They acknowledged it was a racist stereotype and the brand was renamed the Pearl Milling Company.