The Virginia Housewife

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Cover art for Courier Corporation’s 2012 publishing

Background | View Original Cookbook

The Virginia Housewife (1824) was written by Mary Randolph, whose dramatic life experiences definitely made her well-qualified enough to write the highly influential cookbook. She was born in Virginia in 1762 to the well-to-do Randolph family. A descendent of Pocahontas, she was linked by blood and marriage to the first families of Virginia and counted among her many cousins Thomas Jefferson, Mary Lee Fitzhugh-the wife of George Washington, Parke Custis- George Washington’s step-grandson, and David Meade Randolph, a prominent Federalist, whom she later married. Mary Randolph was taught how to maintain the household, in keeping with the upper-class culture in which she was raised. After marrying David Randolph in 1780, they moved Richmond, Virginia, were David served as the US Marshal of Virginia under the Washington and Adams administrations and Mary became well-known as an esteemed hostess.

After President Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated in 1800 and removed David Randolph from office due to political disagreements, the Randolphs fell on hard times and after several failed business ventures, they were forced to move from their well-known estate and open a boarding house. Although this was quite an unorthodox step for a prestigious couple during the time period, Mary operated the boarding house and served as hostess for almost a decade, again securing her place in the community as a domestic force to be reckoned with.

After moving to Washington in 1819, she decided to compile her culinary knowledge and publish the now-famous cookbook, putting to good use her experience cooking for everyone from weary travelers to Presidents of the United States. (“Historic Chesterfield – Mary Randolph – History”). Mary stated that a large part of her internal motivation for writing the cookbook came from her own frustrating encounters as a novice cook with confusing recipe books that were more focused on creating lavish, outlandish feasts than providing the cook with instruction in a straightforward and concise manner. Her strict focus on frugality and economy allowed her to believably liken household management to a microcosm of the government. It also gave her an avenue to express her own personal political beliefs and encourage her audience to become more involved in American politics.

Through the selection of high quality recipes that present American/Southern cooking at its finest, the development of clear-cut rules and management styles presented in a manner that was clearly understood by all audiences, all derived from her own experiences, not only popularized Mary Randolph as an influential American housewife, but also established The Virginia Housewife as a much loved American cookbook and cultural touchstone that has stood the test of time.


Daley, Bill. “Mary Randolph Wrote The Virginia House-Wife Cookbook in 1824.” Chicago Tribune, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. <>

“Historic Chesterfield – Mary Randolph – History.” County of Chesterfield, VA. Chesterfield County, VA, 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

“Mary Randolph.” Mary Randolph. The Arlington National Cemetery, 18 Oct. 2005. Web. 30 Nov. 2015. <>

Recipes from The Virginia Housewife