According to NPR, the suffragette movement included politically subversive recipe books.

Chicago obstetrician and gynecologist Alice Bunker Stockham, the fifth woman to become a licensed doctor in the U.S., sent in an elaborate recipe for Coraline Cake, which called for the cake to be split and infused with strawberry or raspberry juice, then filled with boiled custard to make a sort of "French pie."

Dr. Stockham was anti-alcohol and anti-corset but — extraordinarily for her time – pro-masturbation. She publicly endorsed it as healthy for both men and women. Her unorthodox stand positioned her as the antithesis to Sylvester Graham, the Presbyterian reformer who believed rich food inflamed sexual appetite, and who invented the Graham cracker (made with unrefined flour) to help Americans tame their sexual desires. By the Rev. Graham's standards, the Coraline Cake was positively orgiastic.

Why "Coraline"? Is there a hidden meaning to the name?


2 Answers 2


The Coraline corset had boning made from a plant-based material that was supposedly more flexible than whalebone. Since the article specifically mentions that Dr. Stockham was anti-corset this was presumably the reference.

Illustrated illustration for "Dr. Warner's Coraline Health Corsets" showing a corseted woman examining herself in a dressing mirror, with tagline "One trial satisfied me that I want no other".

The Coraline was also known as "Dr. Warner's Health Corset". From a Slate article on the subject:

First, women were gaining more independence, and social mores about clothing were loosening. Ladies displayed their shoulders and ankles in public when taking part in activities like swimming and bicycling,—not to mention during the long working hours of lower-class women—and needed to be able to move better. Second, in the wake of a prolific era in medicine, there was a trend in health cures. . . .

After unsuccessfully lecturing against the deleterious effects of tightly cinched corsets, Drs. Ira and Lucien Warner pioneered a “health corset.” It was made of flexible fabric, and instantly became the most popular model available on the market.

As the Coraline corset was meant to allow women more freedom, I suspect the Coraline cake was meant to suggest freedom from the more repressive regime represented by Sylvester Graham's crackers.

Also, you don't ask, but I suspect the recipe itself and "French pie" description were meant to be a sexual reference. Most nineteenth century recipes I can find for "French pie" refer to meat pies. For example, Eliza Leslie's New Receipts for Cooking has this entry:

A RAISED FRENCH PIE.—These pies have standing crust or walls, and may be filled with game or poultry, previously boned, seasoned, and stewed.

Of course "French" has long been the English go-to adjective for sexualizing a term (compare French kissing or the French disease), and the imagery involved in a "juicy, split cake filled with cream" seems fairly obvious.


It looks like a variant of the word coralline "Resembling coral, especially in color" (AHD). My guess is that that the name refers to the cake's color: based on the ingredients that you mentioned, it sounds like it might end up some shade of pink or red, like coral.

That passage doesn't suggest to me that there is any hidden or deeper meaning to the name: a cake with an "elaborate recipe" would qualify as "rich food" (and therefore "orgiastic" by "the Rev. Graham's standards") no matter what it was called.

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