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An interior photo of the Special Collections Reading Room.
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New Collection Highlight: The Joy of Cooking

Special Collections is delighted to add a signed copy of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking (1943) to the local history collections. This well-known cookbook has several St. Louis and WashU connections.

Who Was Irma Rombauer?

Born Irma Von Starkloff in 1877 to recently emigrated German parents, Irma was educated at public and boarding schools and attended classes at Washington University’s School of Art in 1894. She married, had three children, and continued her education through informal groups such as the Wednesday Club. This was the pattern of many middle- and upper-class St. Louis women.

Her husband, lawyer Edgar Rombauer (WashU Law, 1887), suffered from profound depression that led to his suicide in 1930. As a widow, she moved in with her adult daughter and needed a way to support herself. With limited options, she decided to create a useful cookbook for the modern, twentieth-century woman. The first edition of The Joy Of Cooking: A Compilation Of Reliable Recipes With A Casual Culinary Chat was written and self-published by Irma in 1931, with illustrations by her daughter Marion.

A page from a cookbook containing a recipe.

The Joy of Cooking offered shortcuts for busy women and presented ideas for new ready-made foods, like canned soup and Jello. This was the first cookbook that listed every ingredient needed and gave step-by-step instructions, a pattern followed by nearly all cookbooks to the present day. After Irma’s death in 1962, her family continued to publish updated editions. 

The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections

The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections has an active program of class visits, exhibitions, workshops, and public events and plays a vital role in scholarship at Washington University and the wider community. The Reading Room is located in John M. Olin Library at the center of the Danforth Campus where researchers, visitors, and classes can access a variety of collections.

For information about this new acquisition, or other materials in the local history archives, contact Miranda Rectenwald at

Staff photo of Miranda Rectenwald.

About the Author

Miranda Rectenwald
Job Title
Curator of Local History