Dorothy Cottington Taylor (1891-1944)

Born: Dorothy Daisy Gale; wrote as D.D. Cottington Taylor; also known as Mrs Albert E. Mash

Sector: Household Goods

My Good Housekeeping ‘Step by Step’ Cookery Book, with its Good Housekeeping Institute Seal on the cover, bought after some early culinary disasters, has stood me in very good stead over the years, providing me with fail-safe recipes. Although she didn’t write it, one woman I have to thank for it is Dorothy Cottington Taylor. As the first Director of the British incarnation of the Good Housekeeping Institute, which she led for 16 years, she established it here as a trusted source of accurate product reviews and dependable dishes. She also used it as a platform to build her own brand, presenting radio programmes, promoting a wide range of products and taking on company directorships in the hospitality sector, all of which turned her into a nationally-known figure.

Educated at Sutton High School, Dorothy trained as a teacher of domestic economy, with five first-class domestic science diplomas from the National School of Cookery and a Certificate in Household and Social Science from King’s College for Women. She later qualified as a public health inspector. When war broke out in 1914, she was 23. She took a job as a welfare supervisor at the huge Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, which employed nearly 80,000 people, and in 1918 moved to become a superintendent at the first National Aircraft Factory in Croydon.

The factory closed in 1919 and at around the same time, Dorothy married Thomas Cottington Taylor, an artist and war veteran eleven years older than her. They settled in Carshalton and Dorothy started to look for work. In December 1922, she wrote an article for Good Housekeeping on Christmas Decorations under the name of Dorothy D Taylor and the following May 1923, she took charge of the Home Management pages for Good Housekeeping, now writing under the name D.D. Cottington Taylor. Using her own initials, her married surname and no prefix of Mrs was an unusual styling for the period and sometimes reviewers assumed she was a man.

Dorothy Cottington Taylor (1891-1944) Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute.
Dorothy Cottington Taylor by Walter Bird, date unknown

In an article in the March 1925 edition of Good Housekeeping on ‘Household and Social Science as a Career for Women’, she confronted the biases she herself must have experienced:

“For a long time it was difficult to overcome the erroneous idea that if a girl was too stupid to quality for a degree or undertake work requiring a high level of intelligence, she should train as a teacher of domestic science.”

After the war, King’s College created a degree course in Household and Social Science and a dedicated site was established near Kensington High Street, run for nearly two decades by Helene Reynard. Dorothy was too late herself to benefit from these changes but she wanted to share with other women the course that was on offer and the job opportunities that might come from it, as teachers, lecturers, bursars or specialised researchers.

Since the war..more than three hundred [women] have been trained for posts where a knowledge of Household Science is required such as school matrons and housekeepers. The College is doing pioneer work, both in training for careers and in preparing a woman for the highest work she may be called upon to do, that of carrying on a home, under many varying conditions.”

Her belief that Household Management was serious work that warranted a professional approach underpinned her writing.

The Good Housekeeping Institute
The US issue of Good Housekeeping had opened an Institute in 1909 to test and approve equipment and recipes. In 1924, the UK magazine decided to follow suit. The Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI) was in a different part of town from the magazine’s offices, on the top floor of 49 Wellington Street in London’s Covent Garden. It was marketed to readers as ‘a highly organised laboratory for testing and investigating every kind of household appliance, method and recipe’.

The goal of the Household Engineering and Housecraft team, led by Dorothy, was to give women the confidence to buy the latest gadgets and get the most out of them. Fridges, vacuum cleaners, stoves and laundry appliances were all put through their paces. By 1933, over 900 appliances had been received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

The test kitchen was in the same place and at first was run by Florence Jack, the Cooking Director.

The GHI was open to visitors every weekday afternoon and on Saturday mornings: readers could make an appointment and get free advice or even an individual lesson. Organisations like the Electrical Association for Women made group visits to see what the team of experts and their assistants were getting up to.

A map showing the Good Housekeeping Institute.
A map pointing readers to the GHI

Once it had been up and running for a while it started to offer courses ranging in duration from a week to a year. Its employees would give lectures in schools and women’s institutes or carry out inspections of tea rooms and the domestic arrangements of schools. Dorothy’s editor for almost all her time at Good Housekeeping, Alice Head, described her as ‘a perfect dynamo of energy’ and soon she was in charge of all the varied activities managed under the auspices of the GHI.

Influencing the nation’s eating habits
Dorothy’s various cookery and household management books generally combined menus with information about nutrition and help with budgeting. Most of her books were published by Good Housekeeping but she collaborated on other projects. The scope could be quite specific –Food Wisdom’, published in 1926 was about refrigeration, the role it played, how it could be used, what fridge to choose and how to store food in the fridge – or very broad. ‘Good Housekeeping with Modern Methods Including a Section on Catering’ covered everything from the type of insurance policy you might need when buying a house, how to paint a ceiling, what you might expect to pay for a pound of ham and five different weekly menus for children aged 1½ to 6.

Cookery books give such a fascinating insight into life at a particular time. In the ‘Good Housekeeping Menu & Recipe Book’, published in 1926 as a companion piece to the GH Cookery Book written by Florence Jack, Dorothy starts by laying out the courses that make up a meal and lists ten: hors d’oeuvres; soup; fish; an entrée – e.g. a soufflé, puff pastry filled with chicken or veal, timbale; releve – joint of roast or braised meat; a quick palette-cleansing sorbet (not one of the ten..); roast – roast or grilled pheasants, partridges, grouse, capons; entremet – dressed vegetables; hot and cold sweets; savouries e.g. cheese; dessert – fruits, nuts, fancy biscuits and finally coffee. In the menus she provides, everyday lunches and dinners always have a least three courses. What she would think of the lunch-time dash for a supermarket meal deal, one can only imagine.

She was a strong proponent of seasonal cooking for reasons of both cost and flavour. Menus were arranged in sections according to the season of the year and her books often included menus for special occasions and group events, like Church Socials, Tennis Teas, Bazaar Suppers and A Small House Dance for Young People. I particularly liked her ‘simple’ five-course menu for ‘The Bride’s First Dinner Party’ in the Menu and Recipe Book, introduced thus:

“The young bride inexperienced in the culinary art generally looks upon her first dinner party as somewhat of an ordeal, but provided she has one capable maid, she should experience little difficulty in producing a simple, well-cooked meal – though should she be entirely without domestic help, there are many pitfalls of which she must beware.”

Building her own brand
In the ‘Women’s Who’s Who’ of 1934-5 Dorothy stated her interests as cookery, household engineering and advertising. Judging by the number of advertisements in which she appeared, this last activity must have been the source of a lucrative additional income stream. Companies were delighted to have their products promoted by ‘ the famous health and cooking expert’ and during her career she fronted campaigns for a wide range of food products: Grape Nuts, which she used as an ingredient in a Christmas cake recipe; Royal Baking Powder, advertised alongside her recipes for gingerbread, coconut buns and golden syrup scones; Del Monte tinned fruit; brands of stock, lard, condensed milk and quick-cook rice. She often created specialist recipe books as promotional items: cheese recipes for the New Zealand Dairy Association, chocolate cookery for Cadbury’s; cider recipes for Gaymers; a Lea & Perrins recipe pamphlet and cookery books for Cannons, a leading manufacturer of gas ovens and Easiwork, who made pressure cookers. She wrote pamphlets on carpet care for a carpet sweeper company and wash-day wisdom for the Jiffy Automatic Clothes Washer Company.

In June 1927, Dorothy started an irregular 15 minutes slot on BBC radio, usually at 5.15pm for fifteen minutes where topics included jam making, spring cleaning and how to make a Christmas cake and was still on air in 1939. When the BBC decided to run a short series called ‘Hints for the Bachelor Girl’, Dorothy fronted one on Housekeeping for One. I would have been particularly keen to hear another one of her programmes, tips on ‘Housekeeping for Business People’ but I suspect these recordings are all now lost. She travelled around the country judging cake-making competitions and kitchen planning competitions and giving talks on diet and nutrition. She was part of an expert panel who selected a ‘truly typical’ housewife to open the new Kellogg factory in Manchester in 1938 and furnished a show flat for Leicester-based furniture maker, Inglesants.

By the late 1920s, Dorothy had established herself as a leading authority on all things home-related, borne out by the entry she penned for the 14th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on Housekeeping. Fellow expert contributors were Helen Wills on Tennis, George Bernard Shaw on Socialism and Albert Einstein on Space Time. She was photographed by many of the leading portrait makers of the day: as well as Walter Bird (see above) Yevonde photographed her at least twice and her National Portrait Gallery image is by Lafayette.

Clubs, Committees and Companies
Dorothy was a member of the Women’s Provisional Club, an influential network of business women in London formed in 1924. The Secretary and driving force was Ethel Wood, who felt that household management benefited from a scientific approach. Ahead of the Fifth International Congress on Scientific Management in Amsterdam in 1932, she set up a committee to develop model kitchens and model budgets as Britain’s contribution. Dorothy was one of the members, along with Caroline Haslett, Helene Reynard and other respected women. She also joined the National Milk Publicity Council, now Dairy UK, in 1935 was appointed to the Tribunal Panel of the new Retail Trading Standards Association, along with Lady Rhondda and was a member of the Women’s Gas Council. When the Ministry of Agriculture introduced the National Mark scheme as a Government trademark and sign of controlled quality for food produced in England and Wales, Dorothy published two cookery books with Ambrose Heath to promote the scheme.

By 1933, she had used some of her earnings to expand into the hospitality sector. She bought a house in Earls Court, 12 Nevern Road, initially run as a boarding house which she later converted into a hotel, offering home comforts, hot and cold running water and fresh fruit at every meal. The following year she joined up with Robert Macqueen to become a director of the Ballachulish Hotel Company in the north west of Scotland. Then in 1935 she became a director of a new venture, the Accommodation Booking Bureau, which aimed to offer a free centralised booking service to consumers by charging the hotels and B&Bs that were members. It is not clear how long any of these businesses ran for but managing these commitments on top of all her other work says something about how driven she was.

Widowed in 1929, Dorothy married for the second time in 1935. Her husband was Arthur Mash, a journalist who later became Publicity Officer for the Ministry of Aircraft. They clearly decided to make a fresh start and commissioned a house from architect Ernest Freud. The Weald, in Betcham near Surrey, still stands as a classic example of between the wars design, with its white exterior, curving walls and large glass windows but the project was not an entirely happy experience. Speaking in 1937 to members of the Electrical Association for Women in Manchester, Dorothy advised any one of them was considering building her own house that she should make up her mind what she wanted and then secure an architect who would be willing to carry out her wishes. She had not been firm enough and as a result ‘convenience within the house had to some extent been sacrificed to outward appearance.’

In early 1940, Alice Head left Hearst Publications and took a new job as editor of Homes and Gardens, a Country Life publication. In March, the magazine took out quarter-page ads to announce that Mrs Cottington Taylor ‘the well-known expert on housekeeping, cookery, food and domestic appliances’ would be joining as an Associate Editor and that the magazine would be setting up a test kitchen, featured on the cover of its April issue. She contributed two books to Country Life’s ‘Home Front’ Series and started lecturing about wartime food management but she seems to have become ill in early 1941: there is no mention of her in the press after 1940 and her writing drops off sharply. She died at the young age of 53 on 17th March 1944 but the brand she helped build, the Good Housekeeping Institute, is still going strong.

Sources include:

‘Good Housekeeping Menu & Recipe Book’ by D.D. Cottington Taylor (1926); ‘Good Housekeeping Part 1’ by D.D. Cottington Taylor (1933)

The Woman’s Leader 28/11/1924; The Vote 19/11/1926; 11/1/1929; 10/7/1931; Daily Mail 16/7/1931; Kensington News and West London Times 17/2/1933; Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 17/2/1934; The Dundee Evening Telegraph 9/11/1934; Weekly Dispatch 26/5/1935; The Guardian 4/11/1937; Belfast Newsletter 12/11/1938; Leicester Evening Mail 19/12/1938; Country Life 23/3/1940; The Times 21/3/1944

Good Housekeeping May 1923; September 1924; March 1925; It Could Never Have Happened by Alice Head (1940)

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