Don’t forget your homework

In a simple ruled exercise book, with margins drawn neatly in red ink, are over 60 pages of handwritten recipes, cooking rules and techniques, recorded by 12 year old Jenny (Dolly) Youngein, 104 years ago.

This was no simple task; Dolly’s work suffered several red-pencil corrections and lost marks for poor handwriting, with comments such as ‘write more neatly’ and ‘rule neat lines’ written in the margin by her teacher.

Born in 1900, Dolly Youngein was the eldest daughter of Clara Jane and Hugo Youngein. The Youngeins ran the grocer shop at 64 Gloucester Street, The Rocks, now part of Susannah Place Museum. Dolly was a student at the local Fort Street Girls High School, and it is likely that Dolly did her homework at the dining table in the parlour behind the shop.

Her workbook entries tell us the types of dishes and techniques that were deemed necessary for a girl to know in the early 1900s, to prepare her for the role of homemaker. These include rules for making a perfect cup of tea and setting a table, to breakfast and ‘invalids cooking’.

In December 1912, despite losing marks for not writing neatly enough, Dolly received her course completion certificate from the Fort St School of Cookery, signed by J. Rowohl ‘teacher of cookery’:

Dolly Youngein has attended the full course in Plain Cookery and has passed the Theoretical Examination.

It’s common sense, really

Many of the recipes that Dolly hand wrote into her homework book were published in 1914, when the New South Wales Education Department issued The Commonsense Cookery Book as the standard public school text. Extending its reach well beyond the classroom it is still in print today, with recipes such as mock cream, blancmange, steamed jam roly, seed cake and sago plum pudding, liver and bacon, Irish stew, steak and kidney pudding, and fricasseed rabbit miraculously surviving the test of time.

Dolly’s homework book indicates that the Plain Cookery curriculum strongly informed The Commonsense Cookery Book content. Her teacher, Jessie Rowohl (nee Bailey) was on the panel of senior teachers to finalise the recipes for publication.1

A lasting legacy

While there is no obvious evidence in Dolly’s work book (splatter marks on pages for example) that Dolly cooked any of these recipes at home, she continued to add to it long after she finished school, indicating that the book was used for ongoing reference. Tucked in between pages are recipes written on pieces of paper and at the back of the book are numerous recipes and household hints clipped from newspapers and carefully pasted in. Still treasured by Dolly’s family, we are grateful to her son and grandchildren who generously loaned us the book and allowed us copy all of its pages.

Over the coming months we will be researching how cooking was taught in schools in the early 1900s and testing recipes from Dolly’s homework book.


  1. Gail Clarkson, project manager centenary edition of the CSCB. ‘The Commonsense Cookery Book celebrating a century of publication’ Centenary celebration newsletter, Home Economics Institute of Australia (NSW Division) 2014.
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Anna Cossu

Anna Cossu


Inspired by wonderful history teachers and after her own foray as a high school teacher, Anna found herself drawn to the world of museums and heritage interpretation. In a 20-year career she has worked across a diverse field including visitor interpretation, education, and curatorial. Her great passion is people and their stories and how museums can best craft an experience that reveals something intrinsic and true of those lives and communities.


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