An Accomplished Woman Leaves an Important Legacy to Bethel

In noting the death of America’s premier author on culinary and domestic topics on August 21, 1909, a nationally syndicated article stated, “No American woman has ever done more for the uplift of the American home than Maria Parloa.” Other articles touted how she had been the author of multiple cookbooks that had together sold over a half-million copies; how she was also a popular lecturer and had started two different cooking schools. A Brattleboro, Vermont newspaper proclaimed: “Miss Parloa did much to ennoble and dignify the work of the ordinary housewife by showing it in its true light as a science, and many a man who is burdened with college degrees, and sated with public applause, has done less for humanity at large than this quiet Massachusetts woman who elevated stewpans and kitchen stove to the dignity of a scientist’s laboratory.”

A month later, her adopted hometown of Bethel would come to realize that Parloa was not only an incredibly accomplished woman, but also a tremendously generous one when the provisions of her last will and testament were made public. The Newtown Bee on October 1, 1909, described the will’s provisions: “To the borough is left her library, (not including the volumes relating to cookery, or such books as had been presented to her) and all her book cases; also $2,000 in trust, the income to be used to assist in maintaining a library in Bethel. She also left the sum of $500 to go toward the purchase of an athletic field for the use of the young men of the town.” (The actual wording of the will uses the phrase “young people of the town” and not just the young men.)

The number of books donated would total over five hundred. The sum of $2,000 placed in trust would be equivalent to over $484,000 today. Miss Parloa’s bequest would provide the basis for establishing the Bethel Public Library, and to this day, she is viewed as that institution’s founder.

The $500 provided for an athletic field purchase would be equivalent to over $14,000 in current terms. A short time before Miss Parloa’s death, the town had initiated the construction of a playground at the corner of Blackman Avenue and South Street. With the funds provided in her will, additional land to the west would be purchased, filled, and graded.  Athletic fields would be established to take the place of wetlands that had formerly extended west to the banks of Sympaug Brook. The facility, now officially designated as Parloa Park, has been host to countless athletic events for more than a century and has enriched the lives of several generations.

The Mystery

As celebrated and esteemed as she was, in researching the life of Maria Parloa, it is astounding to find that no detailed narrative outlining the first 27 years of her life exists. Any biographical information that can be found merely states that she was born in Massachusetts on September 25, 1843, and that she was orphaned at an early age. No specific details regarding either of these claims have ever been supplied, and no known record has provided her parents’ names or an exact location for her birth. Furthermore, in searching the records of Massachusetts, there is absolutely no trace of Maria Parloa’s birth despite that state’s excellent reputation for maintaining comprehensive vital statistics.

Parloa can be found in U.S. Census records, but the information provided is inconsistent. In 1870, she was shown working at the Appledore House, a hotel located on the Isle of Shoals, Kittery, Maine. This is where most published accounts of her life pick up after a brief mention of her birth. In this census, her name is transcribed as Maria Parlow. She is shown as being 27 and employed as a domestic servant born in New Hampshire.

In the 1880 U.S. Census, one finds Maria Parloa, age 37, employed as a teacher of cookery, living at 171 ½ Tremont Street in Boston. This information is compatible with all published accounts of her life. However, in this census, Parloa now states that she was born in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire, as recorded ten years earlier. She further says that her father was born in Massachusetts and that her mother was born in New York.

The 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed by fire, but a Boston city directory from that same year shows Maria Parloa, teacher of cooking, living at 2 Wayne Street, which parallels other existing accounts.

The 1900 U.S. Census finds Maria Parloa living at 204 West 83rd Street in New York City. Her age is given as 56, and her date of birth is recorded as being September 1843. Once again, Parloa’s place of birth is recorded as Massachusetts. Her occupation is given as “Author - Domestic Service.” However, this time the data states that both parents were born in New York, contradicting the 1880 census account that stated that her father was born in Massachusetts.

When Parloa died in 1909, her close friend William V. Alexander, who served as the managing editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, supplied her death certificate’s personal and statistical information. In doing so, he stated that the author was born September 25, 1843, in Massachusetts. For line 13 of the document requesting “Birthplace - Town,” the words “Not Known” were entered. All information for lines 14 through 17 requesting information regarding her father’s name, father’s birthplace, mother’s maiden name, mother’s birthplace was all recorded as “Not Known.”

To lend even greater intrigue to her story is this remarkable observation made of Parloa by the newspaper The Kentucky Leader in 1893. “Her signature is not readily to be found appended to indorsements of articles of domestic ware or manufacture, and her portrait has been entirely withheld from the public. In fact, it may be said of Miss Parloa that she is one of the few public women of whom a portrait has never been seen in the public prints.” Since her death, only a handful of photographs of Parloa have come to light, and the majority of these examples seem to have been shared solely with her closest friends.

In light of the vague accounts of the author’s early life, the scant and contradictory information provided through census records and vital statistics, coupled with her hesitancy to have her portrait published, one begins to consider why this situation would exist, especially in the case of such a well-known figure. The question then arises: Was there something Maria Parloa was attempting to conceal?

One Possible Theory

At this point, it is only fair to state that much of the information that immediately follows is based on conjecture and is in no way definitive. Nevertheless, it is speculation based on the best information currently available. It presents a hypothesis for explaining the enigma surrounding Maria Parloa’s early years that has never been proposed in any previous account of her life.

When Parloa wrote her first work, The Appledore Cook Book, in 1872, she provided a brief outline of her previous cooking expertise. She stated, “Having had years of experience as a cook in private families and hotels, I know the wants of the masses, and feel competent to supply them.” From this one line is gained the fact that at least one family had employed her to assist with culinary responsibilities early in her career. Until now, no specific example of this type of employment has been documented. As stated earlier, most written accounts of Parloa’s life begin to include greater detail only after her engagement by The Appledore House resort sometime before 1870. However, an earlier piece of evidence may have escaped notice.

In the 1860 U.S. Census can be found Maria Parlo, age 16, working as a domestic servant at the home of Gustavus V. Fox and his wife, Virginia L. Fox, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (An 1859 city directory of Lawrence, Massachusetts, shows the more specific address of 11 Jackson Court.) The census was taken on June 20, 1860. If Parloa’s birth date of September 25, 1843, can be accepted, she would have been precisely 16 years, eight months, and 26 days old at this time. Parloa’s use of the term “private families” in citing her work experience clearly suggests New England’s well-to-do. Gustavus Vasa Fox and his wife, Virginia Woodbury Fox, would certainly qualify for this designation. In 1860, Fox was employed as the agent for the Bay State Woolen Mills. A graduate of both Phillips Andover Academy and Annapolis Naval Academy, he spent much of his early life pursuing a career in the U.S. Navy, including service in the Mexican-American War. In 1856, he left the navy to pursue a business career. Less than a year after being recorded in the 1860 Census, Fox was chosen by President Abraham Lincoln to serve as chief clerk to U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles. Later on August 1, 1861, he was promoted to Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Mrs. Fox was the daughter of a prominent judge and had a sister who married Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s U.S. Postmaster General.

In this instance, we have a young woman named Maria Parlo, who is the exact age Parloa would have been at the time, working in domestic service for a private family. One final piece of information in this individual’s 1860 census data may completely alter our knowledge of Maria Parloa’s beginnings. In column 10, recording each individual’s place of birth, one finds the word Ireland.

This entry in the 1860 U.S. Census may constitute the earliest evidence detailing the life of Maria Parloa, recorded here as Maria Parlo. The census-taker recording the information had a habit of not closing the loop in his “o”s as seen in the surnames Cole and Fox. As a result, has indexed the last name as Parle, mistaking the last letter for an “e.” (
Based on the 1860 U.S. Census, a sixteen-year-old Maria Parloa may have been employed as a domestic servant by Gustavus Vasa Fox, shown above. He became Abraham Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1861. (

The Irish Bridget

The 1860 census presents a domestic servant named “Maria Parlo,” while the 1870 census depicts a person of the same occupation identified as “Maria Parlow.” Both spellings of the surname are found in Ireland, primarily in County Wexford and County Limerick. The surname “Parle” is also seen in these areas as well. Accepting a birth date of 1843 would mean that Maria Parloa’s early life would have coincided with the Irish Potato Famine that lasted from 1845 to 1852. The account of her being orphaned at an early age may be the result of her parents falling victim to the famine’s effects. If she is indeed the individual represented in the 1860 census at age 16, she probably had only recently arrived in America. Coincidentally, the same census indicates that the Fox family employed only one other domestic servant at that time, Margaret Leary, age 20, who also listed her birthplace as Ireland. In fact, every one of the seven other domestic servants listed on the same census page is shown as a native of Ireland. In 1870, when “Maria Parlow” now claimed that she was born in New Hampshire, it is worth noting that 16 of the 24 individuals employed with her at the Appledore House hotel declared themselves Irish immigrants. Of the five female domestic staff members aside from “Parlow,” three were Irish immigrants.

One may find additional support for Parloa’s possible Irish roots in the statistics and demographics of the time.

The Irish were the only immigrant group in which women, especially single women, outnumbered men, and the only group that chose to migrate in primarily female cliques. Domestic service was by far the most popular career choice for these immigrants; in the second half of the 19th century, more than 60 percent of all Irish-born working women labored as servants. (1)

In the post-famine years between 1851 and 1921, 27 percent of the approximately 4.5 million Irish immigrants who came to the US were females ages fifteen to twenty-four, the cohort most likely to enter into domestic service. (2)

There were certainly benefits to accepting employment as a domestic servant. Irish domestics could earn 50 percent more than saleswomen, 25 percent more than textile workers; had no expenses for food, housing, shelter, heat, water, or transportation; as well as live in pleasant, middle-class neighborhoods, as opposed to the tenements occupied by factory workers. (1)

The occupation possessed undeniable drawbacks as well. Domestic service work was generally physically taxing, and included both long work days (usually 10-12 hours) and long work weeks (6-7 days) with limited time off. (3)

Perhaps even harsher than the grueling demands of the work was the stigma the profession carried with it. As the numbers of young Irish women employed in domestic service in the U.S. grew, a stereotypical representation of the Irish maid developed; she was characterized as inept, ill-mannered, and incompetent. She was seen as something of a buffoon. The name Bridget stuck to this version of the girl who arrived from Ireland and found herself willing and eager to work, but untrained for the duties and responsibilities she would face in the American household. (3)

This last statement regarding the accepted stereotype of Irish domestic servants may provide the most practical rationale for Maria Parloa to conceal her Irish roots. In the 1860 census, when she was just shy of her seventeenth birthday and new to America, she would not yet have formulated a long-range career path and therefore had no reason for disguise. Ten years later, in 1870, she would have been 27 and well acquainted with the anti-Irish bias prevalent in America. By this time, she may have aspired to use her considerable cooking and domestic management experience as a stepping-stone to more lucrative careers. Still, she knew that as an Irish immigrant, she would never be entirely accepted by the “Boston Brahmin,” New England’s wealthiest and most sophisticated social class that she had served for over a decade. (These aristocratic blue bloods made up the very same demographic she would one day depend upon to enroll in her classes, attend her lectures, and purchase her books.) She, therefore, may have begun the process of covering her tracks in 1870 by claiming to have been born in New Hampshire rather than Ireland.

There is evidence to suggest that Maria Parloa may have been an Irish immigrant who kept her true origins hidden. During Parloa’s youth, Irish domestic servants were often depicted as “untidy, careless, inept, ignorant and lacking common sense.” This cartoon produced in 1869 by Thomas Nast reinforces the stereotype. (

The Prevailing Spirit of the Times

It is difficult for anyone today to fully comprehend the extent of the anti-Irish Catholic sentiment that existed in America throughout much of the 19th century. Maria Parloa would have been well aware of the prejudice and resentment that had developed toward the vast influx of Irish immigrants that arrived in the wake of the Potato Famine. Some of the most blatant bias was centered in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Parloa is thought to be found in the 1860 census. It was cited as a particular hotspot and was the scene of an anti-Irish riot that took place on July 10, 1854.

The movement against the Irish became so strong that it gave rise to a new political party. The American Party, better known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” first emerged in 1843. Originally named the “Native American Party,” it was organized to prevent Irish Catholic immigration. Anti-Catholic activists formed secret groups to support their cause, and when asked about their activities, members were instructed to reply, “I know nothing.” The movement first made news in 1834 with the burning of a convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The Know-Nothing Party officially organized in New York and by the early 1850s was operating on a national basis. (4)

Although the Know-Nothings found their strongest support in the Southern states, the American Party experienced its greatest victory in the spring elections of 1854 when it swept the state of Massachusetts, carrying the popular vote in Boston, Salem, and other cities. Supporters were concentrated in industrial towns such as Ipswich, Haverhill, and Lawrence, where workers faced direct competition with new Irish immigrants. In the 1854 elections, the American Party gained control of all but three of the 400 seats, resulting in a Massachusetts legislature in which only 35 members had any previous legislative experience. (4)

Elsewhere in New England, anti-Irish hatred was equally intense. In Bath, Maine, on July 6, 1854, an angry anti-Irish Catholic mob burned a Catholic church to the ground. A year after the riot, on November 18, 1855, the Catholic Bishop of Portland attempted to lay the cornerstone for a new church on the same site, but the congregation was chased away and beaten. (5) Given this volatile political and religious atmosphere, it is understandable that more than one Irish immigrant may have wished to keep a low profile.

This cartoon of an unruly Irish domestic servant appeared on the cover of the May 9, 1883 issue of Puck magazine. It is estimated that in the second half of the 19th century, more than sixty percent of the Irish-born women in America found work in domestic service. (

Pursuing a Dream

In the years following her possible placement in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Parloa found work as a pastry chef in several grand hotels that catered to the wealthiest of “Old Yankee” families. In the preface of her first book, she seems to have placed them in chronological order. She included The Rockingham House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, The Pavillion Hotel, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, The McMillan House, North Conway, New Hampshire, and finally The Appledore House, Isle of Shoals, Kittery, Maine.  In the autumn of 1871, Maria Parloa enrolled in the Maine Central Institute to obtain teacher certification in elementary education and completed her course of study in two years.

A newspaper article published in the days following her death mentions how in addition to her teacher training, “she put herself in the hands of the best available teacher of elocution.” Given Parloa’s possible Irish origins, one wonders if this instruction included efforts to lose her native accent. Parloa’s determined work ethic allowed her to produce her first cookbook while still enrolled in the Maine Central Institute. She authored the book using the last name “Parloa” rather than “Parlo” or “Parlow.” This new variation, accomplished by simply adding the letter “a” to the spelling found in the 1860 census, may represent the first use of the surname she would utilize for the remainder of her life and signify one additional effort to conceal her nationality and beginnings. (Not surprisingly, the last name “Parloa” is exceedingly rare. In the 1880 U.S. Census, Maria Parloa is the only individual in the entire United States with that surname.)

In 1870 Maria Parloa was employed in domestic service at The Appledore House hotel on the Isle of Shoals, located just off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire. Here she would make essential connections that would assist her in the years to come. (1892 image) (

An Important Influence

When Parloa worked as a pastry chef at the Appledore House hotel, the ocean resort was frequented by an eclectic set of influential writers and artists. This group included Nathaniel Hawtorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Frederick Childe Hassam, William Morris Hunt, Celia Thaxter, and most importantly, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Parloa would form a connection with Stowe that greatly influenced the rest of her life. Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had made her an international celebrity and extraordinarily wealthy. In 1867, the author first visited Mandarin, Florida (now part of Jacksonville), and began to spend her winters there. She also helped her brother Charles Beecher establish a Freedmen’s Bureau school initiated by the federal government at the end of the Civil War to provide education for newly-freed Black and poor white people. In 1872 the school mysteriously burned. Stowe then launched a financial campaign to have a new school built, this time to be run by the local authority but still to service both Black and white students. During this same period, Parloa entered the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, ME, to enroll in “normal school” training that would allow her to obtain certification as a teacher. Shortly after graduation, Parloa left Maine and made a trek of roughly 1,400 miles to take a position as a teacher at the newly built Mandarin School in the incredibly remote and sparsely populated community on the banks of the St. Johns River that had become Stowe’s winter headquarters. The school was, in fact, located directly across the road from Stowe’s home. Parloa continued to live and work in Mandarin until the spring of 1877. (The preface to the second edition of The Appledore Cook Book is dated “Mandarin, Fla, April 6, 1877.”)

The 1870 U.S. Census shows Maria Parloa employed as a domestic servant at The Appledore House hotel, as seen on line 32. Here, her last name is spelled, Parlow. She specialized as a pastry chef and later incorporated recipes learned while working at the resort into her first cookbook, entitled The Appledore Cook Book. (
As a result of the culinary experience gained through working for private families and, more importantly, at the grand hotels of New England, Maria Parloa authored her first cookbook in 1872. She named it for the exclusive hotel where she had recently been employed. (

Maria Parloa attended the Maine Central Institute for two years, beginning in 1871. The preparatory school offered “normal school” training designed to produce teachers. Parloa’s will would leave the school a gift of $1,000 in 1909. (  

In examining this sequence of events, another mystery arises. At the age of 28, Parloa gave up her livelihood as a pastry chef to suddenly pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. Sources state that she enrolled in the Maine Central Institute in 1871 for a two-year course of study. She authored The Appledore Cook Book in 1872 at the end of her first year. The book was very well received, yet after her second and final year of education in 1873, she left Maine for the obscurity of Florida for nearly the next four years. (Parloa may have continued to work in New England resorts in the summer and return to Florida in the winter, following Stowe’s migration pattern.) Why would she make such a drastic move when there were undoubtedly more appreciable teaching opportunities closer to home? One explanation might lie in a possible quid pro quo arrangement offered by Stowe. In recognizing Parloa’s talent and abilities and desperately needing a teacher for her Mandarin School, the affluent Stowe could have offered to financially assist the 28-year hotel employee in obtaining her teacher training and publishing a cookbook in exchange for Parloa agreeing to teach in Florida for a set number of years. Such an agreement would have been similar to an informal indenture. None of this was ever explicitly spelled out by either woman, but the facts suggest that the path followed by Parloa at this time was more than mere happenstance.

From 1873 to 1877, Maria Parloa taught elementary school at the Mandarin School in Mandarin, Florida (now part of Jacksonville). The school building still exists and is today home to the Mandarin Community Club. Back in Time with Brett | Mandarin Community Club - Florida NewsLine

A Long and Prolific Career

In the summer of 1876, Parloa presented a talk on “Cooking and Digestion” in New London, Connecticut. Her purpose in providing the address was to raise funds for “a small cabinet organ” to be used by the Mandarin Sunday school. (In her 1873 work Palmetto Leaves, Stowe tells how the school’s previous organ was lost after she had left it stored in a closet the night the original Freedmen’s Bureau school was destroyed by fire.) Parloa’s first presentation was so well received that she was encouraged by many to do more of them. The ambitious and energetic thirty-three-year-old now saw a unique chance to combine her experience as a culinary expert and a teacher to embark on an entirely new career.

An excerpt from an article entitled “The Pioneers of Scientific Cookery,” published in the October 1910 issue of Good Housekeeping, provides a synopsis of the next few years following her first lecture in 1876.

“Friends who knew of her ability, both as a cook and as a teacher, advised her to open a cooking school, and she selected Boston as the field for her first effort. In May 1877, she gave four introductory lectures in Tremont Temple, and although she was out of pocket forty dollars, the interest in the lectures gave her courage to begin the school in October 1877, at 174 Tremont Street.” (Boston city directories indicate that at first, Parloa lived close by at 171 ½ Tremont Street. At the same address was a friend named Sarah Read, who had come with her from Mandarin and was enrolled at the Tremont Street school.)

“Miss Parloa gave generously of her services to many of the charitable organizations which opened classes for the poor in various parts of the city and suburbs. Classes came to her rooms from Lasell Seminary, and the next year, 1878, she gave lectures at that school and also at Miss Morgan’s school in Portsmouth, N.H. Lectures in many other cities and schools kept her time fully occupied, and the interest in the work seemed to be widespread. In the summer of 1878, she visited schools in England and France and in 1879 gave a course of lectures at the Assembly, Lake Chautauqua, N.Y.”

“Miss Parloa continued her school until 1882; then gave lectures in Chicago and other Western cities, and finally established a private school in New York.” (Municipal records indicate that Parloa bought property in New York City on October 6, 1882. The school formally opened the following month and was located at 222 East 17th Street.) In addition to traditional classes, it is worth noting that the school offered free cooking courses for immigrant women during the evening. The April 16, 1887 issue of The Woman’s Journal related an incident demonstrating the strength of character that made the ever-industrious culinary pioneer such a success. “Miss Parloa is a brave woman. At one of her cooking classes lately, something slipped, and boiling water ran over her hands. The pupils cried out, the lecturer did not change a muscle. She sprinkled the burns with soda, bandaged them with her handkerchief, and went on with the lesson, her hands swelling into puffy balls of pain before her hearer’s eyes, but not detracting her from her lecture, or causing a moment’s stoppage in her running fire of jokes.”

Despite her unflinching display, by this point in her career, the author was earning enough from the sale of her several cookbooks that she no longer needed to continue teaching. (A list of Parloa’s works is provided after this article.) The May 21, 1887 issue of The Woman’s Journal announced that the noted author would be closing the New York school. The Chicago Tribune added: “It is one of Miss Parloa’s pet grievances that women will not attend her classes to be taught to make bread, but that they insist on fancy dishes, which, in her estimation, are far less important to learn.” After leaving New York City, Parloa purchased a gracious home in the Roxbury section of Boston.

In the years following, the domestic authority would cease to slow her pace despite retiring from teaching. In 1891, she began to write regular articles for the newly-formed Ladies’ Home Journal, serving as the magazine’s domestic editor. Her home advice would be a staple of the magazine for the next eighteen years. At the end of 1893, Parloa left America for a lengthy stay in Europe. On January 3, 1894, The Standard Union of Brooklyn, New York, reported, “Last week Miss Maria Parloa sailed away from America for a residence abroad which will extend over a period of three years. Miss Parloa goes to Europe for a careful study of the domestic systems of France, England and Germany.” After enhancing her knowledge of British and continental cuisine for nearly four years, Parloa returned to the United States in 1898 and once again took up residence in New York City. In September of 1899, she attended the Lake Placid Home Economics Conference initiated by her fellow domestic authority, Ellen H. Richards.

Coming to Bethel

In 1903 Maria Parloa visited Bethel after having corresponded with Jennie Andrews Keeler of 51 Milwaukee Avenue. She was so enamored with the small town of 3,000 inhabitants that she purchased a large Queen Anne style home in September at what was then called 43 East Street and is now 8 Greenwood Avenue. Over the next six years, the author would make her home a popular gathering place and spearhead two civic organizations: the Village Improvement Association and the Currents Events Club. The first group did much to improve the appearance of public spaces throughout the town, especially the schools, by planting flowers, shrubs, and trees. The second group’s purpose was to establish a regular series of lectures and presentations often relating to domestic science, civics, and literature. Many of these symposiums took place at Parloa’s home, with elegant fare being served by the experienced hostess.

The September 23, 1903 issue of The Newtown Bee related how the famous cookbook author, Maria Parloa, had just purchased a home in Bethel. (
In September of 1903, Maria Parloa purchased this house at 43 East Street, now 8 Greenwood Avenue, and would make it her home until she died in 1909. This photograph shows the house as it appeared during her lifetime. (Courtesy of the Bethel Historical Society)

From December 31, 1908, to January 2, 1909, Parloa attended a conference in Washington, D.C. that resulted in the founding of the American Home Economics Association. The delegates to the conference staged a group photograph that featured Parloa at its very center. It may be the only photograph of her that was published during her lifetime.

The photo above was taken at a Washington, D.C. conference held between December 31, 1908, and January 2, 1909, that witnessed the founding of the American Home Economics Association. Her fellow pioneer in domestic science, Ellen H. Richards wrote: “In the picture taken at the McKinley School that day, she (Maria Parloa) will be found as the center of the group.” This photo shows Parloa just a few months before her death and may be the only image of her published during her lifetime. Cornell University Library Digital Collections Bookreader

In July of 1909, Parloa was once again poised to travel abroad, and the Current Events Club staged a reception in her honor at the Bethel Congregational Church. The local press reported the event by saying, “It was a delightfully informal affair and was in the nature of a farewell and “bon voyage” to Miss Parloa, who is soon to make an extended tour of Europe.” Two weeks before her scheduled departure, ill health caused her to postpone her trip. Parloa was diagnosed as having acute nephritis. A week later, on Wednesday, August 18, 1909, an operation was scheduled to improve her condition. Parloa must have been fully aware of the severity of her illness as she made out her last will and testament on the day preceding the surgery. The medical effort did not prove successful, and at just after 5:00 PM on Saturday, August 21, 1909, Maria Parloa died in her home at the age of 65. It was the exact date on which she had been scheduled to leave for Europe. On Tuesday, August 24, a private funeral service was held at her house that was attended by her many friends. Members of the Currents Events Club each placed on her casket a pink rose that had come from their friend’s own garden. At 10:30 AM the following day, another private service was held for the benefit of Parloa's Boston friends at Forest Hills Cemetery, where her cremated remains were later laid to rest.

The 1909 death certificate of Maria Parloa presents no information related to her specific place of birth or parentage. The primary cause of her death was acute Nephritis or inflammation of the kidneys. The secondary cause of death was choledochotomy, a surgical operation in which the common bile duct is opened, to search for or to remove stones within it. (Certificate is courtesy of Lisa Bergh, Bethel, CT Town Clerk)

Tributes to her life and work were printed in newspapers and magazines across the nation. The New York Times contained words that were especially poignant. “In private she was an honest, faithful friend, kindly fostering the endeavors of her younger imitators, and speaking well of her own contemporaries. Cheerfulness was her most evident characteristic, and although she had sorrows she bore them that only those very near her ever guessed their existence.” The Danbury Evening News expressed a similar sentiment: “As a neighbor, she found frequent opportunities for showing kindness. Indeed it seemed as if her chief thought was for others, and of her it may truly be said, she lived to make the world brighter and better.” Clearly, the young girl with puzzling beginnings had lived a life that positively influenced everyone who had come to know her both in person and in print.

The eleventh clause found in the last will and testament of Maria Parloa provides financial bequests to  Bethel for both the creation of a public library and the purchase of an athletic field.(

One Final Mystery

In researching the life of Maria Parloa, an intriguing statement was found in the brief account of her life presented in the encyclopedia, National American Biography (1999). In describing Parloa’s last years, the following summation is made. “She stayed active, participating in community beautification projects and sharing her home with two orphan girls. She died in Bethel.” In digging deeper, it appears that the words “sharing her home with two orphan girls” represent a misinterpretation of facts. The encyclopedia may have gained the information from a source that had said something similar to “During the last ten years of her life, Parloa shared her home with two different young women, both of whom had been orphaned as girls.” “Sharing her home” might tend to suggest adoption, but in reality, it represented employment. Probate records filed after Parloa’s death contain a sworn statement by her friend Jennie Andrews Keeler which reads, “I hereby certify; that from the best information obtainable that said deceased left no heirs at law and next of kin her surviving.”

To clarify the confusion, the fifty-six-year-old Parloa is found in the 1900 U.S. Census, living at 204 West 83rd Street in New York City. She shares her home with a single young woman of 27 named Sarah Hourigan, who had immigrated from Ireland just two years earlier and who was employed as a domestic servant. This woman is presumably the first orphan assisted by the famous author. If the speculation on Parloa’s beginnings is proven true, the case of her taking in an orphaned Irish female domestic servant will demonstrate a life that had truly come full circle. The second case of Parloa sharing her home with an orphan can be unquestionably documented. At the time of Parloa’s death, records indicate that Cora Salnave lived with her at her home in Bethel, likewise employed as a domestic servant. According to census data, Cora Pearl Salnave was born in Hornell, New York, in 1885 and raised at the Davenport Home for Female Orphan Children in Bath, Steuben County, New York. In her will, Parloa leaves Salnave “ten shares in the preferred stock of the American Steel Company.” Salnave would later marry, become a nurse and live out the remainder of her life in Bethel.

As stated earlier, some of the information presented here regarding the missing years of Parloa’s youth is speculative and cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. A much greater degree of documentation would be required to achieve any verifiable degree of certainty. Regardless of her heritage and origins, what can be established with absolute confidence is that Maria Parloa was a remarkably talented, ambitious, kind, and generous woman who struggled and persevered despite great odds to lead an impressive career that would enhance and inspire the lives of countless others.

Maria Parloa died in her Bethel home on August 21, 1909, at the age of 65. Her remains were cremated and interred at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts. This photo of her gravesite is believed to date to 1919.  (Courtesy of the Bethel Historical Society)


Works by Maria Parloa

●   Parloa, Maria. The Appledore Cook Book. Boston: Graves and Ellis, 1872. Second Edition (Andrew F. Graves), 1877. New Edition, 1880.

●   Parloa, Maria. Camp Cookery: How to Live in Camp. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1878.

●   Parloa, Maria. First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families. Boston: Houghton, Osgood, and Company, 1879. New and enlarged edition, 1882.

●   Parloa, Maria. Miss Parloa's New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1881. Revised edition, 1908.

●   Parloa, Maria. Practical Cookery with Demonstrations. New York Tribune Extra No. 85. New York: The Tribune, 1884.

●   Parloa, Maria. Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would Be Good Housekeepers. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1887.

●   Parloa, Maria. Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners.Boston: Dana Estes and Co., 1893. Second edition, 1894. Third edition, 1895.

●   Parloa, Maria. Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishing of the House. New York: Century Co., 1898.

●   Parloa, Maria. Chocolate And Cocoa Recipes by Miss Parloa, and Home Made Candy Recipes by Mrs. Janet McKenzie Hill. Dorchester, MA: W. Baker and Co., Ltd., 1909.

●   Parloa, Maria. Canned Fruit, Preserves and Jellies. Household Methods of Preparation. Prepared under the supervision of Experiment Stations, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chicago-Akron-New York: The Saalfield Publishing Co., 1917.


Read the 1872 first edition copy of “The Appledore Cook Book” by Maria Parloa online.



(1)  Hasia R. Diner, “Broom, Loom, and Schoolroom: Work and Wages in the Lives of Irish Women,” in Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983, pps. 84- 94.  

(2)  Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 581

(3)  Margaret Lynch-Brennan, The Irish Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840–1930. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009.

(4)  1854: Anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party sweeps Massachusetts elections – Historic

(5)  Henry De Courcy, The Catholic Church in the United States, TW Strong, 1856, p. 522

(6)  Marilyn Barber, Immigrant Domestic Servants in Canada, Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, 1991, p. 6

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