Location #1: Heritage Hall at 2781 State Route 26, Cincinnatus, NY
From vaudeville to the iconic baker, “the second most recognizable woman in America,” Adelaide Fish Hawley Cumming, was born just around the corner in the sleepy town of Willet. Name not ringing a bell? Perhaps you’ll recognize her as the original Betty Crocker.
Born in 1905, Adelaide Fish attended school in Cincinnatus, New York. A bright student with a cheery demeanor, it was clear from a young age Adelaide was going places. She graduated salutatorian of her 1922 class. Scholarship in hand, she pursued a degree in piano and voice from the Eastman’s School of music in Rochester.
Suddenly the world was her oyster. After teaching for two years at the Alabama College of School of Music, Adelaide strapped on her dancing shoes for a career in New York City vaudeville. In 1935 her talents and intellect were recognized, and she began a 30-year career in broadcasting, including “The Woman Reporter,” Women’s Page of the Air,” and an MGM newsreel, “News of the Day.” The developing world of television couldn’t get enough of Adelaide. Along with appearances in “Fashions on Parade,” she began writing scripts and articles and even worked as an editor for respected publications.
In 1949, Adelaide, a divorcee and single mother (quite radical for the time), took on the role of Betty Crocker. A feminist before her time, Adelaide would continue to portray Betty Crocker for the next 14 years, all the while using it as a platform to champion women. “I am merely the manifestation of a corporate image,” she told autograph-seeking fans.
When General Mills unceremoniously dumped 59-year-old Adelaide for a younger, more modern woman, she thumbed her nose at them. Unstoppable, she attended NYU, earning a Ph.D. in speech education. Adelaide became a professor and continued to teach, shaping young minds, until just three days before her death, at age 93.
In high heels and an apron, Adelaide would continue to break through one glass ceiling after another, leaving her indelible mark in a man’s world. A champion for education, she used her notoriety as America’s favorite housewife to show young women what they were capable of with perseverance, bravery, and a sharp intellect.
Location #2: Willet Cemetery in Cincinnatus, NY
Adelaide never forgot her roots. She wrote to her Cincinnatus alma mater singing the praises of the teachers who helped light her spark.
“I am taking one Administration course which examines our theories of education. One of the required books, by Conant, extols the comprehensive High School at its best as the greatest medium of secondary education for a democracy. I could certainly agree with that, at least as Cincinnatus High School was, with you and Mrs. Rathburn and Mr. Coe as teachers. Somehow you gave us a real thirst for learning and I’m sure we all still have it. I know I do.”
Her hometown ties remained dear to her throughout the entirety of her life. She regularly sent holiday cards, maintained friendships with old classmates and teachers, attended the Annual Alumni Banquet, and even chose Willet cemetery as her final resting place.
1. Letter written by Adelaide Fish Hawley Cumming, reprinted in the Cortland Democrat, March 21, 1958