In 1890, a former slave named Nancy Green was hired to be the spokesperson for Aunt Jemima brand food products. Nancy Green was born into slavery in 1834 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1889 the creators of Aunt Jemima, Charles Rutt and Charles Underwood, sold the company to R.T Davis, who soon found Nancy Green in Chicago. The previous owners had already agreed upon her ‘look’ of a bandana and apron. Davis combined the Aunt Jemima look with a catchy tune from the Vaudeville circuit to make the Aunt Jemima brand.
As Jemima, Green operated a pancake-cooking display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, USA in 1893. From this point on, marketing materials for the line of products centered around the stereotypical. Anna Julia Cooper used the World’s Columbian Exposition as an opportunity to address how young African American women were being exploited by white men. She predicted the appeal of Aunt Jemima and the southern domestic ideal and went on to describe the north’s fascination with southern traditions as part of America’s “unwritten history”. Progressive African American women post emancipation saw Aunt Jemima’s image as a setback that inspired a regression in race relations. While Green was Aunt Jemima, flour sales soared, and she received a lifetime contract to serve as spokesperson. She was a living legend of the brand until she died in a car accident in September 1923.
No one portrayed Aunt Jemima for ten years following the death of Nancy Green. As for the image of Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green was followed by Anna Robinson, who’s image was changed to a painted portrait on the packaging of the mix. Next was Chicago blues singer and actress Edith Wilson. She was the first Aunt Jemima to appear in television commercials. After Wilson there was Ethel Ernestine Harper, a former school teacher and actress. The fourth Aunt Jemima was Rosie Hall who was an advertising employee at Quaker Oats until she discovered their need for a new Aunt Jemima. After she died, Hall’s grave was declared a historical landmark. Next, there was Aylene Lewis. She made her first appearance of Aunt Jemima in 1955 at the Aunt Jemima restaurant at Disneyland. The last woman known to appear as Aunt Jemima publicly was Ann Short Harrington. Harrington would make television appearances as the brand spokesperson in the New York area.
On 5 August 2014, descendants of Anna Short Harrington filed a lawsuit at Illinois Northern District Court against plaintiffs Quaker Oats and PepsiCo for $2 billion USD. The suit accuses the companies of failing to pay Harrington and her heirs an “equitable fair share of royalties” from the pancake mix and syrup brand that uses her likeness and recipes. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend on February 18, 2015.