Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Nov 13, 2023

Before the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, food safety in commerce was a roll of the dice, and change was slow to come even after that. By 1912, though, a St. Louis woman named Miriam Coste Senseney had had enough of having to deal with stores that carried inferior products, and she took matters into her own hands. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content: Katie Moon, Food, Health and Wellness, Business, Politics and Government, Legal Matters, Women's History,  ———


Podcast Transcript: I’m Katie Moon, Exhibits Manager at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88.1 KDHX. ———

Do you have a 5-second rule in your house? That when you drop food on the floor, you can pick it up and eat it if it’s within 5 seconds? What about expiration dates? Will you drink milk after it’s marked expiration date? Now imagine walking into a restaurant, having no idea what standards the owners have for preparing or storing the food you’re buying. No expiration dates, no rules for safe-handling, no requirements for labeling or storage. ———

Before the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, this was what every customer had to deal with. But the federal law wasn’t a magical solution, and change was slow, with inconsistent and haphazard enforcement. ———

By 1912, one St. Louis woman had had enough of having to deal with stores who carried inferior products, and took matters into her own hands. As an active member of the National Consumer’s League, Miriam Coste Senseney took it upon herself to begin visiting food establishments throughout the city—grocery stores, restaurants, butcher shops, even candy stores. ———

But Miriam didn’t just visit—she judged. And her approval mattered. ——-

She aligned herself with the state’s official Food Inspector, who, like most state workers, had too many responsibilities and not enough staff. ———

As an unpaid volunteer, Miriam was able to fill that gap, and took her work incredibly seriously. Not only did she begin conducting her own inspections of St. Louis establishments, she also made sure that she was accompanied by a newspaper reporter. She rated each facility from 0 to 100 percent compliant, and only those with high numbers received membership in the League’s “White List” of approved businesses and had the honor of posting a sign in their window. ———

Miriam’s approval carried such influence that many business owners began cleaning and updating their shops as soon as they heard that she would be stopping by, knowing that a bad inspection could ruin their business but a good one could almost guarantee future success. ———

By 1915, Miriam had gathered a group of 48 dedicated women, all volunteers, who had been sworn in by city officials to serve as temporary city health inspectors. And just think, none of them would be able to vote for another 5 years. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Katie Moon and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.