From Housewife to Breadwinner: Margaret Rudkin and the Story of Pepperidge Farm


Pepperidge Farm is one of the most well-known baked goods companies in the world, and it all began with a Connecticut housewife named Margaret Rudkin. In the midst of the Great Depression, Rudkin turned a loaf of bread into a booming business. 

Inspired by her youngest son’s health impediments, Rudkin set out to provide a healthy alternative to the over-processed breads that dominated grocery store shelves, and then she kept going. She went from baking thousands of loaves out of a barn in her backyard to building her own factory, was a prodigious product developer (think Goldfish and Pepperidge Farm Stuffing), sold her company to the Campbell Soup Company for what would be 237 million in today’s dollars, and became the first woman on its board of directors. 

Our guest, historian Edie Sparks, is the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at the University of the Pacific and the author of Boss Lady: How Three Women Entrepreneurs Built Successful Big Businesses in the Mid-Twentieth Century.



Nancy (03:30):
I am so happy you're here because, well, this began with reading your book, and I'm going to read the whole title and subtitle because it really does explain it all: Boss Lady: How Three Women Entrepreneurs Built Successful Big Businesses in the Mid-Twentieth Century, which already sounds like a non-sequitur. So today we're only going to focus on one of the women, Margaret Rudkin, but I'd really love to know how you became fascinated with finding these women, doing the voluminous amount of research you had to do to tell their untold stories.
Edie (04:30):
Yes. Thank you for your excitement about it. It's making me excited to talk about it again. It's been awhile since I've talked about the book. Um, well, in all honesty, it started with Tillie Lewis. I'm a professor at University of the Pacific and one of our three campuses -- the one on which I work -- is in Stockton, California, and that's where Tillie Lewis’s story started. So it was, um, from my colleagues who, bringing her to my attention as a local hero and story, that I first got interested in the possibilities of telling a story about mid 20th century business women. Um, my first book project was on small-scale female proprietors in San Francisco in the 19th century. So I was leaping ahead to a different time period. And then after I initially set out to tell the story of Tilly Lewis, what became clear is that would be a much better story if it was a comparative story.
Edie (05:25):
If I could find several women with something in common about starting businesses and look at them together. And so then it was a matter of first collecting ideas about potential other women that I could weave into the story. And then of course, as is always the case with history, were there sufficient sources to tell the story of the other women, right? So I came very close to not being able to tell the story of Margaret Rudkin, I'll say, because what was essential was a with her grandson who had a bunch of family records that were in holding at Fairfield -- I'm trying to remember --

Our historical museum.

Your historical museum, that's right. And I really needed to get his permission to be able to look at those records, to be able to use them for the book. And it was not, you know, I didn't know how that would turn out. So I'm very grateful to have been given permission to use those records for the book project. So that's a long answer, but that's how.
Nancy (06:28):
Okay, yeah. So our story with Margaret Rudkin begins, let's say 1937 is when she begins the business. Can you paint a picture of what it was like in America around that time and specifically what it was like for women going into business?
Edie (06:48):
Hmm. Well, of course, 1930s is the time of the great depression. So you might think, you know, my goodness, why would someone try to start a business in the 1930s? It actually is quite revealing about the experience of business women, because very often -- and this is the case if you're trying to study them in colonial American history, 19th century history or later, like we're talking about in the 20th -- often there was need behind women's entry into business. And certainly that was the case for Margaret Redkin. So she was married to a very successful stock broker who, like all people whose welfare was tied up with the stock market did not fare well with the crash of the stock market, right, in ‘29. Um, and so she really started to explore opportunities to make money for her family in conjunction with that historical moment. Um, so it actually tells you something really to understand that about women in business. I could say more about, you know, barriers and specific challenges, but I'll let you follow up with other specific questions.
Nancy (08:00):
Okay. Because, well, I think that's interesting about the financial need, because I would think some women, if their husband was about to jump out of a window because they lost all their money would just say, well, I need to find a new husband. I mean, that they wouldn't go think, well, I think I'll go make money for the family myself. I mean, that seems like already a big leap for a woman at that time. So I already bowed down to Margaret Rudkin for that thought. Um, let's go back to her childhood because we'll come to Pepperidge Farm being in Connecticut on that grand estate called the farm. Um, but first we gotta go back to her childhood to get some sense of where did this woman get her drive from.
Edie (08:47):
Yeah. It's um, you understand a lot, I think just knowing that she was the oldest of many, many children. I can't remember it was six or eight now. Um, and that she was really a key part of her family's ability to survive really, financially and within their household. So her mother really relied on her to help with caretaking for the very young children in the family -- the family, they were an Irish immigrant family and, uh, living in New York -- and like so many others at the time took in boarders to also make ends meet for the family. So not only did she help take care of younger siblings in the family, but she also helped to provide the meals and so forth that were typically a part of the expectation when a family had boarders staying with them as well. Um, and then as soon as she was done with high school, she went to work and she, that income that she earned contributed to her natal family's welfare, right, the family she was born into, all the way up until she left that house, which was when she moved in -- and when she married and moved in -- with Henry Rudkin.
Nancy (10:07):
And those jobs she took were, I mean, she said I was always good at math and she, and she did math-based jobs.
Edie (10:17):
Yes. Her job at the bank in particular clearly had an important impact on her. So she liked, um, interacting with customers; that was really influential. And she referenced that later and that's right. She was very confident in her ability to work with numbers and financials. And even though that task was delegated -- I'll use that verb very deliberately -- to Henry Rutkin in the business, it's that, we should not conclude from that, that she was incapable of doing that. She actually was really articulate about how much she really knew exactly where the business stood financially at all times. And she was very proud of that.
Nancy (10:58):
Yeah, she would say that all the time. So she's now worked in the stock brokerage house, Henry Rudkin as a boss, she marries -- here's the storybook -- she marries the boss, they buy 125 acres in Fairfield, Connecticut, my hometown, where I literally lived down the road from the Rudkin family. Um, and then we cut to the great origin story of what becomes ta-da: Pepperidge Farm.
Edie (11:33):
Yes. So how did it start? Is that what you're asking?
Nancy (11:35):
Yeah. Right there was that little boy-
Edie (11:39):
A little boy. That's exactly right. Um, yes.
Nancy (11:43):
And she had, what, three sons at this point, right?
Edie (11:46):
Three sons and the youngest one purportedly had asthma and she was researching ways to, through nutrition and diet, make changes for him that might improve his health. And it was in that investigation that she discovered, through recommendations with the doctor that she was working with, the advantages of certain diet changes. Really she explored, for example, paleo diets -- something we would today call paleo diet -- but it was stone ground wheat, sort of, you know, going back to really old fashioned standards, I'd say with wheat and her grandmother's Irish grandmother's bread recipe, that was the foundation. And she started to experiment with that because of her son, to help improve his health. Um, and then showed it off to the doctor who couldn't believe that she had managed to make a bread that was so tasty and so helpful. Um, and it was through really him planting, I think the seed, this idea that, wow, other patients would benefit from this. And then it grew from there.
Nancy (13:02):
And he said, make some more loaves that I can give to my patients, because if it helped your son, this bread will help other people. And it was really a health food bread.
Edie (13:13):
Yeah, that's exactly right. And the really earliest marketing materials for the company make that really clear that that's how they, that's how they marketed it. Eventually their marketing strategy really shifted. Um, but yes, absolutely. It was focused on health, and the early records indicate to the degree to which she was in correspondence with a variety of different doctors and, you know, sending it through the mail to their patients at their request.
Nancy (13:42):
Yeah. So in that way, she really was not just a baker. There was a bit of the mad chemist trying to put together the ultimate recipe with all the ingredients that would make for a healthy bread, which also then brings us to the fact that it was a pricey bread. I mean, it was high end, as they say.
Edie (14:06):
Yeah, it was absolutely. And she joked at the beginning that her first loaf should have been in the Smithsonian as like a rock or something cause it was so terrible. So yes, they get over it's kind of -- the mad chemist experimenting helps to capture that, certainly.
Nancy (14:21):
And then the price, the price point. I mean, there was a store in Fairfield even when I was growing up called Mercurios and way before my time, Mrs. Rudkin goes down from her place, goes down to Mercurios with this bread and says, well, I'm charging, what 25 cents more than the market up to that point? And he said, that's crazy. And she said, well try it. She always, sampling is always a good thing. And he said, okay. And the rest is history.
Edie (14:56):
That's exactly right. Yes. Somewhere in the book, I can't remember where I have it, but somewhere in the book was this great quote that they conceptualized it as a well bred, B-R-E-D, bread. So it, you know, the bread for the, for an elite audience. And so it was partly a super smart pricing strategy that you convey quality by pricing it higher and distinguishing your product from the rest of the marketplace.
Nancy (15:24):
Which was already a big marketing coup, that she went with a higher price and didn't bring it down or defend it. She said, this is what it takes to have this kind of premium product.

Yes, that’s exactly right.

Then, first she's making it in her kitchen. Then she goes out to one of the stables on her property. And we need to say that this, um, Pepperidge Farm was an estate. I mean, it had been an old farm, but really when the Rudkins were there, it was a quite grand, but there were still outbuildings. So she then starts, she goes out to a stable that doesn't obviously have horses in it, puts some baking equipment in it and begins doing as many as 4,000 loaves a week that she's selling, and she's doing it in this stable. Okay. Then one day she goes, okay, enough of this stable, this is getting too big. And I love this part because the factory is really lovely to look at. I mean, from it's, it's a lovely structure, and she decides she's going to go build this thing. And I'd love for you to talk about how she planned it.
Edie (16:43):
Yeah, that's right. She was very involved in every detail. Um, and I'll just add before we move on to that topic, that while she was baking the bread on her own property, she was relying on neighbors, family members, that she was hiring as the earliest employees -- I gather we'll talk about her employees eventually -- members of the Ferentz family in particular from the area. So when she moves to the, to a factory, she, well, I'm thinking in particular of the custom design factory that was the second location, that she moves off of her own property. So, and that, that is delayed a bit because of the war, but when she's able to move into that factory, yes, she has prescribed exactly, I can even imagine, you know, if she had had access to the present day tools we have today, she would have carefully sketched and scoped exactly the production process for this company and had a graphical image of what happens and exactly in what order. And so she clearly had conceptualized all of those steps and told the architects, don't you dare change any of these prescriptions that I have here for how the space is designed, because this needs to stay exactly how I've indicated, because that's how the production process needs to occur.
Nancy (18:03):
Yeah. She said to the architect, just do it the way I’ve sketched, do as I say. This woman knew what she wanted. And part of that, back to the women, was this hand kneading. Meanwhile though, the white bread that the consumers were getting in their grocery stores then was really white bread, commercially produced. And she wanted a commercially produced, now that she's moving into a factory, commercially produced bread that was still homemade. Yeah. And that is why her production facilities were so important to her because it wasn't anything anyone had seen up to that time.
Edie (18:44):
Yeah, hand kneaded was the key. That was kind of the whole, it was the secret recipe and then hand kneaded and importantly, hand kneaded by women. And this was one of the distinctions for her in the marketplace as well. So she's leveraging these kind of stereotypic ideas: that quintessential bread, you know, kind of the old-fashioned, real high quality bread has to be made by women because women have these inherent abilities to do domestic tasks better and to bake better bread, right? And the commercial bread industry was staffed almost entirely by men. So while this is a throwback to previous gender roles, it's actually a distinction from all other commercial bakeries at that time. And it was, you know, the facility, the hand kneading, the women was such a distinction. She actually ran tours through the factory because that was of interest to consumers to come and see how this was all done. She made sure no one ever found out the recipe. She really saw that and protected that really carefully. But, yeah, she brought them in to see the production.
Nancy (19:55):
I remember The New Yorker did a profile of her and the reporter said when he went into the factory that he saw a battery of elderly women who do nothing all day, but knead dough with their bare hands. It was astonishing. And then later this is a quote from her, from Margaret Rudkin herself, in an interview with the AP in 1943 -- so she's six years into the business, let's say -- “Look at what a bunch of women over 40 have done. Uh, none of us had training or business experience. Most of us have children and home responsibilities, but we're running this business and making it pay.” Wow.
Edie (20:48):
Yeah, right. She referred to those women in her business as girls, even though they were grown women.
Nancy (21:00):
That was of the time.
Edie (21:03):
That's right. That was a sort of class inflected phrase to use for her employees. And she, we can talk about all the ways that she really deliberately facilitated a sense of family and community among all of her employees as a smart business strategy, certainly. And she was very proud that this business really employed all these women and distinguished itself from the others.
Nancy (21:32):
Is it true that she gave them flexible time or is that apocryphal? I read that somewhere that women who wanted to work in the morning so they could get home for their children coming home from school. I just wondered if you had come across anything that confirmed that.
Edie (21:53):
Yeah, I'm not recalling anything about schedule. It is the case that she, there were sort of carefully scripted plans for gift giving for employees for them to feel appreciated and sort of acknowledgements of important family events in their lives. There were baby gifts, there were wedding gifts, et cetera. I don't recall anything about accommodating schedules like that. I don't know if you're gonna ask me about pay.
Nancy (22:30):
I would like to ask about pay because I was -- was this true that she didn't pay the women as much as the men?
Edie (22:37):
It is true, that's right. One of the really interesting, and I had to really wrestle with this a little bit myself, one of the really interesting insights from this research, if, you know -- I mean, I consider myself a feminist. I was super excited to discover, well, what's it like, what's, what's different about women running these businesses at this time. And, we often assume that they're going to be, and we want them to be more progressive when they come to the policies for women in those companies, right? For the employees in those companies. And that was not the case for any of the three women that I researched at this time. There were differential pay scales for men and women, advantaging male employees at all three of the companies. And their labor policies very much resembled the standards of the day for manufacturing companies at that time. They engaged in the term historians and scholars use as “welfare capitalism.” They certainly engaged in welfare capitalism in the middle of the 20th century, meaning they invested in employees. They created benefits, programs, and packages: appreciation for their employees in ways to keep them happy and keep them un-unionized. And Rudkin was very proud of the fact that Pepperidge Farm never unionized during her time. That's right.
Nancy (24:13):
Well, that kind of schism between, you know, a woman who was banging the drum on behalf of women, which she did both, um, uh, in her own company, but also to the press, she also then would sometimes speak to the corporate world, the business world. I meant, for instance, we were talking about her document with, um, with money. And this is when she said, “Figures have always been easy for me. Right this minute, I can go out to Cliff, he's the controller, and say, ‘What's the cash balance?’ And I can tell offhand if it's correct. Yeah. Now the next line, “The average woman, of course, can't even balance her checkbook.”
Edie (25:04):
Yes, right.
Nancy (25:04):
But there It is. Um, so we have to say it was of that time. And I don't know that there are women now running big companies who don't have a side conversation that might be a little bit different, um, to the employees versus, you know, the board.
Edie (25:23):
Yeah. I mean, part of what's interesting and it took me a while to conceptualize what the final chapter on women's self-worth would look like, but I knew I needed to explore this idea of self fashioning, their kind of status and their position in the business world. And that was, uh, you know, that was very difficult to carve out at that time for all three of them. They all did it in very different ways, but they did it importantly in, in clearly deliberate ways and, and they had to do that. So, um, I'd say, you know, that comment that you just brought up is regrettable on the one hand, right. You're sort of shocked and dismayed that she would make a comment like that about other women. And she's earning the trust of investors and of colleagues in the field, right. Of competitors, of employees, that's part of her job. And so, you know, that's a device to help her accomplish that. Yeah.
Nancy (26:25):
Yeah. And I think she probably was aware of that, seeing how smart she was.

Edie (26:28):
Oh, yeah. That was very deliberate.

Nancy (26:30):
Right. We'll go back to other fabulous things. She did. Um, can I quickly just say one of my favorite things that she did and tell me if this is correct too, that the bread, because it was premium bread, it was fresh bread, had a two day shelf life. So, bread had to be returned if it was unsold. So now imagine all these loaves are coming back and sold and dun dun dah!

Edie (27:00):

Nancy (27:03):
Stuffing, yes! Tell that, tell that, tell that story.

Edie (27:05):
Yeah. No, I, that was really an interesting aha for me, it was such a smart invention to say, well, let's just dry it out further and then sell sort of pre-packaged kits for making stuffing. And then, of course, came, you know, marketing to, to say, you can use stuffing. And, you know, you could be aware of this today with the current stuffing brands today. It's not just for Thanksgiving, it's for, right, a roast chicken or Sunday dinner, whatever other opportunities were for stuffing. So, yes, that was one of her innovations and we cook those. So it's very smart
Nancy (27:38):
I mean come on, that is so ingenious, ingenious. And I think it really only, it would only a woman would have thought of that. I just think it's great. And they called it instant stopping. Cause it was in the bag and there's something at Thanksgiving time, like 89% of all us households are using Pepperidge farm stuffing to this day. Okay. So let's, I just want to jump ahead. The year is 1960. That's the year that the company sold to the Campbell soup company. So she cashes out, which I think that's pretty great too. Um, first woman to go on the board of Campbell soup, but also that year is when she goes up to Harvard business school, which as I told you, Edie, I now tell everyone I see this particular anecdote that you have in your book. So there's two parts to it that I hope you could talk about.First of all, what the title of the talk was going to be. And if you don't remember, I've got your quotes right here.

Edie (28:27):
Please do, and I'll comment on them!

Nancy (28:30):
Okay. And then the next part is the speech itself. So she's at a dinner party as these things happen. And there's a professor from Harvard B-School who goes, why don't you come and give a talk? And let's also remember that this is before women have been admitted. So it is all men. So this professor who's invited her to speak, says, he thought titling her talk to his MBA class, “Anything I can do you can do better” was appropriate. She preferred, “You never can tell.” “The distinction,” this is Edie speaking now, “was an important one, while the professor's conception was gendered and hinged on the idea that Harvard-trained businessmen could learn from and improve on Rudkin’s successful strategies, Rudkin, instead position herself as an embodiment of the American free enterprise system, In which anyone, not just highly educated, privileged few,” oh man, “could achieve great success in business.”
Edie (29:48):
Yeah. Wow. Isn't it amazing? That's one of my favorite moments for sure. And all the research and in the book that I get to write about that. And let me just set the scene for listeners. So you can imagine if you've never been to Harvard, it's gilded, literally. Um, the research that I did in the Harvard business school one summer really taught me that. Um, so it's, uh, it's an incredible place of privilege. And you can imagine being in a lecture hall filled with male students, sitting in kind of, you know, stadium style, style seating, uh, the professor, who's a very famous professor. As I recall, he had a background even in the military before he came into this position. Um, you know, probably up on the stage or something, maybe with some other important people from the business school, she'd very likely was the only woman in the entire lecture hall. Um, and you know, you can, you really need to imagine the courage and the gumption and the, um, strategy and the intentionality in her carving out that alternative position, uh, relative to all these men and relative to the topic that she'd been asked to talk about. It's very, very remarkable.
Nancy (31:04):
Remarkable. Yeah. And then when she gets up on that dais, the first thing she says, I'm surprised too, to be here, actually talking to you all these young men who have been told by all these professors, just how to do everything. And all I have to tell you is to throw away the book.
Edie (31:29):
Yes. Right. Which is really remarkable because then she's actually taking a stab at the legitimacy of the entire enterprise that Harvard business school is involved in. Right?.
Nancy (31:44):
Yes And she is saying, okay, you have all these B school books and these courses, I have lived experience. I'm the one who went out and created this multimillion dollar company and the first woman to be on this board. Um, it's just remarkable. Remarkable. Um, okay. So then another thing she does, she was brilliant, brilliant at branding. I mean, she used that farm, that farm, that to be the, the brand, um, that everything was being made homemade. Old-fashioned the way America used to be. I mean, she just played that for, you know, for what it's worth. And she then brilliantly does the Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm cookbook, which you say was the first cookbook to land on the New York Times bestseller list. Not on some cookbook lists, on the New York times bestseller list.

Edie (36:05):
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, spectacularly successful, New York times bestseller. And what she brilliantly does is to really integrate carefully curated, I would say components of her biography and the sounding of the company with recipes. And she also, um, selects an illustrator for the book who had been well-known for illustrating children's books, um, and has, um, uh, you know, drawings, not photographs. So that of course, um, helps to underscore this sort of homemade old fashioned, um, ethos of the brand and all of that is captured and packaged and celebrated in this cookbook. So it, um, is a big contribution to expansion of brand recognition for Pepperidge Farm.
Nancy (37:06):
Yeah. That cookbook, which as you say, goes on the New York Times bestseller list. And it's, this is back in the old days when there was one Bestseller list. So she was a cookbook with all the real books. Um, it made them a household name if they weren't a household name already, that became, that made them one. And I want to just go back to the fact that, you know, when you're an entrepreneur, you are obsessed. So she would go traveling, you know, presumably let's take a break, Margaret, you know, let's have a nice vacation. And it seemed like whatever country she went to, she would be hauling back new machinery. She would have made a deal like she would eat this cute little, frilly, thin cookie, which I guess becomes the Brussels cookie or that wonderful, I used to eat like boxes on them. Um, she comes back and she starts their distinctive cookies collection.
Edie (37:56):
Yes. Yeah, that's right. And, and you're right to say that, you know, maybe once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur, so she's, she's just constantly coming up with new ideas and opportunities to extend the brand and bringing those back in and introducing them at the company. So her, you know, frozen pastries, Right. And introducing that as a whole new phenomenon where you have these really sophisticated desserts that someone can then just pop in the oven. Um, that's all her constantly thinking about ways to, to really extend this idea of high-end baked goods.
Nancy (38:37):
Homemade. And then: Goldfish crackers. There's not a kid alive. And that began as a cocktail, a snack that she discovered in another country, which is escaping me at the moment. But again, she was on it.

Edie (38:44):
I think it might have been Switzerland.

Nancy (38:46):
Yeah, Switzerland. Again, she was on a vacation with goldfish, really cute. She bought the rights. She really knew about rights. She bought the rights and she came, she came back. Talking about, um, the obsession it takes to be an entrepreneur. One of my favorite anecdotes about her is her figuring out time. She sat down and figured out how much time her husband and her three sons were spending on the golf course each week. It came out to 22 hours. And she basically said, boys, is this really a good use of your time? And at the same time she clocks how long it takes her. She goes, I can whip up a cake in 15 minutes. And I know that because I time myself. I mean, she was, she was purposeful. She did not play golf, right? She was not going to Junior League.
Edie (39:49):
She's an efficiency guru, I would say. Right. I mean, that's partly what gives us insight into how much that would help someone engaged on the production end of a manufacturing business. So she really works that, um, not work that, applies that to the advantage of the company.
Nancy (40:11):
And what do you think her biggest legacy is?
Edie (40:14):
Well, that's a big question. Um, I mean, I mean, she, she left us brands that are iconic, that continue, you know, flavor blasted goldfish is on the top of my shopping list if my kids have anything to do with it to this day. So, you know, she left us with brands that are meaningful products that are meaningful, but I, I, you know, for those that know about her, and I hope my book make some contribution to this, understanding the way she and the small number of others carved a place for themselves in this really, um, male dominated corporate American world, I think is really important. And of the three women that I study in the book, she's the only one that anyone's ever heard of. I almost always get asked, “Oh, is it anyone I've ever heard of?” And, um, the one thing I could always say is, “Well, you've probably heard of Pepperidge Farm,” and Margaret Rudkin is one of them and their response without fail is, “Oh my gosh, a woman started that business?” And so that is a big deal. You know, I, once it's, I, I once I was at the career fair for my daughter's middle school, where they invite people from a variety of professions to, um, do a little display and talk to kids. They were amazed. They were amazed to have that conversation. So I think that's a legacy. That's an impact for young people to know that.

Nancy (41:40):
And that is still stunning, that a woman did that.

Edie (41:40):
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.
Nancy (41:40):
And, she did have a husband who was helping her out, but really at the end of the day, there was nothing that she didn't have her hands on, nothing. Um, and I'd like to close with, um, someone asked her, was she going to retire? And she said, “Nobody's going to retire me to a rocking chair and shawl, they'll have to tie me down first. That sort of thing may have been all right for Whistler's mother, but not for Maggie Rudkin.”
Edie (42:15):
Yes, yes. Yeah. I think it's really only her health that makes her slow down in the end.

Nancy (42:15):
Oh, I know, that was so sad!

Edie (42:15):
Yeah, yeah. I mean I think that if she could have kept going that's what she would have done because, um, it clearly was energizing for her to stay engaged, to innovate, to make a contribution. And, you know, the, the advertising records, the Ogilvy advertising records that were such an important source for me for, um, the book project. Boy, do they give you a good insight to that. I mean, she really kept working herself in and they kept trying to work herself out, tried to work her out, and they really tried to control the story and the image and, um, you know, she really understood that, that she, um, needed to be listened to.
Nancy (43:05):
Well, yeah, well, that she knew the brand better than anyone and to what Edie just said, I mean, she had eventually, well too soon, um, in her 60's died of cancer. And when she's sick, she writes a note to David Ogilvy. Who's running Ogilvy advertising, of course at that point and says, “All the boys, my husband and the sons are trying to keep me away from the business. But I am watching every penny, I know what's going on.” And she was still doing it, even from her bed.”
Edie (43:36):
Yeah, absolutely. And the internal, um, correspondence between Ogilvy executives about her is just fascinating. How they kind of manage the situation is really interesting.
Nancy (43:54):
Okay. That's a sidebar because that's both, um, respecting someone who really knows their brand, and then also, um, a little side talk about, I mean, they, they probably would've liked it if that woman would stay out of the way and she would not stay out of the way. Uh, and that hasn't changed any. Well, Edie, this has just been a pleasure. And, um, we'll talk about your book in a, in another segment because it's such a significant contribution you've made, uh, to women's history, um, women's studies and certainly to business. So I thank you for that.
Edie (44:28):
Thank you. Thank you, Nancy, I really appreciate your enthusiasm. It's been really fun to talk to you about it. Thank you for your great questions.



  • The humble beginnings of Pepperidge Farm, from Rudkin’s son’s health issues to her “Health Bread” solution, thus giving way to Pepperidge Farm.
  • The effect of the Great Depression on Rudkin’s family, and Rudkin’s decision to pave the way financially for her family, foreshadowing the beginning of Pepperidge Farm. 
  • Rudkin’s efforts at balancing being a female boss while having to uphold the expectations of being a woman in the mid 1900s.  
  • Rudkin’s genius behind various Pepperidge Farm products, such as their infamous Goldfish Crackers and innovative Stuffing Kit.
  • The ideas behind and the execution of the Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. 
  • The remarkable legacy left behind by Rudkin. 


Edie Sparks

Edie Sparks, PhD is the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Associate Professor of History at the University of the Pacific, a private, comprehensive, national university in the Central Valley of California. She specializes in the history of women in business and is the author of Capital Intentions: Female Proprietors in San Francisco, 1850-1920. In her second book, Boss Lady: How Three Women Entrepreneurs Built Successful Big Businesses in the Mid-Twentieth Century, she examines the history of three women who founded manufacturing companies in the U.S. during the 1930s and recognized as leading executives by the 1960s and 70s when all of them became the first female board members of the corporations to which they sold their companies. A special interest of Dr. Sparks is nurturing women’s leadership. This grows out of both her scholarship and experience while Senior Associate Dean at Pacific for six years. She enjoys traveling, watching movies and laughing with her two daughters and husband and entertaining friends.