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I Found Her in the Archives: Woah, Nellie!

Sep 13, 2012 by Sarah Poniros

The Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections is quite an interesting place.  We enter with one specific question and leave having uncovered a web of information.  It is almost certain that you will find far more than what you were looking for. 


In researching some Cuneiform tablets donated to the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, I went to the archives to learn more about the donors.  I began with Miss Nellie E. Goldthwaite, not expecting to find much.  She was a chemistry professor at MHC for three years in the early 1900s and her donor file at the museum was completely empty save for a note that she attached to the object describing its inscription.  At the archives I didn’t find a single thing that connected her to the Art Museum.  But I did find a small newspaper clipping, no bigger than two square inches, naming her as a life-long member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for “discovering the active principle in the making of jelly that is utilized in the manufacture of commercial dessert powders.”  I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  If Nellie invented Jello, why haven’t I ever heard her name before?  


So, as any twenty-first century college student would, I turned to Google.  Every single source I read credits Paul B. Wait as the creator of Jello in 1897.  But poor old Paul doesn’t have any recognition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He is only credited with adding fruit syrups to the gelatin powder that Nellie discovered.  To that point, Nellie also has several publications on the chemistry of cooking including The Principles of Jelly-Making (1912).  

Outside of the Mount Holyoke Archives, Nellie E. Goldthwaite is no one.  She barely has any credit for any of her achievements and no one seems to notice that she was clearly a crazy awesome chemist of her time.  So, let’s give this woman some credit where credit is due!  On behalf of college students everywhere, thanks for inventing Jello, Miss Goldthwaite.



Thanks so much for sharing that. Truly in the spirit of Mount Holyoke!

Posted by Sonali Ravi on September 19, 2012 at 11:28 AM EDT #

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