Families of Aunt Jemima Models Demand More Action Be Taken

by Halle Ames

Families of Aunt Jemima models demand more action be taken than just a change of name and photo.

Lillian Richards and Anna Short Harrington served as models in the early 1900s for the famous breakfast brand, Aunt Jemima. After a call for a change of the name and logo, both of which were seen as out-of-date and racist, the families of the woman say the changes are not enough.

The Legacy of Aunt Jemima

The most recent image of Aunt Jemima features a smiling woman wearing pearl earrings as well as a necklace.

Vera Richards Harris, Lillian Richard’s great-niece, says that she would like to see her great aunt, along with the other model’s names, be etched into the bottle. The bottles now say Pearl Milling Company with a small image of a factory. There is no nod to the women who were the icons of the brand for so long.

Harris says that she does not want money, only recognition to honor the women. She added that she doesn’t want their contributions to be forgotten.

Still Not Enough

As for Wanetta Cowan, the great-granddaughter of Anna Short Harrington, she feels as though her family deserves some compensation. In addition, Cowan says that the company has racked in a fortune off Harrington’s image. Now she says they are turning their cheek on them. She thinks the descendants of Aunt Jemima models deserve royalties for the logo.

“We have fought for years for royalties and recognition to no avail. Hearing that the name Aunt Jemima and the image of Anna Harrington will finally be removed from products feels like you are trying to erase a part of our history without proper compensation. As living descendants, we are demanding that Anna Harrington be properly memorialized. We are demanding that proper royalties be paid to the family.”

A cousin of Wanetta Cowan took legal action for the royalties associated with the images years ago but lost.

As for the change of names from Aunt Jemima to the Pearl Milling Company, the PepsiCo company said the name honors a small mill in Missouri.

“It is the start of a new day: Aunt Jemima is now Pearl Milling Company. Though the Brand is new to store shelves, the name itself has been a part of our story for over 130 years. Pearl Milling Company was a small mill in the bustling town of St. Joseph, Missouri. Using a pearl milling technique, they produced flour, cornmeal, and, beginning in 1889, the famous self-rising pancake mix that would go on to be known as Aunt Jemima.”