COWLES, FLORENCE ABIGAIL (7 Apr. 1878 - 22 Aug. 1958), newspaper columnist, playwright, and cookbook author, worked on the editorial staff of THE PLAIN DEALER for 28 years, from 1917 until 1944.
Cowles was one of three children of Gustavus and Evelyn L. (Gridley) Cowles, a well-to-do Farmington, Connecticut farming family. In 1915 the local paper noted that Cowles, a “prominent granger, and playwright,” was moving west to Cleveland to take a job as “editor of the fancy work department” at the Plain Dealer. She was also to serve as secretary to W. G. Volpe, Sunday and Feature Editor of the paper.
In the 1920s, Cowles was living with her elderly widowed aunt, Emily Dickinson Moore (nee Cowles) in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, 1979 E. 105th Street. That neighborhood today is where CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY and the CLEVELAND CLINIC border each other.
Prior to her cookbook publishing career, Cowles produced several dramatic works including “Where the Lane Turned: A Rural Comedy Drama in Four Acts,” which was published in 1912 by the New York publisher, Dick & Fitzgerald.
She is most well known, however, for her cookbooks. Her 1928 cookbook, Seven Hundred Sandwiches, and its sequel, 1001 Sandwiches, both published by Little, Brown & Company, are frequently cited sources regarding the early development of American sandwich varieties. An abridged edition titled 500 sandwiches was published in London by Chatto & Windus in 1929. Cowles’ third cookbook, 400 Salads, published in 1944 and reissued in 1950 and 1954, was co-authored with FLORENCE LAGANKE HARRIS, another writer and editor at the Plain Dealer.
The reviews of her cookbooks were glowing. The New Britain Daily Herald’s review of Seven Hundred Sandwiches noted that it’s for every possible entertainment occasion, including a wedding and a Christmas gift. The March 1929 issue of Good Housekeeping reports that Seven Hundred Sandwiches is “the result of ten years of collecting recipes” and “Anyone who has ever been at a loss for ideas for sandwiches that are ‘different’ will appreciate how helpful such a book might be.”
Her cookbooks are cited multiple times in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America as sources of historical information about the origins of specific sandwich varieties.
From her first years at the Plain Dealer into the 1940s, Cowles was the author of a graphology column and a lovelorn column named "Loretta Joy." Eleanor Clarage wrote about Cowles’ graphology in her Plain Dealer column “Main Street Meditations” in September 1944: “Give her a page of handwriting and no secret is safe from her. Her discerning eyes analyze it minutely, seeing through pretenses and poses, going right to the heart of the character.”
Cowles initials, F. A. C. were signed to insightful reviews every week on the Plain Dealer Sunday Book page. Her multiple times a week column, "Your Name?" brought her more national attention. From Ulysses to Lucretia, Adam to Isabella, each column covered the origin and meaning of a name in detail. The late 1930s column appeared in papers across the country.
When Cowles retired in 1944, her colleagues at the Plain Dealer wrote about her for days. Their comments paint a clear picture of her character, as does the fact that she was always addressed as “Miss Cowles,” a clear sign of respect. Eleanor Clarage, in her Plain Dealer article from 16 Sept. 1944, penned a farewell tribute to Cowles:
“If you were a movie producer choosing characters, you would cast her in the role of the dowager duchess. She has the quality known as ‘presence.'"
“Her code of ethics is severe and uncompromising, yet she can forgive many major defections more easily than she can overlook a breach of manners. Her standards may be those of an earlier and happier era, but her alert mind is definitely geared to the present day and its problems. She can discourse with wisdom on politics, world events. She is shrewd, practical and fill of logic, with an impish sense of humor that pops out at the most unexpected moments.”
“W. G. Vorpe, Paul Bellamy, and Harlowe Hoyt praised her for her loyalty, her adaptability, her calmness under stress, her equable disposition, and the astounding fact that in all 28 years she had never missed a day.”
Cowles never married. After retiring from the Plain Dealer, she moved back to Connecticut. In August 1958, at the age of 80, she died in West Hartford Hospital. She is buried with her mother and father in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington.