Margaret Fogarty Rudkin did not set out to become one of the most successful businesswomen in the country when she baked a single loaf of bread in 1937 in her Fairfield, Conn., kitchen. She was merely trying to find a solution to her son’s severe allergy problem that prevented him from eating commercially available bread. Nevertheless, her entrepreneurial drive and business acumen resulted in the founding of Pepperidge Farm Inc., one of the largest baking companies in the United States, with headquarters located in Norwalk, Conn.
Margaret Fogarty was born and raised in New York City, the oldest of five children. After graduating valedictorian of her high school class, she went to work on Wall Street, where she met and married broker Henry Rudkin in 1923. Six years later, the couple built a house in Fairfield and named it Pepperidge Farm after an old pepperidge tree located on the property. During the Great Depression, the Rudkins supplemented their income by selling apples from their orchard and turkeys raised at Pepperidge Farm.
In addition to the financial challenges of the Depression, the Rudkins were faced with the medical issues of their youngest son, who suffered from severe allergy-induced asthma. On the advice of her doctor, Margaret Rudkin developed a loaf of nutritious whole-wheat bread based on her Irish grandmother’s recipe. Soon, her son’s health improved and his doctor requested loaves to “prescribe” to his other patients. As the demand for her bread grew, she began selling to local grocers. Three years after the start of her endeavor, the bakery expanded and moved to Norwalk.
Serious shortages plagued the Farm during the World War II years as many of the necessary ingredients were drastically rationed. The company opened its first modern bakery in Norwalk in 1947, and by 1953 it was producing 77,000 loaves of bread each week. Pepperidge Farm cookies were later added to the line. The company continued to expand with the opening of bakeries in Pennsylvania and Illinois. In addition, Margaret Rudkin began to appear in television commercials promoting Pepperidge Farm products. She made frequent trips to Europe in order to add new products to the company line. In 1961, Pepperidge Farm was sold to the Campbell Soup Company; however, Margaret Rudkin continued her leadership and became the first woman to serve on the Campbell Soup Board of Directors. In 2007, Fortune magazine’s “100 Years of Power” named her the most powerful woman in business for 1950-1960.
After her retirement in 1962, Margaret Rudkin lectured at Harvard Business School and wrote The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, which became the first cookbook on the New York Times bestseller list. Rudkin died in New Haven in 1967.
During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times
The Cold War in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States produced fear of domestic subversion. The McCarthy Era purged suspected Communists from government, the entertainment industry, and universities, and labeled gays and lesbians as un-American security risks. General anxiety contributed to a popular conception of the family as a source of social stability, and reinforced traditional notions of women’s place at home. In 1963, Betty Friedan called this promise of fulfillment through the domestic arts the “feminine mystique,” and advocated instead that women seek personal careers.
For two decades, a burgeoning economy and a growing consumer culture had expanded the availability of jobs for women. Notable was the increase in the workforce of married women, especially middle-class white women and educated women, though they were viewed in the media as working less for a career than to assist their families with needed income or desirable amenities for the home.
Some working-class women in labor unions challenged traditional cultural norms, such as the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers who achieved non-discrimination clauses in local contracts. Middle-class women moderated their interest in women’s issues, promoting instead advancement through the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and the American Association of University Women. More radical women in Women Strike for Peace demonstrated against the nuclear arms race and were summoned to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962. Many activists would join the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement against segregation following World War II dates from the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal and thus a violation of the 14th amendment. African-Americans were given new hope, and in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggered a bus boycott of critical importance. Black women and white women took part in boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches. A culminating achievement in 1965 was the Voting Rights Act pushed through by President Johnson.
Mexican-Americans in the southwest also fought to improve their life and work conditions. In 1962, Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, played a leading role in organizing a national boycott of grapes that forced growers to sign a contract with the union.
Other ethnic groups were soon to come to America, enriching its diversity. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 established an immigration system based on family preference. Half of the new immigrants came from Mexico and Central and South America, while a quarter were from Asia. Two-thirds of the immigrants were women and children. While poverty and acculturation were issues, for many the time-honored American process of upward social mobility had begun.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.