Housewives’ League tried to keep Amme Bakery clean and honest

442 King St.

Today: Parcel 32 (forthcoming)

Yesterday: Amme Bakery, 1856-1931

On the menu: Seven “never heavy, never sour, never stale” loaves, 25 cents (Oct. 1, 1901)

Even after Amme Bakery burned, its German-born proprietor in 1913 wasn’t exempt from having to explain to Charleston women why he now wanted to charge more than a nickel for a “first-class” loaf of bread.

By the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable to think of households as businesses, largely because so much of the work once done by the women living in them was being outsourced to bakeries, laundries and department stores. Instead of tending hearths and sewing clothes, upper-class women were responsible for calling in grocery orders and keeping track of cash.

Taking seriously their role as domestic executives, a group of New Yorkers in 1912 borrowed a tactic from the corporate sphere, forming an association. The Housewives’ League announced it would fight artificially inflated prices, dirty food production facilities and clerks who regularly put their fingers on scales, cheating customers out of bread, fish and meat. If groceries, bakeries, dairies and delicatessens didn’t comply, the league warned, its members would call for a boycott.

The Housewives’ League was so successful in bringing down the cost of eggs and butter that women across the country organized similar groups. Charleston’s Housewives’ League was created on Jan. 10, 1913, at the Charleston Museum.

“Boost the housewives’ league movement, everybody,” The Evening Post editorialized. “It is a good proposition.”

As its first project, the local Housewives’ League decided to take on the city’s bakers. The league’s 500 members were concerned that the weight and quality of loaves had deteriorated since Charleston passed a law barring bakeries from selling unwrapped bread. So a committee arranged to meet with eight local bakers, including Diedrich Amme.

Amme in 1891 moved to Charleston to work at Amme Bakery “famous for its German black bread, pumpernickel, coffee bread and zwieback,” according to The News and Courier. The 33-year-old had already once tried living with his uncle, Christian, who before the Civil War had opened the bakery in his 442 King St. home. But he told friends that the town was too tame, so he went west to help lay the Southern Pacific railway.

After Christian Amme died, Diedrich Amme took over the bakery, selling butter cakes on Saturdays. Yet days before he was supposed to appear before the Housewives’ League, the bakery “was pretty well burned out,” according to newspaper accounts.

At the committee meeting, Amme defended the size and price of his loaves, and “violently opposed” a proposal for the Housewives’ League to appoint bakery inspectors. If inspectors came to his rebuilt bakery, he threatened, they would meet his six dogs.

O.G. Marjenhoff, who had already dismissed the league members as “suffragists,” hissed at his fellow baker: “Say that the dogs are kept in the yard, not the bakery!”

Amme’s closed in 1931. The building most recently housed Fish, but is set to soon reopen as Parcel 32. Its chef, Digby Stridiron, is making his local cooking debut tomorrow night at a James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour dinner at Lowndes Grove.

— Hanna Raskin

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