In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the most iconic female figures on our supermarket shelves—both real and fictional—who have shaped the way we cook and eat over the last century. 

By Gillie Houston
Updated March 04, 2018
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Credit: Lambert/Getty Images

Though a perfectly-coiffed, red jacket-sporting housewife might not be a familiar sight in your kitchen, her name certainly is—particularly if you’ve ever made your cake from a box or spooned your frosting out of a can. Indeed, the name Betty Crocker has become synonymous with easy home baking, cooking tips, and classic recipes. So who was the person behind this iconic kitchen figure?

In fact, Betty Crocker wasn’t a real woman, but rather born of an advertising campaign that resulted in one of the most recognizable names and faces in convenience food history.

The Betty Crocker figure actually predates her parent company, General Mills, to a flour milling company called Washburn Crosby, which created Gold Medal Flour and eventually evolved into the grocery juggernaut we know today. Betty first appeared in an ad for the flour brand that encouraged people to send in a completed puzzle for a pincushion prize. In addition to tens of thousands of finished puzzles, Washburn-Crosby also received an outpouring of letters from housewives with pressing questions about baking and cooking.

The all-male advertising department wanted to provide the answers to these questions, but thought the advice would be best received if it came from a female face. So, they invented Betty Crocker, a figure that emblemized their customer base and eventually became the de facto authority on countless kitchen quandaries for women across America.

Though Betty’s answers were first distributed via a letter filled with cooking, baking, and domestic tips—signed with a personal signature that was created by one of the company’s secretaries—in 1924 the fictional woman got her own radio show, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, which was eventually distributed nationwide. Betty Crocker also went on to make many television appearances in the years that followed. She was even named the second most popular women in America in 1945 by Fortune Magazine, just behind Eleanor Roosevelt.

It wasn’t until 1941 that Betty appeared on her first grocery store item, a soup mix, which was followed by her popular cake mix in 1947, and countless other grocery and cooking products and books, including The Betty Crocker Cookbook, which has gone through 11 versions and sold millions of copies.

The face of Betty Crocker has evolved over the years, from her original composite portrait that integrated facial features from various female staff members of Washburn Crosby, to seven other versions of the image, including one inspired by Jackie Kennedy. In 1954, her namesake grocery items began to feature the classic red spoon logo, which is still used today.

Though Betty wasn’t a real woman, she has inspired countless real people in the last century to get into the kitchen, create something new, and turn to her for help when they were feeling uncertain. Betty Crocker has evolved from a miscellaneous face in an ad campaign to possibly the most iconic convenience food figure of all time, and a household name across America and the world.