This 1972 Cooking Class Promoted Women’s Liberation

A photo from the archives inspires memories of a Tufts dean teaching young men their way around the kitchen

One winter day in 1972, a few male Tufts students gathered in the kitchen of then-Dean of Students Elizabeth Ahn Toupin to learn something that wasn’t on their standard syllabus: how to cook.

“The course was Cooking Class for Men, and was given during the short winter study period,” Toupin emailed in response to a photo of the lesson, which was published in the Fall 2020 issue of Tufts Magazine. “It was designed with the idea that if women were to be liberated, men would have to share some of their chores, and that meant learning to cook.”

One of the first Asian American college deans in the U.S., Toupin was also the director of student affairs and assistant dean of Jackson College during her career at Tufts. She had published a number of cookbooks and appeared on TV cooking shows before coming to the university.

In a phone interview, Toupin recalled that she brought the men to a grocery store to practice selecting quality vegetables. “They took a head of lettuce and started throwing it around to each other, and we got thrown out of the supermarket,” she said with a laugh.

Although the course was offered only once, through Tufts’ Experimental College, the photo sparked many nostalgic comments from alumni who appear in the image or remembered the class.

John Mulcahy, A72, who appears on the left, recalled that there were about eight men in the class, and Toupin taught them how to tell whether a cantaloupe is ripe at the local Star Market.

“Dean Toupin was such a good teacher for us ‘novices’ in the world of food, and she made it interesting for us as we learned about her food culture,” wrote Chris Hagger, E73, P09, who appears second from the left in the photo, and recalled that the class made the local news. “On top of that, the food we all made was really good!”

The man third from the left was identified as the late John Marshall Green, A73, by several alumni, including his brother, William Gordon Green, A77, who called seeing the photo “a great and wonderful surprise.” Karen Geyer Green, J74, who was married to John for many years, wrote, “I remember distinctly him talking about this class and how much he enjoyed it.”

Rich Kerbel, E72, who is not in the photo but took the course, wrote that he and his classmates learned to make wontons and bouillabaisse, and to enjoy cooking. “For me it was one of those courses you take that you didn’t expect to get much from, but it turned out to give me a lifelong skill,” he added, noting that he has been regularly cooking new recipes with his wife during the pandemic.

Another participant later quit his career as a lawyer to become a chef, said Toupin, who considers the course a success. “It was very catchy,” she said. “And very fun.”

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