Aunt Jemima – International Women’s Day Synchroblog
March 7th, 2009 by Sonja

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Julie Clawson of One Hand Clapping challenged us to find some unsung heroines of the Bible and celebrate their stories today in a synchroblog.  So I pulled up BibleGateway and put “daughter” into their search engine.  I think it came back with about 110 hits … or something like that.

Some daughters just got honorable mention.  That is, they were simply mentioned as so and so’s daughter and that was the end of that.  Others had an actual story attached to their name.  Sometimes the story was fairly mysterious.  As in the case with Caleb’s daughter.  She was married to her cousin, by Caleb’s younger brother because Caleb had promised his daughter to whomever won a particular battle.  His nephew won the battle, so he married off his daughter.  This is not very acceptable by today’s standards, but in that culture we can understand it.  The next couple of verses recount an event that is odd.  Caleb’s daughter went to him and asked for some additional land.  When he gave it to her, she also asked for a couple of springs.  So he gave her those.  And there the story of Caleb’s daughter ends.  With the gift of springs.  It’s mysterious, really.  In there for a reason, but why?

So I moved on and found the story of Job’s daughters:  Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-Happuch.  This story can be found in Job, chapter 42 … the very end of the book.  Job has come through his trials with some version of success:

1 Then Job replied to the LORD :

 2 “I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.

 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’

 5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

 6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

7 After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.

This is curious to me, because here we see the result of what happens to friends who might give you (however well-meaning) an incorrect perspective of God during your trials.  Those friends will have to sacrifice in your presence and have you pray over them.  This is an interesting perspective that I’ve not heard taken away from Job … but more on that another time.   I’m just thinking we need to be very careful with what we say to people about God when they are experiencing trials.

In any case, the account goes on tell us what happens to Job in the rest of his life:

 10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

 12 The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

 16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so he died, old and full of years.

Wait?  What?  Three short sentences.  That is all we have of Job’s daughters.  They were part of a family of 10 siblings.  We don’t know where they fell in the sibling order.  We do know who among the girls was eldest, middle and youngest.  We know they were beautiful.  Most astonishing of all, we know that “… their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.”  That’s it.

It’s a genealogist’s worst nightmare.  We have names and nothing else.  We know only the most bare facts of their existence.  But we know one more thing.  Job gave them status.  He told the world that his daughters were equal to men.  His daughters were not chattel to belong to their husbands.  They owned something of their father in their own right.  I’m not certain I can fully convey how remarkable this was for that time.

It was miraculous.  Unheard of.  Women were not considered capable of owning or managing the things that men did.   But Job did it.

These are the just sorts of passages I do love.  Open-ended, without a tidy message.  We don’t know what happened to Job’s daughters.  We do know that Job lived to see “… his children and their children to the fourth generation.”  I believe that would be his great, great grandchildren if I’ve figured correctly.  My guess is that his daughters married and children of their own.  So how did they use their inheritance?  And … did they pass it on to their daughters?  What was their inheritance?  Was it land, animals, jewels?

I wonder about those things you see.  We have things (land, jewels and the like) that have been only passed to women in my family.  Our summer lake house is among them.  When my aunt left it to our family, she left it to my mom (her relative).  Her will stipulated that if my mother had pre-deceased her, it was to go to me and my brothers.  She was emphatic that it stay in her family.  In the 100 years prior to that, the house had always passed woman to woman.

They are so intriguing to me.  Those daughters.  Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-Happuch.  They are the opposing book-end to Job’s first three daughters.  As I thought about them and let their names rattle around I came to another realization.  I’d heard two of the names before.  Jemimah and Keziah were common names given to girls who were slaves in the American South.

I started looking for confirmation of that.  Of course, I quickly ran into a brick wall … because records of what slaves were named by each other were … um … slim.  Nobody thought it was important to keep track of what they called each other.  Sometimes just the gender and the slaveholders last name is recorded.  Certainly, no inheritance was given to these men and women.  It is intriguing to me that Jemima and Keziah were used as girls names though.

I wonder … could those names have been picked on purpose?  Are they names of hope?  We’ll never know for certain.  But we do know some few things.  We know that some slaves were given Christian training.  Some were even given Bible teaching.  We know that some of the stories resonated with their experience and certainly Job’s would have been among them.  It’s not a terrible stretch to imagine naming your daughter Jemima or Keziah out of hope … hope that one day you would have an inheritance to leave her, hope that she would be known as the daughter of a man who was blessed by God, hope that your trial would be ended in blessing rather than curses.

I think there might be something to that.  None of Job’s other children are named.  Not his first ten children (seven sons, three daughters) and not his second seven sons; just these three daughters.  So, it seems to me that these names spring to the top as names that are symbolic of the hope of a good outcome at the end of horrible trials … the kind of trials endured by slaves in the antebellum South.

Aunt JemimaThus I came to the Aunt Jemima pancake empire.  It was begun in the 1890’s by two men who, having created an instant pancake mix, needed an icon to name it and represent.  One of them ducked into a black-face minstrel show and there heard the following song:

The monkey dressed in soldier clothes,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
Went out in the woods for to drill some crows,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
The jay bird hung on the swinging limb,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
I up with a stone and hit him on the shin,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
Oh, Carline, oh, Carline,
Can’t you dance the bee line,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

The bullfrog married the tadpole’s sister,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
He smacked his lips and then he kissed her,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
She says if you love me as I love you,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
No knife can cut our love in two,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!
Oh, Carline, oh, Carline,
Can’t you dance the bee line,
Old Aunt Jemima, oh! oh! oh!

Shortly after hearing the name, Nancy Green was hired to represent Aunt Jemima.  She was currently working as a servant for a judge in Chicago, but had been born and raised a slave in antebellum Kentucky.  Aunt Jemima and her pancakes were introduced at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.  It was held from May to November and Nancy smiled, sang, told slave tales, flipped and served almost a million pancakes during that six month period.  In the hundred and ten years since then she has become perhaps the most well-known African American female face in history.

Yet, there is something vaguely disturbing about that.  This name, Jemimah, started out as a name of hope, blessing, inheritance and beauty had become a term interchangeable with disparagement, slavery and bondage and now … commerce.  You never hear Jemimah as a name anymore.  There are no young women with that name … no fathers or mothers hoping to pass on that message of hope, blessing and inheritance to their daughters with that name because it’s lost all of it’s power.

We still hear Keziah.  You might not recognize it.  You’ll hear Keshia or Aisha.  Both of those names have their roots in Keziah.  A name of hope and blessing and inheritance for girls.   That’s just what we need to give our daughters today … a sense of hope and blessing and inheritance.  What sort of inheritance will you give your daughters?


This is my contribution to the International Women’s Day Synchroblog –

Here are links to some others –

Julie Clawson on the God who sees
Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule
Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima
Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible
Minnowspeaks on celebrating women
Michelle Van Loon on the persistant widow
Lyn Hallewell on the strength of biblical women
Shawna Atteberry on the Daughter of Mary Magdalene
Christine Sine on women who impacted her life
Susan Barnes on Tamar, Ruth, and Mary
Kathy Escobar on standing up for nameless and voiceless women
Ellen Haroutunian on out from under the veil
Liz Dyer on Mary and Martha
Bethany Stedman on Shiphrah and Puah
Dan Brennan on Mary Magdalene
Jessica Schafer on Bathsheba
Eugene Cho on Lydia
Laura sorts through what she knows about women in the Bible
Miz Melly preached on the woman at the well
AJ Schwanz on women’s workteenage girls changing the world
Teresa on the women Paul didn’t hate
Helen on Esther
Happy on Abigail
Mark Baker-Wright on telling stories
Robin M. on Eve
Patrick Oden on Rahab and the spies
Alan Knox is thankful for the women who served God
Lainie Petersen on the unnamed concubine
Mike Clawson on cultural norms in the early church
Krista on serving God
Bob Carlton on Barbie as Icon
Jan Edmiston preached on the unnamed concubine
Deb on her namesake – Deborah
Makeesha on empowering women

18 Responses  
  • Steve Hayes writes:
    March 8th, 200910:25 amat

    I have even heard of people called Keren-Happuch. But yes, it is significant than none of Job’s other children were named. That would be even more of a problem for genealogists!

  • Ellen Haroutunian writes:
    March 8th, 200911:01 amat

    I think it’s awesome that the book of Job is supposedly one of the oldest biblical texts and yet contains such a hierarchy-rocking message – once Job encounters God, things changed. Daughters are named (so rare!), given inheritance (so never!), etc. Intriguing stuff!

  • Liz writes:
    March 8th, 20092:53 pmat

    Sonja – Thanks for this – I have never noticed that the name Jemima was in the bible and love the idea that slaves may have named their daughters Jemima because it represented hope.

  • Shawna R. B. Atteberry writes:
    March 8th, 20094:10 pmat

    Thanks Sonja. We were discussing Job today in our Adult Faith Discussion at church and we noted how remarkable it was for Job to give his daughters an inheritance. Thank you for a very insightful post.

  • Lainie Petersen writes:
    March 8th, 20094:53 pmat

    Insightful post, and yes, I too wonder if those names were not prophetic names of hope.

  • Julie Clawson writes:
    March 8th, 20096:02 pmat

    That is crazy how racist marketing attempts destroyed a symbol of hope.

  • Sonja writes:
    March 8th, 20096:12 pmat

    Well … to be fair, Julie … and it’s difficult to parse this out in a blog post … the name had already taken on unfortunate connotations within the African-American community. “Aunt Jemima” was sort of the “Uncle Tom” for women, if you will. Now, what I haven’t been able to figure out is whether or not that’s the white version of events or the slave version.

    If you click on the link that’s under “black-face minstrel show” above it goes to a book called “Slave In A Box” and there’s a chapter on-line there that does a great job of describing the cultural milieu that existed at the time. It’s a little more conciliatory than I’d like, but you get a good feel for things.

  • Peggy writes:
    March 9th, 20091:14 amat


    Love Job…no time to comment at length…. :^(

    But I did want you to see Scot McKnight’s post on Junia. It is awesome! I have a wee comment at #10….

  • International Women’s Day 3/08/09 « Kupercaya writes:
    March 9th, 20099:09 amat

    […] Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima […]

  • More On International Women’s Day « Godspace writes:
    March 9th, 20099:56 amat

    […] Clawson on the God who sees Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible Minnowspeaks on celebrating women Michelle Van Loon […]

  • Rahab, the one who clings to God | writes:
    March 9th, 20091:04 pmat

    […] Clawson on the God who sees Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible Minnowspeaks on celebrating women Michelle Van Loon on […]

  • The Women Paul Didn’t Hate « Seminary on the Side writes:
    March 9th, 20095:17 pmat

    […] Clawson on the God who sees Steve Hayes on St. Theodora the Iconodule Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima Sensuous Wife on a single mom in the Bible Minnowspeaks on celebrating women Michelle Van Loon on […]

  • Beth Patterson writes:
    March 10th, 200912:26 pmat

    The whole Megillah, revisited…

    This post is part of a synchroblog that is more or less monthly.  This month’s blogfest celebrates…

  • Kimber writes:
    March 10th, 20092:13 pmat

    I named my daughter Keren, after Job’s daughter.
    I always felt kinda like an ugly duckling, so I suppose that when I came across the fair daughters of Job, (and I had been looking for a K name), it really just jumped out at me that this would be my daughters name.
    I hope (and believe) that the legacy or inheritance that I am leaving my daughter (1 daughter, 4 sons) is one of strength and independence. Although she is beautiful, she does not conform to societys notion of beauty. Nor does she conform in any other way! LOL

  • kathyescobar writes:
    March 12th, 200912:13 amat

    hey sonja, as always you provide a perspective that is unique and makes me think. my favorite line: “a geneologist’s worst nightmare!” that made me laugh. so many untold stories. so much mystery that helps us imagine all that could have been possible. i love it.

  • International Women’s Day 3/08/09 | hgc writes:
    May 8th, 200912:14 amat

    […] Sonja Andrews on Aunt Jemima […]

  • Ravine of Light Aunt Jemima International Women Day Synchroblog | Green Tea Fat Burner writes:
    June 9th, 20092:40 pmat

    […] Ravine of Light Aunt Jemima International Women Day Synchroblog Posted by root 1 day 21 hours ago ( Filed under expectantly fat bottomed girls gifts girls history hope ran into a brick wall because records of what slaves were named by each other were um slim comment by shawna r b atteberry march 8 2009 4 10 pm powered by wordpress and the artsemerging t Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Ravine of Light Aunt Jemima International Women Day Synchroblog […]

  • Kari writes:
    July 9th, 20098:20 pmat

    Actually, Jemima is fairly popular in England.
    Maybe it is just in the US it has the slave connotations.
    I think it is very pretty.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa