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Voices of Boston: The Jamaica Plain angel food cake robbery

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Elizabeth Amberman recalls the Great Depression in Jamaica Plain and a robbery over Betty Crocker’s angel food cake when she worked at a bakery during the 1930s

By Colleen Nugent

Elizabeth Amberman was born around 1910-1915 and lived most of her life in Jamaica Plain. Jamaica Plain was originally part of Roxbury and West Roxbury, but was incorporated into the City of Boston. Jamaica Plain, or “JP” as the locals call it, is surrounded by the Emerald Necklace, Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park and Jamaica Pond.

Jamaica Plain, 1925, Boston Pictorial Archive, Boston Public Library

When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, Elizabeth Amberman, still a high school student, took a job at the White House Bakery in Fall River. The Jamaica Plain White House Bakery was located on the corner of Heath Street and Bromley Street in Jamaica Plain, right by the current location of the Boston Housing Authority.

Elizabeth initially worked down at the Fall River location, but the Great Depression kept getting worse. The Fall River location was forced to close, and Elizabeth came to work at the Jamaica Plain location.

Centre Street, 1912, Historic New England

Elizabeth reflects on the popularity of Betty Crocker’s angel cake, what she calls a revolution in baking. According to her, all the angel cakes prior to Betty Crockers were like rubber, making the new variety soar in popularity. She believed the White House Bakery was the first in the area to start selling it.

Man and woman with a Betty Crocker product display, 1950, University of North Texas Libraries
Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, 1948, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of South Carolina

Elizabeth began her discussion of Betty Crocker’s angel cake in reference to a time that the payroll was robbed at the White House Bakery. 

Due to the high demand for Betty Crocker’s angel cake, the White House Bakery had employees at all hours baking these cakes. Elizabeth remembers how much work went into making enough angel cakes to serve the public. The boom in angel cake appears to have allowed the White House Bakery to provide more work.

This influx of workers made it appear that the White House Bakery had a lot of cash on hand, and payroll was on Saturday. Elizabeth recalls the robbery of the bakery, where it was “held up.” She recalls how the headlines and how the newspapers covered it.

The robbery occurred in November, so the fund for their Christmas party was fairly substantial before the theft. However, Elizabeth claims the insurance company would not pay back these funds and the woman in charge of organizing had to pay it herself.

Elizabeth worked in payroll, but she was luckily not present for the actual robbery. The other women who were working were Elizabeth’s friends. One of her friends saw one of the robbers on a bus, but nothing came of it because there was not a policeman nearby.

Egleston Square, circa 1909-1943

The frequency of robberies during the Great Depression was so different than the way it was in the 1970s when Elizabeth was interviewed. She claims that in those days, robberies were not even daily occurrences — more like hourly!

Ruth Bloom was the name of the woman Elizabeth said had been organizing the funds for the Christmas party. She remembers people coming in to donate to her, so she wouldn’t have to pay it back all by herself. Elizabeth emphasized how generous this was during the height of the Depression, when everyone was short on money. Elizabeth was supporting her entire family, making only $20 a week!

The Depression was a hard time, but Elizabeth remembered the White House Bakery with a fondness. The Bakery survived robberies and the depression, but went out of business shortly after the end of World War II.

Her time at the White House Bakery is just one topic of discussion in Elizabeth’s fascinating oral history interview. Read it here! 

Looking for more oral histories? Explore the City’s oral history collection here!


This post was written by Colleen Nugent. She is a History PhD student at Northeastern University, with certificates in Digital Humanities, Public History, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. You can follow her at colleenlnugent.com.