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This is a contributing entry for Virginia Women in History - Central Virginia Region and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

Mary Randolph, the author of the first American regional cookbook, was born at Ampthill plantation, where DuPont's Spruance Plant now stands (the house itself was later moved to a new location in the city of Richmond). Her work transformed cooking and household management in ways that continue to influence chefs and domestic supervisors today.


  • Portrait of Mary Randolph, courtesy of the Library of Virginia.
  • Cover of the third edition of Randolph's The Virginia House-Wife, courtesy of the Library of Virginia.
  • The Library of Virginia honored Mary Randolph as one of its Virginia Women in History in 2009.
  • The Virginia Women in History Digital Trail is made possible by the Library of Virginia and American Evolution: Virginia to America, 1619–2019.
Mary Randolph (August 9, 1762–January 23, 1828) wrote The Virginia House-Wife (1824), the first American regional cookbook. Her recipes used Virginia produce but also showed influences from African, American Indian, and European cultures, thereby creating a cuisine unique to Virginia and the South. Randolph's influential housekeeping book was an immediate success and went through many editions until the 1860s. It included both culinary instructions and advice on household supervision. Besides popularizing the use of more than forty vegetables, Randolph's book also introduced dishes from abroad, such as gazpacho, to the southern public.  

Born at Ampthill, her family's Chesterfield County plantation, Mary Randolph learned how to run an orderly household. She married her cousin, David Meade Randolph, of Chesterfield County, in December 1780. Moldavia, their Richmond home, became a center of Federalist Party social activity. Financial reversals led Randolph in 1808 to open a Richmond boarding house, where she provided accommodations and excellent meals to an elite clientele. Later the Randolphs moved to Washington, D.C., where Mary Randolph began to compile a housekeeping book that provided management hints; directions for preparing sauces, vegetables, preserves, puddings, ice creams, soups, breads, meats, beverages, and cleaning products; and instructions on crafting a home refrigerator.

According to Randolph, "The prosperity and happiness of a family depend greatly on the order and regularity established in it." She was revising The Virginia House-Wife for a third edition at the time of her death. Randolph's younger sister Virginia Randolph Cary wrote the influential Letters on Female Character, Addressed to a Young Lady, on the Death of Her Mother (1828), the first advice book written by a southern woman for the women of her region.

Reprinted with permission of the Library of Virginia.