Old Yale

Angell of the CIA

How a Yale president's wife helped found America's top cooking school.

Judith Ann Schiff is chief research archivist at the Yale University Library.

Manuscripts & Archives

Manuscripts & Archives

The Davies Mansion on Prospect Hill, now known as Betts House, was the headquarters of the Culinary Institute of America. View full image

A quarter of a century ago, the New York Times obituary of an extraordinary Yale woman was headed simply: "Katharine Angell Dies; Led Culinary Institute." Through Angell's efforts, a modest cooking school in New Haven developed into the Culinary Institute of America. Now located in Hyde Park, New York, the institute was long headquartered on Prospect Street next to the Yale Divinity School. (The Prospect Street home is now Betts House, the headquarters of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.)

Born in 1890, Katharine Cramer grew up in North Carolina, where her father was a mill owner. She had six children with her first husband, Paul Woodman, who died in 1930. She became the "First Lady" of Yale when she married President James Rowland Angell in 1932. Through the five remaining years of his presidency, and after his retirement, Mrs. Angell became known as a gracious hostess who enriched the lives of the faculty and students.

During World War II, Kay Angell served as chair of the Consumer Division of the State Defense Committee. She suffered a great loss when her oldest son was killed in the last months of the war, and she directed her energies to helping veterans. To prepare returning servicemen for useful employment, Angell joined forces with New Haven attorney Frances Roth. In May 1946, they opened the New Haven Restaurant Institute with three faculty members and 16 students, all veterans. With Roth as director, Angell served as president and chair of the board from 1946 to 1966. She raised and donated money and built the school's relationships with Yale, New Haven, and the food industry.

In 1947, the institute bought the Davies-Wallace House, an imposing 34-room Victorian mansion on Prospect Hill, for $75,000. It had a private chapel with stained glass windows. (Every cooking school, Angell commented, should have a chapel.) Yale helped finance the mortgage, and the university hired the school to cater events. Angell even managed to charm the dining hall workers' union into letting the institute provide training meals for Yale athletes.

Angell's educational philosophy was to train expert cooks. American cuisine had been dominated by European chefs for years. The institute was the first school in this country to emphasize practical training and would, in time, greatly elevate the image of American chefs. Recent graduates include such celebrities as Todd English, Rocco DiSpirito, Anthony Bourdain, Sara Moulton, and Michael Simon, who was recently named the winner in a Food Network competition, The Next Iron Chef.

In 1951, the school was renamed the Culinary Institute of America to acknowledge its national reputation. (With the new name came a notable new monogram. When Strobe Talbott ’68 was appointed the first director of the Globalization Center in 2001, he told the New York Times that he remembered CIA students "walking around town with those initials emblazoned on their sweatshirts -- a cause of puzzlement, amusement, or both.") The institute's educational program expanded to two years, and by the time of Mrs. Angell's retirement in 1966, the school had increased to 400 students.

The CIA's enrollment reached 1,000 students by 1969, and it needed a larger facility. In 1972, the school moved to Hyde Park, and the entire eight-acre property where it had begun was sold to Yale. In 1979, the CIA held an appreciation day for Angell and 50 New Haven friends of the institute on its 88-acre campus on the east bank of the Hudson River. 

Angell was also known as a great hostess, and anecdotes of her entertaining abound. In 1954, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright stayed with her when he received an honorary degree. Very early and without notice, he walked away from the formal celebratory dinner at President Griswold's home, and when Angell returned to her home she found him playing the piano. She sat in the living room while he continued to play ("very badly," she said later) until 3 a.m. In his note of apology, Wright addressed her as "my angelic hostess."

Kay Angell died in 1983, on the day before her 93rd birthday. At her memorial service, Yale historian George Pierson ’26, ’33PhD, read from the citation she was presented when she received the Yale Medal in 1972. It stated in part: "For just over 40 years, Katharine Cramer Angell has been an inspiration, an adornment, a spontaneous and never-failing resource to this university. . . . In New Haven, over the years, her work on charitable and social service boards and her private help to many a public enterprise have reflected credit upon Yale. Above all, she has vivified the meaning of the term 'Great Lady' and has made Yale a warmer and more caring place." 

The comment period has expired.