She Was the Golden Penny

Leona-A.-Malek-3Leona Alford Krag Malek, pioneer journalist, nationally recognized home economist, radio personality, actress and clubwoman, was also known as Jean Prescott Adams, an authority of domestic economy and to thousands of newspaper readers as “Prudence Penny.” Malek served as the nineteenth president of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association from 1929 to 1935.

Born in Illinois in 1878, Leona was the daughter of Chicago businessman and writer, Albert Alford and his wife, Mary Ann (Parsons), both of English decent. She attended the Lewis Institute (later Illinois Institute of Technology) which offered home economics classes. A graduate of Chicago Teachers College, she also studied at the Ziegfeld School, in Dramatic Art and Music. After briefly teaching in the Chicago school system, she opened and was the director of her own private cultural studio, Jackson School of Reading from 1905 to 1916.

In 1902, Leona married Franz Kilsen Krag, of Denmark who was a marine engineer and officer of the King’s Ship in the Danish navy. After extensive travels throughout Scandinavia, the couple returned to Chicago where Leona devoted her full time to homemaking and motherhood. After the death of her young daughter, Laurine, Leona began her career as a successful freelance writer on practical experiences and household matters published with remuneration in popular magazines of the era including the Ladies Home Journal, National Women’s Magazine and Southern Women’s Magazine. She contributed to the home economics departments in 500 newspapers throughout the United States under various pen names.

As the editor of several trade magazines she met executives representing major corporations including the Armour Company, a leading Chicago meat-packing company with national and international reach. Leona accepted a position at Armour in 1914 to direct a new food economics department for the company. During the food shortages created by World War I, Leona responded to thousands of letters from American housewives on problems about food preparation with nutritious and economical yet tasty recipes. Her work produced valuable insight for the company’s advertising programs. It was at this time she took on the pseudonym of Jean Prescott Adams to educate and introduce new food products and devise innovative and practical methods to meet the needs of Armour’s consumers.

In 1917, she penned the pamphlet, The Business of Being a Housewife: A Manual to Promote Household Efficiency and Economy, printed by Armour. Its popularity established her as a nationwide expert in food economy from coast to coast. During this time, Leona also became a sought after lecturer for colleges and clubs and wrote, lectured and conducted cooking schools for the National Canners Association and the National Grocers Association.

By 1925 Leona had remarried Alois W. Malek, a businessman from Oak Park, Illinois. It was during this same year she began writing for the Chicago Herald – Examiner, a Chicago daily newspaper under the persona Prudence Penny created by William Randolph Hearst for use in the Hearst newspapers across America. She wrote the daily home economics column, edited the woman’s page and, as Jean Prescott Adams wrote a column on home decorating. It was the daily column of Prudence Penny and the ever popular expanded two-page layout on Wednesdays known as “The Woman in the Home” that strengthened Leona’s reputation.

By addressing many women’s issues including marriage, childcare, fashion and beauty, her two million readers not only sought out her lectures on these subjects, they listened to her weekly radio program on KYW, Chicago’s first broadcasting station. To her acting credit, it is believed Leona portrayed Prudence Penny in the 1938 Academy Award winning Best Short Subject film, Penny Wisdom. Though the Prudence Penny actress in the short film is noted as “Herself” she has on occasion been identified as Leona A. Malek.

In 1922 Leona joined the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. She was part of the growing number of professional women whose journalistic and communications skills combined with her knowledge in homemaking, nutrition, child rearing, fashion and decorating helped to launch a variety of new roles for women in advertising, public relations and radio broadcast. This was the same period IWPA began to focus its opportunities to women in related fields of communications. With Leona’s election to the presidency in 1929, she taught IWPA members the power of radio and initiated a radio committee to arrange air time for members to publicize their work. Within four years, IWPA members had appeared on over two hundred weekly Saturday afternoon programs on Chicago stations including WMAQ, WGN and WCFL.

During her two terms in office, Leona’s efforts spotlighted the Association’s participation in the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition held in Chicago. IWPA members hosted the May 1931 “Gala World’s Fair Dinner” honoring the organizers of the world’s fair to ensure that women writers would participate at the exposition. During the Century of Progress, IWPA held a party for visiting international women writers.

Leona’s leadership also instituted an Author’s Jubilee and Book Fair as a forum for members to sell their books. She steered IWPA through the publication of the book Prominent Women of Illinois (1932). The sale of which benefited the organization as well as members who wrote biographies of the women featured in the publication. During the Great Depression, Leona waived all membership fees encouraging more women to join and established the Swan Fund offering interest-free loans to members. In 1934, she directed IWPAs authors’ reception and book party raising more than five thousand donated books for the Chicago Public Library. So loved and respected by the members of IWPA at the time, at the end of her second term in 1935 the membership voted Leona as an honorary vice-president.

In addition to IWPA, Leona was an active club woman of the Eastern Star, the National Women’s Republican Club, the Modern Housekeeping Association and the Cook County Federation of Women’s Clubs. She had also been a charter member and president of the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club. At the time of her death on March 20, 1951, Leona had been the defense chairwoman for the Daughters of the American Revolution in Chicago.

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