Old 08-01-2013, 10:51 PM   #1
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Default History of Home Economics

What is Home Economics?

The term "home economics" may call up stereotypical images of girls busily sewing and cooking in 1950s classrooms, images that have led many people to view this field as fundamentally narrow, dull, and socially conservative. In the 1960s and 1970s, the women's movement was often critical of home economics, seeing it as a discipline that worked to restrict girls and women to traditional domestic and maternal roles. More recently, however, researchers in the field of women's history have been reevaluating home economics, developing an understanding of it as a profession that, although in some ways conservative in its outlook, opened up opportunities for women and had a broad impact on American society. There was always a significant degree of disagreement among home economists, and among the legislators, policy makers, and educators who supported them, about what the field's mission should be. Some were focused on the home, while others were more concerned with the broader social environment. Some saw home economics as a vehicle for creating vocational and economic opportunities for girls and women and for educating boys and men about domestic skills, while others sought to enforce traditional models of sex roles and family life. However, even the most conservative models of home economics offered some women a path to careers as teachers and researchers. The books and periodicals that are being made available through the Core Historical Literature of Home Economics project document the history of this field in all of its ambiguity and complexity.

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Although the term "home economics" did not come into wide usage until the early twentieth century, efforts to formalize and teach principles of domesticity go back to the mid-1800s. Increases in literacy and in the availability of printed materials during the nineteenth century made possible the emergence of a literature on homemaking. One of the most influential early examples was the Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home (1841), written by Catharine Beecher (1800-1878), an educator and social reformer who was a half-sister of the abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Beecher argued for the importance of domestic life and sought to apply scientific principles to childrearing, cooking, and housekeeping, and she also advocated access to liberal education for young woman, although she opposed female suffrage on the grounds that women should leave the public sphere to men.

Other forerunners of home economics were the cooking schools that began coming into being in the 1870s. Women such as Maria Parloa and Fannie Farmer, both of whom taught at the famous Boston Cooking School, offered instruction in preparing healthful, low-cost meals. At first they provided training mainly for professional cooks, but over time they opened up their classes to an eager general public. Teachers during this period also published some of the first cookbooks directed at a large popular audience.

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An important event in the development of home economics as an academic field was the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, which led to the establishment of land-grant colleges in each state. Until that time, American higher education had focused largely on teaching the classics and on preparing young men for white-collar professions such as medicine, law, and the ministry. The Morrill Act mandated a wider mission for the institutions it funded, covering not only the traditional curriculum, but also research and instruction in practical areas of endeavor. These included what were called the "mechanic arts," but the major emphasis was on agriculture, given that the United States was at that time still a predominantly agrarian society. Unlike most private colleges, the land-grant schools were open to women, and, over time, a belief emerged that farmers' wives were also in need of scientific training in order to carry out what was then understood to be their role in rural life: management of the household. Activities such as cooking, housecleaning, sewing, laundry, care of the sick, and sanitation were all to be transformed and modernized through the application of scientific theories and techniques. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the land-grant schools, along with a few private institutions, established courses of instruction in what was generally called "domestic science."

Ellen Richards (1842-1911) was one of the major figures in the emergence of home economics as a profession. As a young woman who had grown up in modest circumstances in a small town in Massachusetts, she defied convention by leaving home to attend the newly founded Vassar College, from which she received a bachelor's and later a master's degree. She went on to be the first, and for many years the only, woman to earn a degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating, she taught at M.I.T. as an instructor of sanitary education. She was also active in public health and social reform efforts in the Boston area. Throughout her career, she emphasized the influence of environment on health and well-being.

Beginning in 1899, Richards, along with Melvil Dewey and other educators and activists, organized a series of annual gatherings that became known as the Lake Placid Conferences, because the first of these, and several of the later ones, was held at Lake Placid, New York. Out of these conferences, a movement took shape that slowly defined itself and began pursuing specific goals. At the first conference, participants agreed on the term "home economics," which was held to be sufficiently broad to cover a wide range of concerns, and they began energetic and successful efforts to promote the teaching of home economics in secondary schools and in colleges and universities. (Attentive readers will notice that the conference proceedings use unfamiliar spelling-a product of Dewey's spelling reform efforts.)

In 1908, conference participants formed the American Home Economics Association. This organization effectively lobbied federal and state governments to provide funding for home economics research and teaching, including adult education work through agricultural extension services, leading to the rapid expansion of educational programs. Over the following decades, home economists worked as homemakers and parents, and also played significant roles in diverse areas of public life. Many pursued careers in business, including the food industry, textiles and clothing, hotel and restaurant management, and interior design. Home economists also often found jobs in public-sector and nonprofit organizations in such fields as public health, institutional management, social work, housing, and, of course, education. In addition, home economists contributed heavily to public debate on a variety of policy issues, including social welfare, nutrition, child development, housing, consumer protection and advocacy, and standardization of textiles and other consumer products. The many facets of home economics are explored in more detail in the short essays that accompany each of the subject bibliographies on this web site.

- Martin Heggestad, Mann Library

http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/h/hearth/about.html
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Old 08-01-2013, 10:57 PM   #2
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Food and Nuitrition

Food was a central concern of what was to become home economics. One of the movement's main goals was to use modern principles of science and efficiency to supply this basic human need. In the nineteenth century, the food supply was unreliable. The quality of basic ingredients such as flour and sugar was inconsistent, and lack of refrigeration and the absence of basic standards of sanitation meant that healthful plant and animal food products were often not readily obtainable for most consumers. Kitchen equipment was also primitive by today's standards; it was not until after World War I that indoor plumbing, electricity, and gas stoves became widely available. Cookbooks were only gradually coming into general use, and most people continued to prepare food using traditional techniques that were handed down from one generation to the next.

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Starting in the 1870s, cooking schools were established in a number of large east-coast cities. One of the most famous of these was the Boston Cooking School. Fannie Farmer was its best-known principal, and the school published an influential magazine. Maria Parloa, who taught at the Boston Cooking School in addition to managing her own school, was another important figure. Thousands of homemakers flocked to classes at these establishments, eager to learn how to prepare healthful and appetizing meals on a modest budget.

Other early home economists promoted a variety of rationalized, and even utopian, schemes for food preparation. Ellen Richards, for example, founded the New England Kitchen in 1890, which sold inexpensive and nutritious food to working-class Bostonians for them to take home and eat. This experiment was not a success, as the people targeted by Richards' plan resented the implied paternalism of her efforts to improve their eating habits. The New England Kitchen exemplified the shortcomings of home economists' approach to food: in emphasizing nutritive value and convenience, too often they did not sufficiently take into account the sensual, communal side of eating. They also frequently sought to impose Anglo cooking styles on immigrant and minority groups.

Home economists nonetheless did have an important impact on food and nutrition practices in the United States. Faculty working in nutrition departments in colleges of home economics made major research contributions in the field of food science. Home economists also pursued careers as nutrition educators, for example with the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as dieticians in hospitals and schools (see also the Hotel/ Restaurant/ Institution Management category). Many home economists also wrote on nutrition and food preparation for newspapers and women's magazines or went to work for the companies that were manufacturing modern, reliable kitchen equipment and foodstuff, promoting these products to a public eager to be free of the drudgery and uncertainty of traditional cooking (see also the Retail/ Consumer Studies category).
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:06 PM   #3
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You're giving me nightmares of my Jr High Home Ecs class. I almost flunked it. I was terrible at everything. Why did they make guys take that class?
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:07 PM   #4
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:08 PM   #5
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Excellent resource!

This is a complete bibliography of books and journals in Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, History, organized by both author and title or by publication year:
http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/h/hearth/browse.html
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:13 PM   #6
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Quote: Originally Posted by HK91 View Post

You're giving me nightmares of my Jr High Home Ecs class. I almost flunked it. I was terrible at everything. Why did they make guys take that class?

LOL. nothing like that now and I think it is a damn shame too. It's like domestic science is something any idiot can do, and the feminists are always making light of taking care of a home and family.

Home Economics initially began just after the Civil War when White women took up the issues of health and children including child labor laws and working conditions. Sad that such an art and science have been so casually disrespected not only now, but from its inception. I wonder how many illnesses and deaths basic hygiene and food preparation guidelines could have been saved prior to WWI?

How many hospital patients died of the freaking food that was served? LOL
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:21 PM   #7
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Heck, how many did Typhoid Mary kill? I can't remember that much about her, except they kept trying to stop her and she kept cooking for people and making them sick. That was one strange lady.
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Old 08-01-2013, 11:51 PM   #8
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I think it was before people realized they could be perfectly healthy and still carry a disease capable of spreading to others.

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http://www.snopes.com/medical/disease/typhoid.asp
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Old 08-02-2013, 12:35 PM   #9
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Hygiene

Home economists have often been portrayed as being obsessed with dust and germs and intent on inventing endless busywork for women, but such stereotypes hide the real contributions they made to health and well-being. When the home economics movement came into being at the end of the 1800s, infectious disease was the leading cause of death in the United States. Tuberculosis, influenza, typhoid, pneumonia, and diphtheria were among the many illnesses that threatened public health. Living conditions remained poor for most people, and access to safe food, water, and sewage systems was limited. This was true in rural areas, where poverty and isolation were common, as well as in the rapidly growing cities, where industrialization and large-scale immigration presented new challenges. Starting in the 1860s and 1870s, when Louis Pasteur formulated what became known as the germ theory of disease, scientists gradually came to understand the causes of infectious diseases, but until the development of antibiotics after World War II, there were few treatments.

The most effective approach was prevention, and it was here that home economists made significant contributions to public health. They reached a wide audience by working as health educators; teaching in schools, colleges, universities, and extension services; and writing articles for the popular press. In doing so, they contributed to public knowledge on a variety of issues. One of the most important of these was food preparation. Home economists taught homemakers and institutional cooks about refrigeration, cooking food to adequate temperatures, proper kitchen sanitation, and safe canning techniques. Other concerns were advocating sanitary toilets and urging construction of wells and septic systems, projects that helped prevent diseases spread by feces, such as hookworm and typhoid. Home economists also believed that dust and household dirt were major sources of health problems such as tuberculosis, but this assumption was disproved by later scientific research.

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Hygiene was a major concern of the early home economists. Ellen Richards, for example, taught sanitation at MIT. Starting around 1920, however, home economists tended to move into other fields, such as nutrition and textiles, that offered more career opportunities, while health issues were dealt with more in the hard sciences and in the professions of nursing and public health. Also, improvements in public sanitation (for example, the wider availability of sewage systems and of food inspection) led to a decline in infectious diseases and thus a decreasing need for the largely household-based measures taught by home economists.
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