Joyce and Ellen at Purdue University

Joyce and Ellen at Purdue University

On March 10, 2011, Joyce and Ellen appeared at Purdue University as guests of the Purdue Women’s Club.  The stage was set quite splendidly as were the HD screen and the sound system.  It was great to be back in the mode of celebrating women in history, especially with Ellen.  We saw old friends and met new people whom we hope will become fans of our dear Ellen.







My Health and Human Sciences friends, Debra Booth, Wendi Ailor, Christina Wright and Wanda Fox (below)

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History of Home Economics

History of Home Economics

The history of Home Economics can be traced  well over 150 years ago.  One of the first to champion the economics of running a home was Catherine Beecher. (sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe)  Catherine and Harriet both were leaders in the mid 1800s in talking about domestic science.  They came from a very religious family that valued education especially for women.

The Morrill act of 1862 propelled domestic science further ahead as land grant colleges sought to educate farm wives in running their households as their husbands were being educated in agricultural methods and processes.  Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan were early leaders in offering programs for women.  There were women graduates of these institutions several years before the Lake Placid Conferences which gave birth to home economics movement.

Up until the first Lake Placid Conference in 1889, much of the work in domestic sciences had not been documented.  There were activities in the east surrounding the New England Kitchen and nutrition for the masses.  Ellen Swallow Richards was instrumental in having her very own space at the World’s Fair in 1893 called the RUMFORD KITCHEN. This was after she refused to particpate in the demonstration kitchen in the Women’s Building.  She said nutrition was not women’s work, but information for all.

Ellen and her contemporaries met at Lake Placid and other places over the next 10 years, each year exploring the latest in advances in the profession.  Their goal was to form an education and scientific association as a necesary component in formalizing the profession.

In January 1909, the American Home Economics Association was formed.  This name held until 1993 when a group of modern home economists met in Scottsdale, Arizona to chart the course for home economics in the new millennium.  Upon the recommendation of the Scottsdale  Conference, the name was changed to the Amercian Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Long before the Scottsdale meeting, many colleges and universities had changed their names to such titles as Human Sciences, Human Ecology, Consumer and Family Sciences just to name a few.  The new names sought to better position the profession within the academic communities and to further illustrate the actual majors in the profession.  While this naming benefited many in the higher educational arena, the failure to have just one name continued to errode the focus of the profession and fragmented any brand recognition for the profession.

Today, 100 years after the founding of the professional organization, family and consumer sciences professionals continue to practice in many venues including secondary teaching, college and university teaching and research and outreach through cooperative extension programs.  Many practice in the human services areas working with children and elderly and all in between.  Nutritionists, consumer specialists and housing and textiles specialists continue to provide for a better quality of life for individuals, famlilies and communities.

While there are some who hold the position that the profession has strayed far afield from the original founders’ intentions, the case can be made that in many cases, these professionals are right on target with the founders’ dreams.  There is still much to be accomplished with nutrition and obesity issues, with elder care and gerontology in general, with living green issues and always work to be accomplished to improve people’s daily lives.

The next 100 years will challenge the best and the brightest in the profession to continue a leadership legacy that was begun over a century ago.  Young students in colleges and universities are stepping up in remarkable ways to continue a legacy that lives today.

Rumford Kitchen and the World’s Fair 1893

Rumford Kitchen and the World’s Fair 1893

Rumford Kitchen

ellen-as-a-younger-student.jpg      Ellen Swallow Richards       

Ellen was determined to have a part in the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.  She was invited to be a  part of the Women’s Building and  cook in a demonstration kitchen.  However, she said she failed to see that any of her work was strictly women’s work and she wanted no part of it.  After attempts to locate in the Liberal Arts Building failed because of the possible fire hazards, she was determined to construct her own building.  This was a small frame, white building with barely room to seat 30 people. She decided to call this the Rumford Kitchen after Massachusetts native Benjamin Thompson later called Count Rumford.  He was the first to label nutrition a science in the early 1800s. The kitchen was open for all to view and the tables had the menu choices with nutrient values for each food item.  The walls were lined with posters filled with the latest nutritional information.  Since she had been bounced around before she established her own building, she was not operating the full length of the fair, but only for a few months.  Miraculously, they were able to feed over 10,000 during this short time.  Unfortunately, there was nothing about her kitchen in any advanced fair publicity and little written about it even as an historical event after the fair.  What did survive, however, were the many handouts called Rumford Kitchen pamphlets. Patrons of the kitchen were invited to take these with nutritional information.

Today, Rumford Baking Powder is owned and produced by Clabber Girl of Terre Haute, Indiana which also houses all the archives from the original Rumford Chemical Works in  East Providence, RI.  In their collection are many of the scientific instruments that Eben Horsford used to develop his special chemical baking powder.  See the web link in the blogroll at the left for a direct link to Clabber Girl Museum.

Ellen Visits FACS at ACTE in Charlotte

Yesterday was Ellen’s Birthday and today she celebrated with over 300 FACS Educators from all over the country at the Opening Session for the FACS Division off ACTE in Charlotte, NC.  Teachers found it amazing all that Ellen had accomplished.  They all agreed that the DVD of her Life and Legacy would be great to show at their faculty meetings, advisory meetings and even their School Boards.  One teacher was planning to use the DVD when she hosted the Guidance Counselors at a monthly meeting.  Elllen was busy working on her 2009 Travel schedule to include Wyoming when she visits Utah teachers in June.

Ellen as an Environmentalist

Ellen Swallow Richards:


Foremost Female Environmental Leader: Founder of Home Economics

By:  Ranae L. Aspen


The leader described for this final paper is Ellen Swallow Richards. Addressed in this paper will be her accomplishments as an Environmental Leader and a pioneer in the area of Home Economics.  Also, there will be an analysis of her leadership skills.  Finally, the current environmental issues that were relevant in the time of Ellen Swallow Richards’ will be outlined.  The beginning will be a short biography to explain the relevance of her childhood and the connection to her leadership in the vital areas of water, air and soil conservation.



Ellen Swallow Richards was born on December 3, 1842.  She was informally educated by her parents who themselves were teachers.  Ellen then went on to further her education at Vasser College in the area of chemistry. Chemistry was a study that Ellen felt would help to solve such issues as poor water quality, poor sanitation and poor nutrition.  Upon the completion of her studies at Vasser, she was the first female admitted to M.I.T.  The condition of her gender was that she be admitted as a “special” student.  This classification of “special” spoke to the masses that due to her being female, she was “special” and not taken seriously.  Gradually, through her studies and recorded findings, Ellen was taken seriously.  From 1873 until 1878, Ellen taught chemistry at M.I.T. without salary.   This in itself proves the passion Ellen had for the academic area she practiced.  Ellen helped to establish the Women’s Laboratory that opened in 1876. (ACS Chemistry for Life,  “Ellen H. Swallow Ricards (1842-1911) Women’s Advocate”, Sanitation Engineering Pioneer “ retrieved 11/11/2011).  The areas of environmental concern to Ellen were air quality, groundwater, soil and food.

During the course of Ellen’s education and practice, she recognized the need for females to be able to conduct research.  With her help and cooperation from MIT, the Women’s Laboratory was established in 1876 with 23 students and operated for seven years.  After closing the lab, the science curriculum was incorporated into the regular curriculum.  This closing was significant in that it continued under the name of Kidder laboratories and all were admitted without limiting women because of their sex.  Her contributions to science and the field of environmental and ecological studies were significant.  The barriers to her success seemed from an outward perspective to be that of her gender.  Ellen Swallow Richard’s felt so strongly about the course of environmental studies that she determined quietly not to allow the gender issue to be an issue at all, she worked around it even if it meant receiving little if any recognition from salary or not being placed into a position of power.  Through her compassion and accomplishments, she was recognized both in her era as well as in the current study of Family Consumer Science and Education.   Joyce Beery-Miles, Author and Historian, has a complete biography of Ellen Swallow Richards at It is with great gratitude for the information provided by Ms. Beery-Miles this for this writing describing a true pioneer in the field of domestic environmental leadership.

Description of Environmental Studies Conducted by Ellen Swallow Richards 

          In 1883, M.I.T opened the nation’s first laboratory of sanitary chemistry.  Richards analyzed as many as 40,000 water samples and this work moved Richards into the position of instructor and her assistance conducted a water-quality survey of Massachusetts’ inland water bodies. The scale of the survey was unprecedented and resulted in the first modern municipal sewage treatment plant in Lowell, Massachusetts.” ( retrieved 11/11/2011)

After 1890, Ellen’s interests began to focus on what was to become the study of Home Economics movement.  This involved the study of nutrition, food preparation, household sanitation and hygiene.  All of these related subjects could be taught in the public school system and could be said to be a kind of domestic-science literacy program for the masses. ( , retrieved 10/27/2011).

In 1893, the World Fair exhibit known as the Rumford Kitchen was an out growth of the applications and principles of chemistry to the science of cooking.  The exhibits purpose was to look at the area of domestic sciences rendered important by Count Rumford and to serve as an incentive to further work in the same direction.  Ultimately, the Rumford Kitchen exhibit “stood for the application of science to the preparation of food.” (Harvard University-Collection Development Department, Widener Library, HCL/The Rumford Kitchen leaflets. 1899. Boston:  Rockwell and Churchill Press, 1899).   The examination of this exhibit is proof that the disciplined leadership Ellen Swallow Richards brought to this working laboratory show cased  theories behind the chemistry and science of cooking.  These theories have carried into the practical application of nutrition and food safety as we practice today in the field of Consumer Science and Education.  It is a fair assumption after examining the outcomes of the exhibit the elements of the findings are present in today’s society and the academics of domestic science.  A prime example of this would be the study of food borne illness and the related teaching of food safety both in homes as well as within the food industry as a whole.          


Ellen Swallow Richards understood that one of her major responsibilities within MIT was to foster the scientific education of American Women.  She was quoted at the 1899 First Lake Placid Conference as stating “It has been recognized that the home cannot adjust itself of the rapidly changing conditions of modern times without the help from trained people working through the only medium, the school; hence the importance of placing courses in Home Economics on a sound educational and scientific bass.”    She went on to say; “The quality of life depends upon the ability of society to teach its members how to live in harmony with their environment-defined

 first as family, then the community, then the world and its resources.” The two quotes speak volumes as to the continued effect of her studies on current issues within the curriculum area of Family Consumer Science and Education.  The relevant issues today that continue to be addressed within family units and society as a whole hinge on those initial pioneering studies of air, water, soil and public sanitation issues.

Leadership Accomplishments:

Ellen Swallow Richards in collaboration with A.G. Woodman published, Air, Water and Food from a Sanitary Standpoint, in 1900.  The textbook taught the importance of public sanitation.  Ms. Richards was influential in the chlorination of drinking water to kill pathogenic bacteria. This was a critical practice to lower the high death rates that were being caused by drinking unsanitary water in most towns and cities in this time frame.  ( , retrieved 10/27/11).  This publication is still influential today.  MEECS published a timeline of important events in water history.   Ellen Richards is cited for publishing the classic text in sanitary engineering.  She was a pioneer in this area and the effectiveness of her findings is in practice in society today.  In a speech given by Anthony d. Cortese, ScD at the Annual Thomas R. Camp Lecture of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers in Boston Massachesetts, March 31, 1998, there were a lot of the same ideas brought forth as previously shared by Ellen Swallow Richards.  The outlined history of civil engineering included the development of better water supplies, municipal sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants to the design of buildings to protect citizens from natural hazards. It was Ellen Swallow Richards who first suggested the implementation of chlorination to public water. ( ,Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards (1842-1911) American Chemist, retrieved 10/27/11). The leadership exhibited by Ellen Swallow Richards has a lot of influence on today’s study of environmental issues as well as the current study of Home Economics, which is now Family Consumer Science and Education.

Analysis of Ellen Swallow Richards as and Environmental Leader: 

Ellen Swallow Richards was a pioneer in the areas of air, water and food in the area of environmental studies.  Reviewing the concepts necessary for leadership in the area of environment, Ellen Swallow Richards is a true pioneer.  The article, “Perspectives on Environmental Leadership”, by Portugal and Yukl outlines a two dimensional framework for environmental leadership.  It describes individual and organizational as well as the internal and external influences that make leadership effective.  The following chart utilizes the chart in the article with the addition of the internal boxes and external boxes that have been filled with examples cited in articles with regard to Ellen Swallow Richards and her style of leadership.


Books for Information and Pleasure

Consider these with Historical significance for

 Family and Consumer Sciences

Just A Housewife:  The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in AmericaGlenna Matthews. 1987.  Very interesting discussions about the evolution of domesticity for more than 100 years from the 1850’s and Catherine Beecher through nearly 30 years after the Feminine Mystique in the 1950s.  Evolution of home economics is discussed in ways many of us have never heard or read.  Fabulous research notes.

Biting the Dust:  The Joys of Housework. Margaret Horsfield. 1998.This BBC reporter makes some of the most scathing attacks on the early home economists.  It is quite interesting to read how others viewed the profession.  This author sends a rather serious indictment against home economists becoming pawns of the industries they were hired to promote and add scientific information and validity.  Worth the read for a unique perspective.

The American Woman’s Home. Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. 1869.  This book is an update on Catherine Beecher’s earlier works Treatise on Domestic Economy published in 1841.  The reader will be amazed at the extreme detail these authors use to describe the well run household in the mid nineteenth century.

Euthenics. Ellen Swallow Richards. 1910.  This was Ellen Richard’s definitive work on her vision for the domestic sciences, written right before her death in 1911.  She gives definitions and builds her case for why she believes art of right living is indeed a science.

Catherine BeecherA Study in American Domesticity. Kathryn Kish Sklar. 1973.  This serves as one of the best biographies of an early home economist.  Catherine was born in 1800, the oldest of 13 children who were home schooled.  Her strict, religious father was a huge influence in her domestic teachings as well as presented her some of her greatest philosophical challenges.  The book provides one of the best insights into early nineteenth century New England home life and the severe uphill battle most women braved at this time.

America’s First Woman Chemist:  Ellen Richards. Esther Douty. 1961.  This historical writer was first interested in Ellen after she saw a plaque in her honor at MIT.  Since she was interested in science herself, she was intrigued by this woman who against all odds was able to teach science in an all male world in the later 1800s. This biography of Ellen is the middle one of three that have been written.  The first by Caroline Hunt in 1911, the most recent by Robert Clarke in 1973.

Beatrice Paolucci:  Shaping Destiny Through Everyday Life. Margaret Bubolz. 2002.  This is a wonderful story of one of the true professionals in our century and was actually written by a committee of Bea’s contemporaries. For those of us who never had the opportunity to meet Bea or to engage in any dialogue, this is an intimate look at the person who probably did more for defining the profession than any other person.  We all have read and discussed the famous Brown and Paolucci work, but this is the first insight I ever had about the person of Bea Paolucci.  The multiple approach of the authors reflects her roles as a devoted and generous family member, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, loving and compassionate friend, superb teacher, provocative thinker and voracious reader.  Another must read for the new professional.

Revolution at the Table:  The Transformation of the American Diet. Harvey Levenstein.  2003.  The author proposes that America changed its diet over a period of about 50 years from 1880-1930.  His work attempts to analyze the economic, social, ideological forces, the complex interplay among networks of reformers, scientists, industrialists, faddists and hucksters which brought about this change.  The birth of home economics finds itself right in the middle of this discussion.  A discussion of the New England Kitchen enjoys an entire chapter.  This is also a must read for anyone who is trying to place the birth of our discipline in the proper national context.

Hidden From History: The Lives of Eight American Women Scientists.  Kim K. Zach 2002.  There is little in this book that we don’t already know about Ellen Richards.  However, it is the intent of the author where we need to take notice.  She arrives at the eight women in her book after visiting the Seneca Falls Women’s Hall of Fame and realizing that she really doesn’t recognize but a very few of the women scientists who are honored here.  Most are just “accidental scraps” as suggested by Walt Whitman.  Each woman in this book faced huge challenges and still persevered.  These are their stories and Ellen’s is among them.

Others of Interest for various reasons:

Maria Mitchell: The Soul of an AstronomerBeatrice Gormley. 1995.

Captivating and energizing story of the woman who ignited Ellen Swallow’s desire to seek the sciences as her life’s work. From childhood memories to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we follow the remarkable career of one of the first women of science.

Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform,

Ellen Fitzpatrick. 1990.  Engrossing story about four women whose lives intersected in efforts to bring social issues and reform to the forefront in the Progressive Era.  Edith Abbot, Sophonisba Breckenridge, Katharine Bement Davis and Frances Kellor.

Made From Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth. Jean Zimmerman. 2003.  Award winning journalist Zimmerman traces the history of domesticity and relates historical memories she has of her grandmother’s day.  She relates much of her home economics knowledge as coming from a great aunt who was a teacher of the subject. Her discussions of the challenges today balancing work and maintaining family traditions should interest many in our profession.

Girl SleuthNancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. Melanie Rehak. 2005.  Since I was an avid Nancy Drew fan in my teen years, I wondered how this possibly related to our profession.  The author builds the story of the two women who wrote the Nancy Drew books under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.  These two women were modern pioneers way ahead of their time with their own stories that detail women’s progress as well as their challenges early in the twentieth century.  There is reference to both Ellen Richards as well as to her husband Robert.

A Fierce Discontent:  The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America 1870-1920.Michael Mc Gerr. 2003.  For the serious history buff, this author assists us to accurately position the home economics movement in the mix of all that was happening on either side of the turn of the century.  This selection provides us with names of many of the other reformers who most likely knew Ellen Richards, if not personally at least by reputation.  Reading about the country during this time lends a certain quality of authenticism to the struggles that we know Ellen faced during the same time period.  The author’s research notes are invaluable for the scholar who wants to delve more into the time period.

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Erik Larson.  2003.  The author is quite successful in telling the story of two men and their involvement with the 1893 World’s Fair-the brilliant architect who designed the legendary Fair and a cunning killer who used the Fair to lure victims to their death. While the actual book is fiction, the accounts of Chicago at the turn of the century are accurate as is the story of the killer on the midway.  This is just one more opportunity for the reader to immerse themselves in the culture at the turn of the century.

We The Women:  Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America.  Madeleine B. Stern. 1962. The author has selected 12 women in the arts, science and technology, the profession and trades, and business and industry to feature their stories. Ellen Richards is featured in science and technology. This quote from the author’s forward in the first edition tells it all.  “Here, for the first time, a handful of women firsts have been tracked down, assembled, brought once again to life.  Here they pry open doors and enter corridors where no woman has preceded them.  Here they charter, as they did a century ago, the uncharted, explore the unexplored, and give to the women who came after them a stronger purpose, a more possible dream.”  The author tells us very little new information about Ellen, but she approaches her story about Ellen in a slightly different manner than others who have related her fascinating history.  As in other works of this nature, the source notes at the conclusion of the article are invaluable to other researchers as we look for just one more item we have never seen before.