Domestic Sciences at Bradley Polytechnic Institute and the University of Chicago

Article excerpt

The University of Chicago and Bradley Polytechnic Institute shared William Rainey Harper as their president during Bradley's early years. The Departments of Domestic Science or Domestic Economy at each school, however, were founded with different philosophies from their respective founders.

Nellie Kedzie (Jones) founded the Department of Domestic Economy at Bradley Polytechnic Institute based on the Industrial model she brought from Kansas. She was educated in the western tradition at Kansas where the middle class did not have the benefits of domestic help. The Industrial model was based on a balance of doing and knowing. Nellie Kedzie was determined that her students could have clean sanitary homes and have the knowledge and skills to perform functions that would allow them to meet these goals.

Marion Talbot received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She came to The University of Chicago from Wellesley College to become the dean of women. Marion Talbot and her colleagues organized and initiated Sanitary Science at The University of Chicago based on a model promoted by Ellen Richards. This model was based more on knowing, with much less emphasis on any skill development. This model assumed the home manager needed knowledge to direct work to be done properly and in a sanitary manner. Marion Talbot was mentored by her friend and teacher, Ellen Richards, who is noted in most history books as the founder of Home Economics. Richards tended to ignore most of the programs that were based on the Industrial model and promoted programs such as is at The University of Chicago and Bevier's University of Illinois, who supported Richard's philosophy.

This paper will present a comparison and contrast between the early domestic science programs at Bradley Polytechnic Institute and at The University of Chicago from the early 1890s until Nellie Kedzie's departure from Bradley Polythechnic Institute. In addition, this article will explore the influence of early pioneers in domestic science and the influence of Ellen Richards on the founding philosophy of domestic science.

Most historical notations for the beginning of Home Economics (now called Family and Consumer Sciences) point to the year 1909, and to Ellen H. Richards as the single founder from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This date was at the conclusion of a series of conferences held at Lake Placid, New York, where important discussions were held about this new field of study. Home economics has had a common thread that runs through much of the history of the discipline. That thread is made up of two fibers, two agendas for the discipline. One fiber, the stereotype of home economics, is that it is merely a field for women to develop skills needed for homemaking. This overt agenda, then, is that home economics (now Family and Consumer Sciences, and earlier domestic science) teaches women to fulfill their traditional roles as homemakers or teachers of homemakers, with all of the negative and positive connotations that may be seen in this role today. The overt agenda is often seen as the only agenda. Present units of family and consumer sciences (formerly called home economics) have suffered from this stereotype, as most higher learning institutions could not support a curriculum incorrectly perceived, even by its faculty, as one that focuses primarily on skill courses. The second agenda is one that is more hidden and needs to be searched more thoroughly in historical documents. That agenda could have been one of promotion of sanitation in a very broad sense, such as that held by pioneers in the field such as Ellen Richards. On the other hand, the second agenda may have been a balanced approach to support theoretical concepts with application in laboratory settings. That second important agenda allowed women to have respect in the teaching and business world.

The more one understands the history of a profession, the more likely it is that one will understand the philosophy of a profession. …