The Postmodern Perspective on Home Economics History

By Richards, M. Virginia | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Postmodern Perspective on Home Economics History


Richards, M. Virginia, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


ABSTRACT

Home economics developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Increased interest in admitting women into colleges initiated an effort to apply the newly recognized science to the management of the home The home economics profession was formalized during the Lake Placid Conferences, 1899-- 1909, and it grew in importance during the first half the 20th century After 1960, societal changes necessitated evolution in the home economics profession as postmodernism questioned the infallibility of science in solving society's problems. This paper provides a history ofhome economics and analyzes the postmodern paradigm's application to the evolution offamily and consumer sciences.

The home economics movement in higher education developed as a result of factors unfolding in the last decade of the 19th century and in the first decade of the 20th century. After its introduction in the 19th century, science became increasingly more important to the academic curriculum. Young women traditionally learned housekeeping skills at home, but an increased interest in admitting women into colleges initiated an effort to apply science to the management of the home. Home economics as a profession was formalized during the Lake Placid Conferences, 1899-1909, and it grew in importance during the first half of the 20th century. After 1960, societal changes necessitated modifications in the home economics profession. Postmodern thought began to question the infallibility of science in solving society's problems. This paper will provide an overview of the history of home economics and will analyze the postmodern paradigm as it applies to the profession of family and consumer sciences.

A SHORT HISTORY OF HOME ECONOMICS

The study of home economics and domestic economy emerged rapidly as an acceptable field of study for women to pursue in college. Land-grant universities, established by the Morrill Act of 1862, led the movement to admit women into new departments of domestic economy or home economics. Kansas State Agricultural College, University of Minnesota, Iowa State College, Illinois industrial University, and Michigan State Agricultural College, among others, admitted women and taught home economics courses shortly after the Civil War. The School of Domestic Science and Arts at the Illinois Industrial University delineated the following mission: ... to give to earnest and capable young women a liberal and practical education, which should fit them for their great duties and trusts, making them the equals of their educated husbands and associates and enabling them to bring science and culture to the all important labors and vocations of womanhood (as cited in Bevier, 1928, p. 126). The development of home economics as a field to study resulted from a desire to teach young women to apply science to the management of their homes.

Edward L. Youmans, a chemist, made significant contributions to home economics through his efforts to use chemistry to solve practical problems of the home environment. In 1857 he published a book entitled Handbook of Household Science, in which he presented a scientific study of food, air, heat, and fight from the standpoint of the home worker (Tate, 1973). Other chemists and physicists also studied heat, ventilation, sanitation, and nutrition in relation to the home.

Ellen H. Richards, a prominent chemist and the first woman graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helped establish the field of home economics through her work in sanitary chemistry. In the 19th century, colleges required women to perform skill-oriented domestic duties as part of their training to be housewives, but Dr. Richards felt that skill orientation did not adequately prepare women for their roles as managers of increasingly modern households (Craig, 1945; Hunt, 1958). The rising interest in science had just begun to benefit the home. She advocated the use of domestic science, an early name for home economics, to teach young women the application of scientific concepts to homemaking. …

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