Home Economists in Twentieth-Century America
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
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As a young girl in New York State in the 1960s, I always looked forward to visiting the State Fair in Syracuse, where my grandmother, Helen Bull Vandervort, directed the women’s building. Art displays and cooking demonstrations filled the halls, and I took pride in my grandmother’s command of this exciting...
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In the late nineteenth century, as the economic function of American homes shifted from producing goods and services to consuming them, a group of middle-class women—and a few men—launched an educational reform movement to guide homemakers in this transition. Widely known as “domestic...
1. Envisioning the Rational Consumer, 1900–1920
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“The consumer who desires to be economical,” Teachers College professor Mary Schenck Woolman and Ellen Beers McGowan advised in Textiles: A Handbook for the Student and the Consumer, a textbook they coauthored in 1913, “should not make a practice of wandering about the shops to get ideas, for...
2. Creating a Science of Consumption at the Bureau of Home Economics, 1920–1940
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When Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace decided to create a Bureau of Home Economics (BHE) in 1923, he chose as its director Louise Stanley, a prominent home economist at midcareer with a broad vision of the field’s potential and a commitment to using research into the quality of household...
3. Reforming the Marketplace at the Bureau of Home Economics, 1923–1940
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In late 1927, Frederick J. Schlink, consumer activist and assistant secretary of the American Engineering Standards Committee, wrote to Ruth O’Brien, who directed the Division of Textiles and Clothing in the Bureau of Home Economics (BHE), inquiring about the existence of the old-time “thrifty buyer.” He...
4. Selling Home Economics: The Professional Ideals of Businesswomen, 1920–1940
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In June 1936, a group of home economists performed a play at an afternoon meeting during the convention week of the American Home Economics Association (AHEA). Representatives of the AHEA’s Business Department and Student Club Department took time from a busy annual meeting to attend a...
5. Product Testing, Development, and Promotion: Corporate Investment in Home Economics, 1920–1940
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As a girl growing up in Tennessee in the 1910s, Marye Dahnke aspired to a career that would combine her interest in food and nutrition with her attraction to the world of business. “I decided that I wanted to be, first and foremost, a business woman,” she later recalled. “And secondly, to be a factor, however...
6. From Service to Sales: Utility Home Service Departments, 1920–1940
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In 1917 the Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey hired Ada Bessie Swann to develop an ambitious program to educate homemakers about the benefits of gas and electricity. In less than a decade, Swann—playing a dramatic translating role between utility companies and consumers—transformed...
7. Mediation Marginalized: Home Economics in Government and Business, 1940–1970
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“What [home economists] are called on to do today is what they have been doing for years, but now they have a flag to carry,” declared Jessie McQueen, home economist at the American Gas Association, in 1942. With the entry of the United States into World War II, concern for the strength of the defense...
8. Identity Crisis and Confusion: Home Economics and Social Change, 1950–1975
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As home economists’ institutional bases in the public and private sectors eroded in the decades after World War II, the rise of second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s placed home economists’ field under harsh public scrutiny and criticism. Betty Friedan’s landmark book...
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Page Count: 456
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012