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Home Economics: A History

With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.


The Keys to the House

As evidenced by archaeological examinations of ancient graves, women have been buried with keys. Traditionally, women ran the household while their husbands farmed the land or worked outside the home. Wives were given free reign over all aspects of home management from clothing and food to managing the finances. In today’s world this seems hardly like work, however, when one remembers that food came from the garden or was fresh killed in the woods and the work involved with simply keeping a family fed, without the added benefit of electric appliances or running water straight from the tap, it becomes clear that the kitchen was truly the heart of the home. Further, clothing as well as bed linens and quilts were made by hand which is terribly time consuming. Add to this raising children and managing, often meager, finances, it soon becomes apparent that home management was a full-time job.


Foundational Education

In the 19th century, Catharine Beecher was one of the first to promote the economics of running a home. Under the Morrill Act of 1862, which was signed by President Lincoln, land was granted to states to for vocational education including Home economics. This allowed a wide variety of people from various economic backgrounds to receive a better education. As one can imagine, the home economics classes were dominated by women as they allowed women not only a better education, but also the skills necessary for running a household. It is important to note here that this was in the midst of the Civil War, a time when men left home to fight leaving behind women to run the home during a time when resources were often quite scarce. Therefore, such classes were of great importance not only for women but for society as well.



Classes in Home Economics traditionally taught students gardening, sewing, cooking, and the care of children. Perhaps most importantly, in the early years when Home economics began, students were also taught caring for those who were sick and lessons in sanitations. Again, these were vital and practical lesson that would help see women through the devastation the Civil War brought to many doorsteps. At the 1899 Lake Placid Conference, a meeting of contemporaries in the field of Home Economics, activists began to petition for schools across the country to teach these courses. By 1908 the American Home Economics Association was formed and went on to lobby both state and federal governments to fund and enable the research and teaching of the subject.


Home Economics Enters the 20th Century

In the early years of the twentieth century society was calling for more opportunities for the youth to learn vocational skills. This desire is evidenced by the more than thirty bills put before Congress between 1909-1917 that dealt with vocational education. Due to WWI and WWII, there was a great need across the nation for homemaking education. Under this backdrop, came the Smith-Lever Act (1914) and Smith-Hughes Act (1917) which created federal funding for vocational education and created the Office of Home Economics. This allowed more Home Economics education courses available across the United States.


Home Economics in the Modern World

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, it became common for people to say” I learned to bake bread.” Home Economics is now termed Family Consumer Science, in part make it more inclusive for both males and females. The course has been adapted to broaden the curriculum choices which now include health and wellness, apparel, and even interior design. Further, students now have the opportunity to join the organization Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America. This allows them to develop 21st century skills such as resource management, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Homemaking today is an acceptable career for both men and women. Unfortunately, Home Economics courses have been declining, yet they are still important. Just as college prepares one for woke life, Home Economics courses prepares one to succeed in home life-an area many young people struggle with today.

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Works Cited

Biester, Charlotte E. (1952). "Catharine Beecher's Views of Home Economics". History of Education Journal. 3 (3): 88–91

Council, National Research; Agriculture, Board on; System, Committee on the Future of the Colleges of Agriculture in the Land Grant (1995).

"Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | Women in Higher Education".

"America at Century's End".

"What is FCS? - American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences".

Noddings, Nel (2013). Education and Democracy in the 21st Century. Teachers College Press. ISBN 9780807753965.


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 16, 2021:

Learnimg home economics is significant.

Brandy R Williams (author) from West Virginia on June 16, 2021:

Thank you Pamela!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 16, 2021:

This is a very interesting article about the history of home economics, Brandy. I enjoyed reading this article. Women have come a long way, and it is interesting g reading this history.

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