"separate spheres"

spring cleaning


late 1800s urbanization, industrialization


Olive Schreiner – rather than nostalgically idealizing old domestic life, women should find new challenges – "Give us labor and training!"


Charlotte Perkins Gilman for women’s economic independence –

Having women in home was "breeding in men limitless personal selfishness." 


Apartment communities, apartment hotels

1914 NY Feminist Alliance planned "Feminist Apartment House" - 12 story building near Greenwich Village - roof-top nursery school, 170 kitchenless apartments;


Laura Fay-Smith criticized "feminist paradise palace" for encouraging women to refuse nature’s "responsibilities" of motherhood - destroying nature's order for women as mothers.  Apartment house never built, project fell through for lack of money & support. 

Commercial services 1880s –

New York, Boston cooked-food delivery services;

"apartment hotels" – central kitchen, dining room, laundry & maid service;

funeral homes;


Ladies' Home Journal 1911: "What a certain type of woman needs today more than anything else is some task that 'would tie her down'.  Our whole social fabric would be better; too many women are dangerously idle." 


"The utmost domestic irresponsibility is the woman who lives in a boarding house or apartment hotel and has nothing to do.  If she makes anything out of her life at all, she is obliged to do it through outside activities."


Post World War I red scare – anti-Communism;

Early 1900s age of professionalism

Woman's Journal: "Creation of a body of graduates of Household Science would lift the pursuit into appreciation and honor.  Certainly it deserves to be as highly esteemed as medicine, law, or theology.  What is so valuable as a good home?"


Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911)

   Entered Vassar 1868 – study with

   Maria Mitchell, chemistry professor

   Charles Farrar. 

MIT “special student” - second undergrad degree in chemistry 1873.  Married MIT professor of mining engineering Robert Richards;

MIT instructor, set up new Woman's Laboratory

   (Women’s Lab closes 1883, Richards appointed instructor in sanitary chemistry for new sanitation lab)


1873 creating new field, "science to teach people how to live" -  blend chemistry, biology, engineering & economics into practical guidelines for daily life. 


annual conferences at Lake Placid – called "domestic science" or "home ECs"

1908 American Home Economics Association - Richards first president. 

teach women to "call in the help of the experts".

Leaders of home economics: "Many of us are afraid for the future of the home, since life outside the home is becoming too attractive.  The study of the household arts would make the home a more interesting place."


"Fortunately, we are firm in the belief that homemaking is the most natural & therefore the most desirable job for women.”


"When the grand meaning and hidden power of woman's preordained sphere dawn upon her in their full force through scientific study, then she will not sigh because Nature has assigned her special duties, which really need for their performance the highest scientific knowledge."


Doctors said home ec could reduce "infant mortality, contagious diseases, divorce, insanity, & the competition of labor between the sexes." 



   germ theory of disease

   – “household germ”. 

   "Contagion from the Telephone",

   "Disease from Public Laundries",

   "Do Cockroaches Cause Cancer?"


American Medical Association called on women to "establish a sanitary regime in every room in the home."


failing to keep disease away from family "will be reckoned akin to murder".

Lysol ads: "Even the doorknobs threaten children with disease."


1890s-1920s "the cult of efficiency" or "efficiency craze."

Mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor; 

system of "scientific management" – "the one best way to do work."

stopwatch, charts, reorganization of work process

   Taylor and students consultants in industrial engineering;


Domestic efficiency

- "one best way" to design kitchen;

Ladies Home Journal 1912 Christine Frederick,

women as "domestic engineers"

   set time for tasks,

   make daily & weekly schedules,

   keep systematic family files;

Ellen Richards: "Man sees a better way, uses & perfects it.  Women see only the day's work.  Women need the influence of the scientific spirit." 

Women aren’t yet good housekeepers, "we must make them dissatisfied". 


"If a woman undertakes homemaking as her occupation, she should make that her business, and use the time gained from efficiency to further prepare herself."


More working women going into factories & offices, hard to find domestic help;


1916 20% of public high schools courses in home ec


over 250 college and university home ec programs – 18,000 students

   land-grant colleges – Iowa State, Cornell, Wisconsin, Illinois


Kansas State: "When the boys learn to grow wheat, the girls learn to make it into bread!  When the boys raise apples, the girls give them pie!  And so both sides of the house shall be trained, until the perfect home shall be attained, and every community will bless those women who are experts in domestic science." 


M. Carey Thomas (president Bryn Mawr): "astounded" to see home economics which is "not among great studies" included in college – worried about "preposterous" notion of expecting all women to study domestic science.


Iowa State College:

Women admitted from start 1869

board of trustees: "If young men are to be educated to fit them for successful, intelligent & practical farmers & mechanics, is it not as essential that young women should be educated in a manner that will qualify them to properly understand & discharge their duties as wives of farmers & mechanics?  We must teach the girls... through our Agricultural College to acquire by practice a thorough knowledge of the art of conducting a well-regulated household, practiced in our Farm House, Boarding Hall, garden, dairy & kitchen." 


Adonijah Welch: "Only four institutions in this broad land teach to girls the theory and practice of housekeeping, and not one furnishes any systematic instruction in the higher and holier duties of the mother & wife.  If to woman has been entrusted, by virtue of her nature, the care of infancy, training of childhood, and in a certain sense guardianship of public morals, what wonders for the advancement of society might she not accomplish if she were properly taught for these duties?  Woman undoubtedly has comparative intellectual strength [to men]. Has society ever given to women the advantages to encourage learning and original discovery?  We need not heed the suggestion that enlarged intelligence will divert women's attention from domestic life - beyond question these are the employments to which her sympathies naturally and usually point.  Among her increased facilities for scientific instruction should stand prominent the study of domestic economy.  Nor have we ground to fear that extended studies will at all detract from woman's delicacy of feeling and modesty which are among her chief attractions."

1871 ISU trustees adopt "ladies' course of study".  

1875 trustees ask Mary Welch to lecture on Domestic Economy

-studied at New York School of Cooking and in England;

- criticizes "decidedly loose recipes (“add a pinch of salt, use your own judgment about seasoning")


- "To be good for anything, a recipe should be as definite as a mathematical statement.  The same quantities of material put together in the same proportions should always produce the same results.  Guessing is of no more value in cooking than in science."



Welch: "Theory & manual skill have gone hand in hand, with practical lessons in all details of household management such as furnishing, washing & ironing, care of sick, care of children, etc." 


Kitchen = laboratory

   “experimental problems in foods”

variety of kitchens – small, large, farm kitchen, urban, modern kitchen

   laundry “scrub lab”

   home management houses

   Albert Foote, Nettie Naylor course in chemistry of household life;


Iowa State report: "The courses in domestic economy have been organized on a thoroughly scientific basis.  Students in foods enter the labs already required to take basic science studies in chemistry, physiology & physics.  Instead of merely empirical work learning how to make a good bread, which any good mother ought to be able to teach her own daughter, students in this subject should approach it in as thoroughly a scientific manner as students in any field of applied science and should come out as well equipped as the technically trained agriculturalist or engineer."


1906 Iowa Extension Service Law – extension trains, one-week short courses, exhibits at Iowa State Fair - goal of reaching "the last woman on the last farm". 

Emma Ewing: "What this country needs is better pumpkin pies & less politics." 


1920s Iowa State master’s degrees in home ec

1950s over 100 staff


US Department of Agriculture consulting home ec experts to publish booklets on food and cooking;

WWI home ec for national defense – save food for troops and starving Europeans; “wheatless” bread, community gardens;


Women as home ec faculty, department chair, even dean – "women's work" in science.

Home changing - telephone, electricity & automobile;

between 1919 & 1929:

  gross national product rose 39%,

  manufacturing output almost doubled,

  average worker’s wages rose 25%.


1917 only 20% of American homes electrified; by 1940, 90%.

  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal – Rural Electrification Administration. 


1924 only 65,000 mechanical refrigerators; by 1934 ten million.


1910 1 car for every 184 people; by 1930 1 car for every 5 people. 


Between 1919 & 1929, annual production of washing machines doubled,


1920 20% American homes had flush toilets, by 1930 50%. 




Electric irons, electric toasters, gadgets;


1920s General Electric railroad tour to display refrigerators.

1939 New York World's Fair - "The World of Tomorrow"


     "Battle of the Centuries"

     (“Mrs. Drudge” vs. “Mrs Modern”)


home electricity big business

   late 1800s Chicago Edison head Samuel Insull promotes consumption of electricity;

 "A home without electricity is like a coat without a lining - unfinished, incomplete." 


Advertisements for “labor-saving” machines;

1924 women 52 hours/week on household chores; 1965 55 hours;

“second shift”.


housework physically easier – vacuuming carpets rather than beating them;

Coal stove gave way to electric range, outhouse gave way to indoor plumbing, kerosene lamps gave way to electricity,

Store-bought food – Heinz and Campbell canned vegetables and soup, Kellogg's Cornflakes, & Jello desserts; frozen foods;


So why "more work for mother"?

   - limits of new technology;

   - technology raised expectations;

   - technology saved men’s work;

   - technology creates new chores;

   - fewer household servants



advertising – housework as a calling, as creative work, as an expression of love ("Prime rib roast, like peach ice cream, is a wonderful stimulant to family loyalty.")

dishwashing is "a fine action, a sort of religion, a step in the conquering of evil, for dirt is sin." 

Woman as consumer:

"Marriage today is not only the culmination of a romantic attachment, it is also a decision to create a partnership in establishing a comfortable home equipped with a great number of desirable products." 


Woman as chauffeur:

   Less home delivery services;


Isabel Bevier was told: "the place for women in chemistry was in work with foods". 

   Bevier head home ec at University of Illinois;


Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972)

   With husband Frank:

    - time and motion study

    - "chronocyclograph" camera

    - break work into “therbligs"

     (“locate” tool, grasp, move)


"Cheaper by the Dozen": "Dad would walk into a factory like the Pierce Arrow auto plant and announce that he could speed up production by one-fourth - and then he'd do it, too.  Dad always practiced what he preached, and it was impossible to tell where his scientific management company ended and his family life began.  Our house was a sort of school for scientific management & elimination of wasted motions.  Dad took moving pictures of us children washing dishes, so he could figure out how we could reduce our motions & hurry through the task.  Dad installed work charts in the bathrooms.  Every child was required to initial the charts in the morning after he had brushed his teeth, taken a bath & made his bed.  At night, each child had to weigh himself, plot the figure on a graph, and initial the work charts again after he had done his homework and brushed his teeth.  It was regimentation, all right - but bear in mind the trouble most parents have in getting just one child off to school, and multiply it by twelve - some regimentation was necessary to prevent bedlam.  Dad even showed us the most efficient way to take a bath - run the soap up one side of your body, down the other, then a few strokes on the front and back, and you're done.  Yes, at home or on the job, Dad was always the efficiency expert.  He buttoned his vest from the bottom up, instead of top down, because bottom up took only three seconds and top down took seven.  For a while, Dad even tried shaving w/ two razors, but he finally gave that up - he grumbled, "I can save 44 seconds, but I wasted two minutes this morning putting this bandage on my throat."  It wasn't the slashed throat that really bothered him - it was the two minutes."

  - After Frank’s death, Lillian trouble getting jobs - finds way in through "women’s work," redesigning kitchen –

Purdue industrial engineering department – "first lady of engineering"