Sesquicentennial celebration

History of Iowa State: People of Distinction

Sponsored by the University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Copyright 2006




Precious Mabel Nelson

Dr. Precious Mabel Nelson was born November 9, 1887, in Brookston, Indiana, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Nelson. She graduated from Riverside High School in Riverside, California, in 1906. For the next few years she taught in a country school. In 1909, she entered the University of California at Berkeley to prepare to teach English. While there she learned of a "new" field called home economics. In 1912, she transferred from Berkeley to the State Normal School of Manual Arts and Home Economics at Santa Barbara. She graduated from there the following year and received a diploma enabling her to teach sewing and cooking. Dr. Nelson returned to Berkeley and finished her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition (1916). During the fall of 1919, she entered Yale University and graduated from there with her degree as a doctor of philosophy (1923).

Dr. Nelson came to Iowa State University College (University) in 1923. She joined the staff as an associate professor and Director of Research in Food and Nutrition. By 1926, she became the head of the department, and in 1944 was named Dean of the Division of Home Economics. During her time at Iowa State she expanded the department's staff size from 83 to 108. She also pioneered the development of cooperative research among home economists of land grant colleges and state universities.

In addition to her duties as dean, Dr. Nelson was very active in extension activities through her work with the Federation of Women's Clubs. She worked closely with the graduate committee of the college and with the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station. She was involved with WOI radio and appeared during the program called the "Homemaker's Half Hour". Dr Nelson also helped coordinate people during WWII in food production, conservation, and nutrition. She gave similar advice to those in charge of Iowa's penal institutions.

Dr. Nelson was a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Nu, Iota Sigma Pi, Mortar Board, Omicron Nu, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Upsilon Omicron, Sigma Delta Epsilon, Sigma Xi, American Association of University Women, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Nutrition, and is listed in the 10th edition of American Men of Science, a directory of outstanding scientists in North America. She was permanent chairperson of the first cooperative project in six Midwestern states studying the nutritional status of college women, as well as chairperson of the Health Committee. She was a member of the executive group of the Iowa Home Economics Association and of the Iowa Farm Safety Committee. Dr. Nelson penned several professional papers and co-authored a laboratory manual called Food Preparation, Principles and Procedures.

Dr. Nelson retired as dean in 1952. She continued to teach at Iowa State before moving to California to live with her sister in 1957 . She died there February 19, 1963.


Resources available online


Precious Mabel Nelson Papers

RS 12/1/14
University Archives, Iowa State University Library


Precious Mabel Nelson

Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State University Archives, Iowa State University Library