Ercel S. Eppright
Ercel Eppright (third from left) along with Bess Ferguson (not shown) wrote the history of home economics at Iowa State. Here she is pictured at a meeting with other home economics department heads.
It is largely thanks to Ercel Eppright that the history of Iowa State’s home economics program has been recorded. Eppright grew up in Missouri, received her masters from University of Texas in 1930 and her Ph.D. in physiological chemistry from Yale in 1936. Like Dean Mabel Nelson, who also received her Ph.D. in the same subject at Yale, Eppright studied rats for her dissertation, writing it on the “Influence of Specific Mineral Deficiencies on the Growth of Body and Organs of the Rat.”
When Eppright came to Iowa State College in 1945, she was widowed with a daughter and son. She started as professor and head of the Food and Nutrition Department, as well as a faculty member of the Iowa Agricultural and Home Economics Experiment Station.
In 1957, her co-authored text Teaching Nutrition was published. The book emphasized the importance of nutrition, asserting that, “The kind of health you enjoy 20 years from now may well be a reflection of the kind of food you are eating today.”
That same year, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations appointed Eppright home economist for the organization and offered her the opportunity to go to the Queen Aliya College for Women in Baghdad. She advised the school on how to develop a home economics curriculum and taught classes to the college’s 400 students during her year.
Of her experience in Iraq, Eppright stated: “Family ties are very strong. Brothers take responsibility for their sisters. Women enjoy a wonderful security, but in the eyes of the western world, have little freedom. In the area of family relationships, I am sure we have much we could learn from these people. Since 90 percent or more of the people are Moslem, the teachings of the Koran must be taken into consideration. This book sets down many rules for people to live by, some of which concern the type of food they should not eat, when they should fast, when divorce is permissible, how money is to be distributed among one’s heirs. One observer noted that the life of the traditional Moslem has a beauty which etches on the faces of those who live by it. I have seen examples myself.”
Eppright also wrote that the privileged girls at the school had no empathy towards the less fortunate women who did not have as many opportunities. This strengthened her belief that home economics must not be restricted to the middle class and rich but ought to be used as a tool to help poorer families as well.
As stated in Teaching Nutrition, Eppright believed that educators play an important role in “improving the nutrition of people everywhere, and recognition that improved nutrition is one factor involved in leading the way to win peace among nations.”
She would later go overseas again in 1966-1967 under a Ford Foundation Grant to work with the school’s Baroda Project in India.
In 1961, Eppright won the prestigious Borden Award for outstanding research and achievement thanks to her contributions in the field of nutrition, especially children’s nutrition. That same year she was also appointed to two important administrative positions, assistant dean of home economics and assistant director of the experiment station, positions she would hold for the next five years.
Eppright’s biggest contribution to the legacy of home economics at Iowa State would come towards the end of her career at the school, however. She and Elizabeth “Bess” Ferguson combed old records, papers and archives, as well as writing letters to countless alumni, to write their book, A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University: A Proud Past, a Lively Present, a Future Promise, published in 1971 and covering 1871-1971. Thanks to their work, the story of home economics at Iowa State will live on.