“An inspiring teacher and a devoted friend of young people”—Iowa State President Charles E. Friley
When acting President Herman Knapp had the idea to hire Genevieve Fisher, he asked her future colleagues if they would “object to having a dean with bobbed red hair.” Fischer had just recently gotten a bobbed haircut while in Paris to go with the fashionable Parisian hat she had hopes of finding. There were no objections, and the stylish new home economics dean, who always wore a hat and gloves when walking across campus, would stay at Iowa State for 17 years.
Born and raised in Illinois, Fisher, like her predecessor, Anna Richardson, was educated at Columbia University, receiving her B.S. in 1914 and M.A. in 1927. She worked at Iowa State in the teacher education program, until she, also like Richardson, went to Washington D.C. to serve on the Federal Board for Vocational Education from 1919-1922. After that, Fisher directed the home economics for teachers program at the Carnegie Institute of Technology at Pittsburgh until she was offered the job of dean at Iowa State in 1927.
In her second year as dean, Fisher increased the specialization of the program by dividing the Household Administration Department into Home Management, Household Equipment, and Child Development.
This restructuring reflected the dean’s philosophy about the most important aspects of home economics. In a letter to President Raymond Hughes, Fisher wrote that she and her staff felt “that perhaps for the most part, Home Economics has made its largest contribution to the American Home through the Physical Aspects, that is, housekeeping and home management. We do not at all apologize for this for we feel that a well organized house at least is a big step toward and fundamental to contended home life. We agree that more and more we should orient our course about home life.” This focus on the home and family represented a big shift from the reputation of older home economics programs as emphasizing cooking and sewing.
Throughout her term, other new departments would be added, including Applied Art, Foods and Nutrition, Institution Management, Textiles and Clothing, and Home Economics Education.
Dean Fisher not only expanded the home economics program, she and her staff also sought to increase students and prepare them for more diverse opportunities. The class of 1930 had 253 bachelor’s and 51 master’s students. Half of those students became high school teachers, and thirty taught at colleges.
By 1940, enrollment nearly reached 1900. That year’s summer program had 280 graduate students. By that time, all eight programs offered master’s degrees, and the Foods and Nutrition Department offered Ph.D.s. The staff also grew from 57 in 1927 to 83 in 1944.
During Fisher’s administration, the Home Economics Placement Bureau at Iowa State was also organized, greatly expanding the types of careers graduates considered. Besides teaching, the bureau placed students in careers of: “commercial foods work, demonstrating food products; conducting research in experimental laboratories; hospital dietics, Red Cross nutrition service; extension service; institutional management, including supervision of food service in cafeterias, dormitories, and tea rooms; home service directors of household equipment in gas and electric companies; directors of home economics departments for manufacturing organizations; department store positions including retail selling, and personnel service; and positions combining home economics and journal training.”
Fisher traveled often throughout her life. Her destinations included England, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Mexico, Cuba and Hawaii. She always paid particular attention to rural life and the problems associated with it in the different places she visited, using those experiences to understand problems and needs of many Iowa State students.
Thanks to her caring attitude and commitment to growth, when Dean Fisher left Iowa State in 1944, it was the largest home economics program in the country.