Home economics as a field of study in the United States was formed before the start of the twentieth century by a group of women, most of whom were scientifically educated and reform-oriented, as well as men who were interested in applying science and philosophy to improving everyday life. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity for educated women in the male-dominated disciplines, they met at the Lake Placid Club in upstate New York to create their own interdisciplinary field of study and profession. The Lake Placid Conferences on Home Economics (1899–1909) culminated in the founding of the American Home Economics Association (AHEA) and the Journal of Home Economics. The field's mission has been to improve family wellbeing by enabling families to be successful in their reciprocal relationships with the environments in which they function. With the industrial revolution, some family functions shifted to factories, hotels, bakeries, restaurants, nursing homes, and schools, making policy concerns relevant. As a result, the field expanded its work, adding development, delivery, and evaluation of consumer goods and services; educating policy makers about concerns of the field; and attempting to shape social and even global change. Consequently, the field has provided many career options for both men and women in not-for-profit organizations, businesses, and government.
Social changes in the United States prompted the creation of specialization in many fields. These changes included exponential knowledge growth, the bustling economy during and after World War II, better public education that prepared more people for higher education, expanding public support for higher education, increasing government support of research, and developing specialized accreditation. Other changes also encouraged specilization within home economics; they included diversification of family structures, the aging population, increases in working women, technological changes, the women's movement, and increases in the number of men in the field.
For the first sixty years of the twentieth century, five specialty areas made up the core of this research-based field, but between 1970 and 2000, more distinct specializations developed (Richards 2000). The five specializations evolved as follows:
- Foods and nutrition, and institutional management added dietetics and food science;
- Child development and family relations later broadened to human development and family relations, adding family therapy as a specialization;
- Clothing and textiles became apparel and textiles and added textile science and merchandising of consumer goods;
- Housing and home furnishings developed into interior design of commercial as well as home interiors with particular emphasis on enhancing human well being;
- Consumer economics and home management evolved into family resource management, then family management, while consumer economics remained a specialization.
The name, home economics, became increasingly inaccurate in describing the work of this discipline with subspecialties studying different family functions and problems. In 1993 the new name, family and consumer sciences, was selected at a conference held in Scottsdale, Arizona, entitled Positioning the Profession for the 21st Century. Four of the five attending professional organizations (the American Home Economics Association, the American Vocational Association's Home Economic Division, the National Association of Extension Home Economics, and the National Council of Administrators of Home Economics) adopted the name change in 1994. The fifth chose human sciences instead. Internationally, the field is referred to primarily as home economics, but other names such as human ecology and home science are also used.
Scholarship and Practice
Family and consumer sciences represents a broader vision, revised conceptual framework, and reconceptualized core body of knowledge for the field. Increases in family and societal problems; ecological concerns and resource limitations; negative, unintended consequences of capitalism; the increasingly global economy; and increases in ethnic and racial diversity called into question the belief that science and its resulting technological developments would solve all our problems. Continuous progress could no longer be considered inevitable. Clearly the step-by-step procedures and sequential problem-solving processes used by laboratory science would not provide predictable results in solving human problems. Even problems themselves were re-conceptualized as opportunities for learning rather than something to be avoided (Richards 2000). These intellectual changes in the field's root disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, math, philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics, and the arts and humanities) as well as in home economics itself, reinforced a shift away from technical information and procedures toward critical and creative thinking and ethical reasoning.
Traditionally, professionals in the field have studied the everyday lives of individuals in the family as the fundamental social unit, as well as the family's interactions with the larger environments. Over time, the field's increasingly strong specializations became disciplines in their own right, even though they remain vital to the interdisciplinary field as a whole. No other profession or discipline has such a holistic approach to studying and optimizing family life with emphasis on problem prevention.
In the United States and Australia, some professionals embraced Marjorie Brown and Beatrice Paolucci's 1979 definition of the field as a critical science. They question the continuing dominance of scientific reasoning; encourage examination of the field's purposes, assumptions and questions; and urge it to renew its focus on enabling families themselves to foster the development of healthy, responsible, capable and compassionate individuals. Brown and Paolucci also argued that individuals and families should reflectively participate in the critique and formulation of social goals and means of accomplishing them. Using Jürgen Habermas's philosophy as a basis for their new conceptualization, they argued that synthesis of analyticalempirical, interpretive, and emancipatory knowledge (resulting from use of critical theory) was necessary to address practical problems of families politically, ethically, socially, physically, economically, and psychologically. This requires increased critical thinking and moral reasoning; theoretical and interdisciplinary work; evaluation of existing social practices, norms, and assumptions; and emancipation from ignorance and distorted views resulting from such things as prejudice, trauma, repression, oppression, and useless conventions. Critical science emphasizes political-moral action.
Over the years, home economists in other countries have contributed significantly to strengthening programs aimed at women, families, and children (O'Toole and Nelson 1988), and to formally and informally educating women, increasing understanding and appreciation of other cultures, improving public health, and improving the process of introducing change (O'Toole et al. 1988). Home economists in the United States began to become involved outside their country at the start of the twentieth century when mission boards hired graduates to assist in establishing home economics departments in schools and colleges in other countries to improve the living conditions of the people with whom the missionaries worked (O'Toole and Nelson 1988).
Several professional organizations also have facilitated international involvement. The International Federation of Home Economics, IFHE; the American Home Economics Association (now the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, AAFCS); and the American Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, AASULGC (now the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, NASULGC) have been active internationally. The IFHE is the only international nongovernmental professional organization concerned with home economics as a whole. Founded in 1908 in Friburg, Switzerland, IFHE brings together institutions, organizations, associations, and individuals from more than 110 countries worldwide to further the mission of home economics. IFHE has been involved with several United Nations Conferences on Women, including the 1995 Beijing conference. It has consultative status with UCOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council), UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), and other United Nations and international agencies. IFHE also cooperates with other international nongovernmental organizations related to home economics to strengthen and promote home economics concerns and exchange information (Davis 1999).
The AHEA's affiliation with IFHE began in 1915 (Nelson 1984), only a few years after its own 1909 founding. More extensive involvement began in 1922 when AHEA sent delegates to the Third International Congress in Paris (Davis 1999). This European professional work influenced the early development of home economics in the United States, discouraging emphasis on mere techniques and increasing attention to the thought patterns involved in education for family life. After the 1958 IFHE Congress in Maryland, U.S. memberships, attendance at congresses, and participation on the elected IFHE Council increased (Nelson 1984).
The AHEA published a steady stream of articles in its journals and multiple nonserial publications; it has also adopted almost twenty resolutions on international topics resulting from its members' international work. The association sent teachers to China in 1915, to Europe for home economics teacher exchanges after World War I, and to Turkey in 1920 to facilitate university program development. By 1959 more than 100 home economists were serving overseas (Davis 1999). In the 1960s and 1970s, home economists worked in multilateral efforts in such United Nations agencies as FAO, WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF, ILO (International Labor Organization), and UNESCO. The AHEA was an invited member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in the 1960s and 1980s.
Work of home economists from the United States with international visitors and students here and abroad has clearly had an impact on families bilaterally. Perhaps the greatest globally has resulted from AHEA/AAFCS sponsorship, beginning in 1930, of hundreds of international students who sought to do graduate study in the United States (Nelson 1984). Recipients have come from a wide variety of countries to study in various institutions, and many returned home to take leadership positions.
Since its creation in 1976, the AHEA/AAFCS International Section has conducted many national and international workshops and international projects. It has cooperated with other association sections and divisions, producing publications, working with many other national and international organizations, and facilitating contacts for members wanting to be internationally involved (Davis 1999). For example, concern about world population growth and hunger prompted AHEA collaboration with USAID (Agency for International Development), UN agencies, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to initiate the International Family Planning Project that served thirty countries in the 1970s (Davis 1999; O'Toole and Nelson 1988). Other efforts included the Inter-American Commission on Women and foreign government collaborations. The necessity of developing U.S. global appreciation led to the AHEAUSAID Global Connections project. In it, home economists developed country profiles on daily life in thirteen countries to teach thousands of students, members, and adult education program participants more about the world. In the 1980s and 1990s the demand for professionals overseas with multi- and bilateral agencies declined, but educational institution study and research opportunities grew (Davis 1999).
As a higher education administrators' organization, AASULGC/NASULGC members encouraged their faculty and extension specialists to do international work. They sponsored conferences funded through U.S. government programs and universities. The early government aid programs influenced the education, role, and status of women in other countries and helped to create an awareness of the meaning of home economics and its value to individuals and families. The Pan American Union (renamed The Organization of American States in 1948) opened opportunities between the 1930s and 1950s for extension home economists to help rural families train local leaders (O'Toole and Nelson 1988). In the 1940s, U.S. foreign aid to Europe and developing countries provided home economists with assignments in Greece and Turkey as consultants and advisors, helping to establish home economics extension and college programs. In post-World War II Europe (1948–1950), home economists were an important part of the Marshall Plan Economic Recovery Program, working in conjunction with the U.S. government, the YWCA, YMCA, and the Fulbright exchange program. Home economists continue to participate in Fulbright programs. During the Kennedy administration home economists were involved in USAID, the Peace Corps, and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America. After 1955 a shift in U.S. foreign aid brought requests for assistance in establishing home economics in schools at all levels and extension community development programs in India and Pakistan.
The strength and vitality of home economics varies worldwide. In Asia, it is strong in higher education. Advances are being made in many Asian countries; research is being conducted, and the discipline is attracting significant numbers of young people. In Latin America there are few units in higher education institutions, but more at the intermediate level in teacher-training programs. However, both Brazil and Colombia have strong higher education programs. In Central and Eastern Europe, home economics training is growing as a result of work done by the IFHE Committee on Outreach.
brown, m. m., and paolucci, b. (1979). home economics:a definition. washington, dc: american home economics association.
davis, m. l. (1999). "'international' in aafcs: a new perspective." journal of family and consumer sciences 91(5):15–19.
green, k. b. (1990). "our intellectual ecology: a treatise on home economics." journal of home economics 82(fall):41–47.
leidenfrost, n. b., ed. (1992). families in transition. vienna: international federation of home economics.
nelson, l. (1984). "international ventures." in definitivethemes in home economics and their impact on families 1909–1984. washington, dc: american home economics association.
nickols, s. y. (2001). "keeping the betty lamp burning."journal of family and consumer sciences 93(3):35–44.
o'toole, l.; mallory, b.; and nelson, l., eds. (1988). theinternational heritage of home economics in the united states. washington, dc: american home economics association.
o'toole, l., and nelson, l. (1988). "united states government and private international programs and funding influencing involvement of home economists in international programs." in the international heritage of home economics in the united states. washington, dc: american home economics association.
richards, v. (2000). "the postmodern perspective onhome economics history." journal of family and consumer sciences 92(1):8–11.
stage, s., and vincenti, v. b. (1997). rethinking homeeconomics: women and the history of a profession. ithaca, ny: cornell university press.
virginia b. vincenti
"Home Economics." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics
"Home Economics." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics
HOME ECONOMICS. From its beginnings, the profession of home economics, also called family and consumer sciences, closely paralleled the general development of education for women. Home economics developed out of political, economic, and technical conditions in the last half of the nineteenth century. Before then, formal training for women was virtually nonexistent. What did exist was the realization that obligations of the home extended beyond its walls. The discipline was begun by men and women, including Ellen H. Richards, Wilbur O. Atwater, Edward L. Youmans, and Isabel Bevier, who aimed to develop a profession that understood the obligations of and opportunities for women. They wanted to use scientific principles and processes to enhance management of households, and they wanted to make home and family effective parts of the world's social fabric.
Family and consumer sciences or home economics, as taught and practiced in the United States and abroad, has a broad and comprehensive focus. A plethora of names, including domestic science, living science, home science, home science education, human ecology, human sciences, practical life studies, household technology, science of living, family and household education, family and nutritional studies, and nutrition and consumer studies, also have been used to describe the discipline, whose purpose is to meet specific and general needs of individuals and families. Although the names were numerous, a single widely accepted definition was adopted at the 1902 Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics, one of ten such conferences held annually from 1899 to 1908 devoted to the study of laws, conditions, principles, and ideas concerned with a person's immediate physical environment, his or her nature as a social being, and the interrelationships therein.
Founding Home Economics
Publications, such as Catharine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841), and legislation, including the Morrill Act (1862), probably provided the impetus for the Lake Placid conferences. The Morrill Act devoted federal lands to support the development of colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts. This helped shape the field of home economics because women subsequently were admitted to these land-grant colleges, as they were called, and to some private institutions, such as Oberlin College in Ohio.
The first home economics class in an institution of higher learning was offered at Iowa State College in 1871 and was called "domestic economy." Kansas Agricultural College began its domestic economy curriculum two years later, and Illinois Industrial University followed a year after that. These and the others that followed helped women apply theories in arts and sciences to everyday living. As they studied domestic economy along with some classical curricula and as theirs became an academic discipline, educational opportunities for women expanded.
Concurrently the interest in adult education courses expanded. Prior to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, women's work was mostly needlecraft, sewing, and cooking; the work was done at home; and women received little formal educational training for these tasks. Some classes in cookery existed, such as those at the Boston Cooking School begun by Maria Parloa, and Mothers Clubs and Reading Circles developed. In time, all of these organizations had major impacts on communities. Mothers Clubs and Reading Circles became Parent Teacher Associations, and the Society of the Study of Child Nature became the Child Study Association.
Ellen Richards influenced the field of home economics and all of women's work. Considered the founder of the profession of home economics, she became in 1873 the first woman to earn a bachelor of science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (after earning an A.B. from Vassar in 1870). She published The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning and a manual for housekeepers, both in 1881. Some years later she worked on an exhibit in Chicago for the World's Columbian Exhibition (1890) based on her nutrition experiments. This exhibit was influential in establishing the first school lunch program in 1894.
Academic and adult education courses as well as increased immigration, industrialization, and urbanization added impetus for the development of this discipline, initiated at the first Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics in 1899. Three years later the conference founded a national organization, the American Association of Home Economics (AHEA), which actually began its work in 1909. The goals of AHEA were to improve living conditions in homes, institutional households, and communities. Conference participants selected subject matter that stressed family applications and developed academic requirements in cultural, technical, and vocational venues. These originally included the areas of food, clothing, shelter, and institutional management and shortly thereafter expanded to include child development, personal and family relationships, consumer education, home management, and housing.
Participants at the Lake Placid conferences designed the discipline's educational requirements in natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities for elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. They also developed ways to access funding to implement these goals, including advocating passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917. These two acts established, respectively, the Cooperative Extension Bureau and education in home economics at precollege and college levels. These efforts developed ties between institutions of higher education and teacher preparation.
World War I created demands for professionals trained in institutional management and dietetics, natural situations for home economists. After the war, additional demands arose in public health, community feeding, school lunch supervision, consumer protection, and related areas. These demands expanded the discipline's activities well beyond cooking and sewing. During the depression of the 1930s, home economists were further called upon for advice in managing family needs. These newer roles required that institutions of higher education develop and emphasize research and divide their educational offerings into narrower specialties.
These circumstances, along with a 1930 AHEA report, changed training for professionals. The training kept physiological, psychological, economic, social, and political perspectives; increased emphasis on sociology, economics, and philosophy; and decreased required courses in education, science, and home economics. This shifted the emphasis from home-related skills to those needed in away-from-home situations. Additional changes during and after World War II expanded preparation and broadened professionals' areas of service.
The AHEA suggested ways to strengthen family life, expanding offerings and reducing skills courses for the five largest areas of the profession, that is, home economics education; child development and family relations; textiles, clothing, and fashion merchandising; general home economics; and food, nutrition, and dietetics. Building on the basic disciplines, the AHEA promoted more research relating to nutrition, child development, consumer economics, and home management to increase the discipline's impact on families, homes, consumers, legislation, and technology, and on all types of households and related institutions.
Late Twentieth-Century Developments
No other discipline integrates so many applied and theoretical areas of education or reaches out as far as home economics. Many conferences, committees, and research efforts have kept the AHEA and its constituents current. In the 1960s efforts were expended toward accreditation of all undergraduate programs, achieved in 1967. The eleventh Lake Placid Conference met in 1973 to revitalize values and to develop future directions to broaden home and family life into an ecosystem conceptualization, emphasizing interdependence of people in rapidly changing environments. In the 1980s the organization focused on certification of professionals, which began in 1986.
Reaching out to meet the demands on professionals, AHEA was instrumental in organizing a professional summit to build consensus among five related organizations, including the AHEA, the home economics division of the American Vocational Association, the Association of Administrators of Home Economics, the National Association of Extension Home Economists, and the National Council of Administrators of Home Economics. At a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1993 these organizations opted to change the discipline's name from home economics to family and consumer sciences (FCS), for which the memberships favorably voted the following year. In 1997 national standards for middle and high schools were developed and adopted for FCS education, focusing on content, process, and competencies.
Positioning itself for the twenty-first century, the profession developed additional ways to empower individuals and families to take charge of their lives, to maximize their potential, and to function independently and interdependently. To further these means of empowerment, FCS and related professionals work together to create opportunities and options for their diverse constituencies, and they have made strides to increase minority membership and leadership. In addition, they have set standards for integration and application of knowledge among all peoples and constituencies. FCS professionals, with the help of others who share the same goals, have moved women's work toward the center of higher education. They have impacted society and continue to work so all professionals can see efforts in the home and the community increased and gender marginalization reduced.
The national organization, renamed the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS; renaming effective 1994), promotes improvements in individual and family life. Its efforts effect changes in areas such as food, nutrition, textiles, clothing, family relationships, child development, family resource management, design, housing, and consumer studies. Using its unique, integrated approach, it strengthens and empowers individuals, families, and communities, enhancing the quality of life. The profession strives for positive change in the multifaceted environments and ecosystems in which people live, work, and otherwise partake of life.
See also Extension Services; Nutritionists; Professionalization; School Meals; Women and Food.
American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Themes in Family and Consumer Sciences: A Book of Readings. Volume 2. Alexandria, Va.: American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, 2001, p. 563.
American Home Economics Association. The Context for Professional in Human, Family and Consumer Sciences. Volume 1. Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1996.
American Home Economics Association. Scottsdale Meeting: Positioning the Profession for the 21st Century. Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1993.
Brown, Marjorie, and, Beatrice Paolucci. Home Economics: A Definition. Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1993.
Hunt, Caroline L. The Life of Ellen Richards. 8th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1980.
Pundt, Helen. AHEA: A History of Excellence. Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1980.
Stage, Sarah, and Virginia B. Vincenti. Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession. Alexandria, Va.: American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, 2000.
Jacqueline M. Newman
"Home Economics." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics
"Home Economics." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics
home economics, study of homemaking and the relation of the home to the community. Formerly limited to problems of food (nutrition and cookery), clothing, sewing, textiles, household equipment, housecleaning, housing, hygiene, and household economics, it later came to include many aspects of family relations, parental education, consumer education, and institutional management. The application of scientific techniques to home economics was developed under the leadership of Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards; later an emphasis was placed on the social, economic, and aesthetic aspects. Although called in some countries home science, household arts, domestic science, or domestic economy, the subject is known today in the United States as home economics, and specialized terms are used for its subdivisions. The field of home economics has, at different times, emphasized training in needlework, cookery, the management of servants, the preparation of medicines, and food preservation; such instruction was once given mainly in the home and from a practical rather than a scientific standpoint. In the United States the teaching of cooking and sewing in the public schools was coincident with manual training for boys, beginning in the 1880s. State institutions, notably in Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, pioneered in introducing home economics courses on the college level in the 1870s. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act made federal funds available for extension work in home economics and agriculture, in cooperation with the states; through this provision, supplemented by later acts, home demonstration work is carried on in many rural localities. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 instituted secondary school vocational education in home economics and other fields. Home economics, once taught only to women, is now taught to both men and women; in the United States home economics courses are taught mainly at the secondary school level, more commonly in rural than in urban areas. The International Federation of Home Economics, an organization devoted to the teaching of home economics on a worldwide basis, has members in over 60 countries.
See S. Schuler and E. M. Schuler, The Householders' Encyclopedia (1973); M. B. Tate, Home Economics As a Profession (2d ed. 1973).
"home economics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics-0
"home economics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/home-economics-0
home ec·o·nom·ics • pl. n. [often treated as sing.] cooking and other aspects of household management, esp. as taught at school.
"home economics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/home-economics
"home economics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/home-economics