Born 31 July 1858, Thun, Switzerland; died 20 October 1948, Chicago, Illinois
Daughter of Israel T. and Emily Fairbanks Talbott
Marion Talbott's was an intellectual, well-established New England family; her father was the first dean of the medical school of Boston University, and her mother was active in establishing the Girls' Latin School in Boston. Talbott was encouraged by her parents in her advocacy of women's rights in academic institutions. She received a B.A. from Boston University in 1884 and a B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1888.
In 1892 Talbott joined the University of Chicago faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, where she taught sanitary science and was appointed the first women's dean in a coeducational institution. In 1906 she established the Department of Household Administration. After her retirement in 1925, Talbott served as acting president of Constantinople Women's College in Turkey (1927-28, 1931-32).
Talbott's pioneering work in women's education was complemented by her scholarly study of the application of science to the home. This latter interest was probably sparked by her association with Ellen H. Richards, a leader in the home economics field, a family friend, teacher, and colleague. With Richards, Talbott edited Home Sanitation: A Manual for Housekeepers (1887) and wrote "Food as a Factor in Student Life" (1884). The latter is a more scholarly study of food services in dormitory settings and how to set nutritious standards at a low cost. Both books are simplistic and outdated but were important beginning steps in the study of nutrition and home economics.
The Modern Household (1912) is an introductory text intended for housewives and college students to help them adapt to modern social changes affecting the home. The book covers a variety of topics ranging from the mundane care of the house to ethics in consumerism and the community.
The Education of Women (1910) describes the educational opportunities available to girls and women in the U.S. Talbott' defense of social hygiene, exercise, and training for rational thinking dates the book, but she was advocating "daring" ideas at the time. Talbott's emphasis on women in the home pervades her writing, and in this way she makes her more "radical" ideas acceptable to a skeptical readership.
The History of the American Association of University Women, 1881-1931 (1931), written with Lois Mathews Rosenberry, is a detailed account of the committees, work, and goals of the association Talbott helped to found.
Anyone interested in the turbulent, innovative founding days of the University of Chicago will find Talbott's More Than Lore (1936) a delight to read. She is forthright in her statements about discrimination against women professionals at the university. Talbott believed women should be "ladies," polite and well-bred, and that a higher education prepared women to be better wives and mothers. In this way, she supported the traditional roles of women. Her writings are also interspersed, though, with a sharp appreciation of women's contributions to society and the difficulty of managing a home, and these analyses sound similar to modern writings on the sociology of housewives and housework. Most clearly, her critiques of discrimination against women in academia are relevant and accurate today.
NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Publications of the Members of the University of Chicago: 1902-1916 (1917).
—MARY JO DEEGAN