Stanley, Louise (1883–1954)

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Stanley, Louise (1883–1954)

American home economist and federal administrator. Born on June 8, 1883, in Nashville, Tennessee; died of cancer on July 15, 1954, in Washington, D.C.; daughter of Gustavus Stanley and Eliza (Winston) Stanley; Peabody College at University of Nashville, A.B., 1903; University of Chicago, B.Ed., 1906; Columbia University, A.M., 1907; Yale University, Ph.D., 1911; never married; children: (adopted) one daughter.

Became known both academically and professionally for her efforts to improve the quality of life in American homes, particularly with regard to nutrition of the poor; was selected the first female bureau chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; developed diet plans, compiled data to be used in the base-year consumer price index, and encouraged the standardization of clothing sizes; directed nutritional education programs throughout Latin America.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1883, Louise Stanley lost both her parents when she was just four years old. Stanley was intellectually gifted and, with her inheritance, pursued advanced degrees at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States, including bachelor's degrees from the University of Tennessee and the University of Chicago. Graduating from Columbia University's master's program in 1907, Stanley immediately joined the staff of the home economics department at the University of Missouri, and served as department chair from 1917 until 1923. Concurrent with her teaching duties in Missouri, the tireless Stanley entered Yale University and worked toward her Ph.D., graduating in 1911.

During the early 1900s, the growing field of home economics was considered important due to concern over the quality of life of America's households. Advances had been made in the field of nutrition, but many Americans, particularly those in rural and impoverished sections of the country, had no education in the dietary requirements that could prevent disease. In 1917, Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Act, which funded agricultural, industrial, and home economics curricula in U.S. public schools, and Stanley's continued lobbying efforts on behalf of the American Home Economics Association was instrumental in strengthening that congressional mandate. Six years later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formed a Bureau of Home Economics, and Stanley was selected as its first bureau chief. Leaving the University of Missouri, she moved to Washington, D.C., and developed research programs and educational initiatives reflecting her goal of improving the well-being of America's families. The four dietary plans developed under her direction were the foundation of several government welfare programs instituted during the Great Depression, as well as of European relief programs following World War II. Nationwide surveys on family income, spending, and savings made between 1938 and 1941 were used by the Bureau of Home Economics to establish a base line for the cost-of-living index that served as a yardstick of the domestic U.S. economy throughout the second half of the 20th century.

World War II found Stanley working as assistant director of the Human Nutrition and Home Economics Bureau, a branch of the Agricultural Research Administration. This position allowed her to further her interest in bringing nutrition education to families on an international scale. Families in several Latin American countries benefited from her push for nutrition surveys and educational programs, as did rural farming communities and minority populations throughout the United States; Stanley saw the latter group as lacking nutrition education because of racial injustice. Leaving the bureau in 1950, she went into semi-retirement by serving as a consultant for the USDA's office of Foreign Agricultural Relations.

Stanley retired from government service in 1953, although she continued to devote her time to the cause of improving the U.S. standard of nutritional health, as well as encouraging young women to pursue professions within the field of home economics. Devoted to her students, colleagues, and to the cause of home economics education, Stanley never married, although she adopted a daughter in 1929. The year before her death in 1954, a scholarship was established in her name by the American Home Economics Association. A building at the University of Missouri also bears the name of the woman who devoted her life to making home economics valid as an academic discipline and opening pathways to careers in the home economics field to countless women.


Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Pamela Shelton , freelance writer, Avon, Connecticut

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Stanley, Louise (1883–1954)

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