Home Ec Revisited: More Than Cooking and Sewing

 

Boomer boys took shop and auto mechanics in junior and senior high. We young ladies studied Home Economics. We were introduced to kitchens and stoves; fabric and patterns. Maybe we learned to make a casserole (tuna?), and how to cut and sew a project (maybe an apron or a poncho). Those in rural areas might have learned how to can.

We were taught the basics of planning family meals, how to set the table properly, and perhaps we had to diaper a baby doll. We learned the rules on picking the right styles and colors of clothing to enhance one’s particular figure, and then we actually made them on trusty sewing machines.

UGAs McPhaul Center
Now McPhaul Center but originally a cluster of four houses in which seniors in home economics lived for an academic quarter and practiced various household tasks, from budgeting, cooking, and entertaining, not to mention home maintenance. The home management training program ended in 1989 and the houses converted to faculty offices and research facilities.

We have our memories and we can chuckle about them now. But the Home Economics discipline was and is more complex than teenage girls of mid-century America would have understood.

“It’s always been about more than cooking and sewing,” explains Linda Kirk Fox, UGA Dean of Family and Consumer Sciences. “And home economics did not stifle women – in fact, just the opposite. It became the avenue for women to pursue higher education.”

Until the Home Economics degree was established at UGA in 1918, women were largely banned from education and the workforce. But since the mid-19th century, the whole concept of “domestic science,” as it was known, had been part of an effort all over the country to “uplift women’s roles as manager of the household and as moral guide for family members,” according to a history of the discipline. Carolyn Beecher and her famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame co-wrote The American Woman’s Home: or Principles of Domestic Science in 1841, described as an encyclopedia of advice based on principles of science, common sense, religion, and their advocacy for women’s education.

The establishment of land grant colleges by the Morrill Act of 1862 in Kansas, Iowa and Illinois pioneered domestic science courses, and a second Morrill Act in 1890 authorized federal funding in the southern states with the charge to provide education for African Americans in agriculture, the mechanical arts, and domestic science.

By the turn of the 19th century, cooking schools, training programs and services targeting low-income women of the crowded cities of New England were based on the Progressive Era’s philosophy of human betterment and the desire to reduce the drudgery of women’s lives. So by the early 20th century home economics had become systematized into an academic discipline.

UGA students build tiny houses
Students today are building “tiny houses.”

Soon college-prepared young women began to serve in education, research, and community outreach. Home economists taught in grammar and high schools, worked as Agricultural Extension Service educators in their communities, and did research in the food and utilities industries. And while African Americans couldn’t attend the university, they were hired, beginning in the 1930s, as home extension agents.

Twentieth century opportunities for women expanded but Home Economics was still widely considered to be women doing women’s work. Then came the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and long-accepted perceptions about what a woman could do and be professionally were upended. Solid but unglamorous “Home Ec” suffered the judgment and rejection of women who wanted to blaze trails far beyond their mothers’ lives. No more white gloves and little hats. For good or ill, Home Economics was often rejected as an outdated career choice.

A new name and a new mission

But Home Economists knew there was much, much more relevance than many understood. Students, alumni, and faculty wanted the public to understand the level of difficulty the field embraced, and its influence on American society.

Recent UGA Grads Whitney Okie and Annie Jiang with foods and nutrition faculty member Rob Pazdro in the FACS Free Radical and Nutrition Genetics Laboratory
Recent UGA Grads Whitney Okie and Annie Jiang with foods and nutrition faculty member Rob Pazdro in the FACS Free Radical and Nutrition Genetics Laboratory

“At mid-century, the research focus of universities expanded greatly,” explains Sharon Nickols, UGA Dean Emeritus and co-editor of the book Remaking Home Economics. “By the late 1960s this was especially true in home economics.” In an effort to reach beyond its artificially weak image, national leaders decided a change of name seemed like a good place to start, although it took two decades. They wanted the public to have a better understanding of the field and they wanted to convey the rigors of the scholarly research that is the foundation. Gender inclusiveness and removing the old stereotypes contributed to the decision as well.

That’s how the UGA School of Home Economics became The College of Family and Consumer Sciences, or FACS in 1990. Since then the College has grown far beyond the imaginings of twelve young women from one hundred years ago. It now boasts a current enrollment of approximately 1,400 undergraduates and 200 graduate students; five departments and four centers, spread over 12 buildings because of its interdisciplinary nature.

2018 FACS grads (l-r) Joshua Hudson and Matthew Katz
2018 FACS grads (l-r) Joshua Hudson and Matthew Katz

Matthew Katz and Joshua Hudson (class of 2018), two of today’s Student Ambassadors for FACS, are among the twenty per cent of male students at the college. The caring attitude of a FACS professor convinced Katz to change his major to Human Development and Family Science. The coursework has been what he expected. “. . . because I truly learn all about humans, as the program is advertised. The major is so broad that it prepares me for any career field.” He’s still choosing among clinical counseling, non-profit management, or policy/public service.

His classmate, Joshua Hudson agrees. Food and Nutrition are the focus of Joshua’s study, but he pairs them with a major in Political Science. “I plan to use my education in nutrition to influence nutrition policy. My motivation for this career path stems from my desire to be the change that I wish to see in the world and to fight for a better future.”

Looking Ahead

Any university curriculum is always being redesigned for current and future needs.  Courses must be interesting, relevant, and marketable. Today, a multitude of FACS undergraduate degrees groom women and men to use their training in the academic, scientific, industrial, and private sectors. FACS graduates are taught to respond to the needs of today’s society in significant ways:UGA student Lauren Boyd furnishing and interiors student works on assignment

  • The modern household has altered significantly during the past 100 years, becoming smaller and more diverse. Students studying Human Development & Family Science learn how individuals and their families function throughout the life cycle. A new $8.2 million grant will fund a project to help children and families in the state’s child welfare system.
  • The United States is no longer the agrarian society of the early 1900s and food production has become big business. A FACS major in Foods & Nutrition has a choice of 3 majors: Consumer Foods, Dietetics and Nutritional Sciences, which happens to provide all the sciences for medical/dental/pharmacy school.
  • Textiles, Merchandising & Interiors at FACS provides research and applications for materials needed to fulfill needs in industry and the home while at the same time, addressing the need for environmental sustainability.
  • Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics has the most majors. These include Consumer Economics, Consumer Journalism, Financial Planning, and Housing.

A glance through the quarterly FACS magazine attests to the amazing array of work going on in the college by both students and faculty. A professor whose research has focused on affordable housing for people living in poverty, is teaching a class in “tiny houses.” Students build them instead of living in them.

Other FACS researchers are developing inexpensive ways to manufacture nanofibers while others recently won a prize for an innovative and environmentally friendly textile dyeing technology. One class created plans and modifications for the homes of three Georgia farmers with disabilities.

One can imagine the early advocates for the field of home economics would be impressed but perhaps, not surprised, at the breadth and importance of the research, projects, and instruction in the College of Family and Consumer Science.

Time Line: Home Economics transforms into Family and Consumer Science
On Feb. 23, 1918, the Georgia State College of Agriculture, as it was known then, approved a curriculum for Home Economics, the first ever degree program for women at UGA. This year, beginning Oct. 14 – 21, the FACS college will sponsor activities and events throughout the centennial year to honor the Golden Jubilee. Enjoy a quick overview of the last one hundred years of achievements and the occasional adversity.
1919
  • The “first twelve” women students were housed in “The Student Cottage” a rented house on Lumpkin Street during the construction of the Women’s Building, which male students derisively called the “Co-ed Barn.” It’s now Soule Hall.
  • Mary E. Creswell became both the first home economics graduate and the first female to graduate from UGA.
1920s
  • Nutrition Research projects of the day included: Vitamins A and B recommendations; Dietary Habits of Georgians; Vitamin and mineral content of Georgia foods.
  • A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation was awarded for a nursery school and the facility was established in the Division of Home Economics
1930s
  • The nation was in the depths of the Great Depression. Faculty salaries were cut 50% during these difficult years.
  • There were seventy-two white and nineteen black Home Economics Demonstration Agents by this time. African-American men and women weren’t allowed to enroll at UGA at that time, but were hired and trained in the University extension work force.
  • Students received certificates in “Home Nursing” in cooperation with the American Red Cross.
1940s
  • World War II brought an emphasis on remodeling and repairing clothing and managing family budgets in response to war time defense, along with growing Victory Gardens and home food preservation.
  • A course “Home Care of the Sick” was offered for the duration of the war due to shortage of nurses.
  • As part of the 25th Anniversary of the School in 1944, the Historic Clothing and Textiles Collection was formed and housed on third floor of Dawson. It’s now housed in the humidity and temperature-controlled “vault” at the Special Collections Library.
1950s
  • The area of home furnishings and housing developed joint study with the Art Department in the College of Arts and Sciences.
1960s
  • President John F. Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation and signed laws creating University Centers for Excellence for supporting persons with developmental disabilities. (FACS presently awards the Disability Studies Certificate, for completing a diversified course, which promotes “viewing disability as an issue of diversity rather than difference, of strength rather than deficit.”)
  • The textile science labs came into being in the 1960s.
1970s
  • The first Ph.D in the college of Child and Family Development awarded in 1978.
  • In 1979 the American Home Economics Association College granted accreditation for the undergraduate degree program.
1980s
  • The first computer lab was established in Dawson Hall in 1982, with a total of eight computers.
1990s
  • Home Economics at UGA was re-christened Family and Consumer Sciences in 1991.
  • By 1990, the Marriage and Family Therapy Post-Graduate Program was formed in response to the need for properly trained and licensed professionals with the title of Marriage and Family Therapists.
2000s
  • In 2005, Furnishing and Interiors studies moved into new space in Barrow Hall where there are drafting studios and state-of-the-art computer labs with AutoCAD and Adobe Creative Suite for a total of 40 workstations.
2010s
  • Linda Fox was named the seventh Dean of the College in 2011. (Fun Fact: Dr. Fox says that her car’s UGA specialty license plate reads “UGA 012” in honor of the first class of twelve women who entered our university in our fields of study and the first discipline open to enrolling women at UGA.)

PS. In FY2016, FACS faculty received $11.6 million in external funding from federal, state, and industry grants, putting them in 4th place of all UGA colleges for external funding.

 

Counterculture fashion and what it meant
counterculture textilesWhile all areas of study in Family and Consumer Science have changed significantly, one area, fashion and dress, has probably changed as much as any component.
Consider Monica Sklar, associate professor of Textiles, Merchandising and Interiors. She teaches The History of Dress and serves as liaison to the University’s Historic Clothing and Textiles Collection. Fashions from young boomer times in Georgia are part of the assemblage, which dates from the 1830s to the 1990s. She is also a counterculture scholar. While her special interest is Punk Style—the title of her 2013 book—Sklar teaches that people of every era use dress to tell the world who they are non-verbally.
She points out that the youth-oriented era of the ’60s and ’70s was a transitional time in the fashion world. “Throughout history there have always been the ‘trickle down’ fashions from the aristocracy to the lower class and ‘bubble up’ styles that came from the masses to the elite,” according to Sklar. By the 50s the cracks between the classes and generations—home to all counterculture movements—began to widen.
Youth were unwilling to have their music, politics or fashion style dictated and the ferment produced the rise of first the Beat, then the Hippie movements. Coffeehouse black sweaters gave way to pastoral tie-dyes and psychedelia. Music and art, the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement were all reflected in dress. The ubiquitous Peace Sign on clothing and jewelry became the universal emblem of the Woodstock generation.
The highly-individualized Love Child style quickly “bubbled up” to designers like Mary Quant, Rudi Gernreich and Peter Max. These were the new hip establishment, commercial prophets who brought “counterculture” style to the young buying public. “The fashion industry could diversify and still sustain itself. It didn’t need to only speak to one type of consumer,” says Sklar.  Many more individuals could express a plurality of societal positions, in contrast to the buttoned-down, “gray flannel suit” conformity of their parents’ generation. It’s a change which continues to spread as the world population grows and connects, and the scope of our diversity becomes both wider and more familiar.

 

 

Students learn to think sustainable through "fun" projects.
Students learn to think sustainable through “fun” projects.

Today's tools of the trade in FACS classes
Today’s tools of the trade in FACS classes

Another FACS class; doesn't look like a cake recipe
Another FACS class; doesn’t look like a cake recipe

FACS won multi-million dollar grant to help Georgia families
FACS won multi-million dollar grant to help Georgia families

"Birdhouse" project teaches architectural styles
“Birdhouse” project teaches architectural styles

Inside a "tiny house" FACS students are building
Inside a “tiny house” FACS students are building

FACS professor Kim Scobba explains "tiny house" project to UGA alumni
FACS professor Kim Scobba explains “tiny house” project to UGA alumni

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Theresa Rice
Theresa Rice is a professional artist, arts administrator and jurist, and writer/editor.

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  1. This is the first article that I have read outside of the FACS community which has finally informed the public about our name change. Thank you.

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