This is a production of Cornell University.
JEFFERY SOBAL: Hi, I'm Jeff Sobal. I'm the current chair of the dean's fellowship committee in the history of home economics. And we're here in Women's History Month, the very beginning of the month, to hear a presentation by the 17th fellow that's been awarded a fellowship for the study of the history of home economics. The first one was awarded in 1992. And Gwen Kay is the most recent recipient.
Gwen is an associate professor of history at SUNY Oswego. She got her undergraduate degree at Bowdoin College, her PhD at Yale. Her specialty was in women's history and the history of medicine and science. And she's here to talk to us today about the transformation of the name and all the other transformations that went on from home economics to human ecology at Cornell University. So I'll turn it over to Gwen.
GWEN KAY: Thank you, Jeff. Good afternoon. I would like to thank the Committee for the deans fellowship in the history of home economics for awarding me the 2008 fellowship. The questions, help, and encouragement I received from the committee members over my six-week stay was very helpful. And the fellowship itself enabled me to re-examine, think, and reframe what I thought I would see as I began my research project examining how and why the New York State College of Home Economics became the College of Human Ecology.
This fits within my larger project, examining the changes that occurred in college-level home economics programs as they adapted or disappeared in evolving academic climates from the 1960s to the present day. I would especially like to acknowledge the help and suggestions of Elaine Angst, Eileen Keating, Sara Keen, and the entire staff in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. As all researchers know, staff always know their collections very well and can suggest new, important, and interesting paths-- and in my case, people-- to pursue. Also, my conversations with Margaret Rossiter have been invaluable. She has shaped my thinking and pushed me on this project in a variety of ways.
Finally, my interview with [INAUDIBLE] set a precedent. After time spent in multiple archives, talking with someone who lived through and was an active participant in the changes about which I had been reading provided a nice counter to the paper trail. And the ability to ask questions and get answers was invaluable. My research time at Cornell is richer for the input and advice I received while I was here. And my larger project has been enhanced for the time the fellowship gave me.
In 1965, in response to a question posed by the College Study Committee, Rachel Dardis contemplated the situation of the discipline of home economics as a whole and for the College of Home Economics at Cornell, in particular. In a letter to Sally Blackwell, Dardis wrote, quote, "The failure of home economics to meet the challenge of an affluent society is due mainly to the lack of an adequate training in the basic disciplines such as economics, in particular welfare economics. Research by home economists is necessary in economics since its orientation would be different than that done by other fields. However, not enough basic research is being done at this moment.
As has happened before, home economics is inclined to rely on other disciplines. If this attitude persists, it can only lead to the eventual decline of home economics. In this context, I might remark that the failure of home economics to upgrade its entire program by insisting on more work in the core disciplines may lead to the customary fate of all non-adaptive species, extinction."
As it happens, Dardis may have been both right and wrong. Home economics at Cornell did adapt. But at other institutions, it is extinct. Over the next 40 minutes or so, I would like to outline what happens at Cornell and other institutions as they grappled with the question about the place of home economics in the changing academic climate of the 1960s and beyond. Ultimately, I argue, each school responded in ways appropriate for their time. Those programs that survived did so in large measure because of their ability to adapt and to think strategically in advance of some serious external forces that helped transform home ec to hum ec.
When I began this project, I made some assumptions about the evolution of an academic discipline as it played out at college campuses across the country. Some of my assumptions were correct . The stronger home economic programs were at land-grant institutions. And as programs were shut down, those remained.
I also believe that external forces in the 1960s as they affected education-- feminism, Title IX, colleges going coeducational, student activism on campuses, pressure changes in heavily-feminized disciplines. And you should, of course, see the display outside related to the program that happened. I also expected that Great Society programming led to increased funding opportunities in nutrition, child development, family interaction, housing, and other areas at the core of home economics programs, which, in turn, led to greater emphasis on research akin to the sciences. But this occurred at the cost of extension work, previously the mainstay of many home economics programs, especially as regards funding.
Finally, I expected that most of the changes within the discipline of home economics occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s, a period of great intellectual and academic ferment. I'm happy to report that about some things I was correct but dreadfully wrong about others. In the slow, cautious, and perhaps overly drawn-out process of evaluating the College of Home Economics, Cornell did many things right and a few things not so right. In the vignettes that follow, I will put the changes at Cornell into national context, as we travel both in time from the 1960s, to the 1980s, to the 21st century, and in space from New York, to Iowa, to Oregon.
Home economics as an academic discipline emerged from the Lake Placid conferences, a 10-year run of conferences sponsored by Melville Dewey, the New York State historian. Perhaps the most comprehensive yet vague definition of home economics was that from the fourth Lake Placid conference. Quote, "Home economics in its most comprehensive sense is the study of laws, conditions, principles, and ideals which are concerned on the one hand with man's immediate physical environment and on the other hand, with his nature as a social being. And it is the study of the relationship between these two factors. It is a philosophical subject, something to connect and bind together into a whole, pieces of knowledge, at present unrelated."
From its existence and as extension service to its presence as a college, home economics towed a difficult road. On the one hand, home economics colleges provided a home for women scientists who would not be easily employed on college campuses. On the other hand, home economics programs became heavily feminized. Although the three legs of the academic stool-- teaching, research, and service-- are the same from department to department, college to college, within colleges of home economics, the emphasis on extension service and resident teaching-- the latter designation to differentiate teaching on campus and teaching elsewhere-- weighed heavily so that research perhaps received less attention than the other two legs. In time, the consequences of this will reverberate negatively in many home economics programs as they came under fire.
How did home economics evolve at Cornell? The process of home economics was first broached at the legislative level in 1900. It took place the New York State College of Home Economics at Cornell. Although, this doesn't actually have a date. It just was left blank for 1900.
The resolution, quote, "To ask that the state recognize the important sociologic problems of the home and give to the household arts the same practical encouragement which is now given to agriculture and mechanical arts in state schools and colleges did not make it very far, in part because of another very large appropriation for the State University in 1900." Liberty Hyde Bailey, director of the College of Agriculture, believed that home economics was important, so he hired Martha Van Rensselaer-- or Martha Van, as everyone here calls her-- to begin the reading courses for farmers' wives-- essentially, extension work. And he saw this as an opening wedge. In
1905, 1906, the first formal courses were offered in the College of Agriculture, itself a land-grant institution housed at Cornell. In 1909, Home Economics became a department, in 1919, a school, and in 1925, it became a college. In 1948, as part of the development of the State University of New York system, the College of Home Economics became a contract school within the SUNY system.
But in 1939, when A.R. Mann, the dean of the Colleges of Agriculture and Home Economics, was elevated to Provost, the alumni of the College of Home Economics mounted a campaign to push for a dean solely for their school. Moreover, they wanted the newly-appointed dean to be a woman. They could not agree on a candidate.
Some people wanted Flora Rose. Some people wanted Martha Van if they couldn't co-direct. But they all agreed that a woman was perfectly suited and uniquely suited in a way that men could not. Alumni, the male graduates from the School of Hotel Administration-- which was housed within the College of Home Economics-- also supported a woman candidate.
I used this brief example to highlight both the power of alumni and the very clear sense that a female was best suited for this job. The alumni network was, as I have learned in various states, quite strong and the power wielded by these groups not inconsiderable. At Cornell in 1964, the University began to scrutinize itself and examine the colleges in the University.
How did the colleges fit within the University's larger mission? Did these colleges exemplify the best of Cornell? Did the mission of SUNY and of Cornell overlap? And should it be sustained?
That the College of Home Economics was one of the colleges being examined did not, in the beginning, seem especially out of the ordinary. 1964 was not a calm year in this country. Across this country, students empowered or emboldened by civil rights activism started to become active in organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society. And one of the posters up here is an SDS-sponsored event.
Lakota Sioux occupied Alcatraz President Kennedy also launched the war on poverty. The Great Society programs, in combination with changes in Social Security and the creation of health care for the elderly and the poor, shifted the public dynamic in terms of social activism and responsibility. Two, many of these programs offered research funding opportunities to determine how best to implement and configure them. And the places where research was being done on nutrition, public health, family interaction, child development, and family relationships was home economics.
The first of what would become three separate committees in the evolution of Cornell's College of Home Economics with a college evaluation committee in 1964. The membership of this committee both was and was not diverse. To wit, the guideline committee included faculty from within the College of Home Economics, faculty from outside the College but within Cornell, in related departments, and other members from the larger world of higher education.
The committee was heavily male, even on the Cornell side. Within the College itself, there were two women, Sally Blackwell and Helen Baer, and one male, Glenn Beyer. But the larger Cornell faculty were all male, Norman Daly from Art, Harold Williams from Biochemistry and the Clinical Faculty of Medicine, and William Carmichael, the dean of the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration.
The outside committee contained two men, T.R. McConnell, a professor of higher education at Berkeley, and Earl McGrath, the director of the Institute of Higher Education at Columbia, and one woman, Irma Ayers, dean of the School of Home Economics at the University of Delaware. The guideline committee, in turn, spawned another committee, the president's committee to study the College of Home Economics. Beginning in the fall of 1965 on the heels of the guideline committee's recommendations, this committee began to meet again members from within the College of Home Economics and outside the College of Home Economics.
Again, most of the committee was male. The women serving on the committee-- two of them were from the extension program-- different ideas about teaching, different ideas about research and funding. And the chair, Sally Blackwell's, Department of Home Economics Education would actually disappear in the new reconfiguration.
Over the course of the year, the committee met with various on-campus personnel to answer questions such as, how do home economic majors compare in terms of SAT scores and grades with students in other colleges? Several outside consultants came to the campus, as well. When the committee issued its report in December 1966-- known as the Blackwell Report in recognition of Sarah Blackwell's heading the committee-- it addressed the areas highlighted in the first guideline's committee report, the focus and organization of the new college, integration of disciplines and efforts, relevance of the school at all, community involvement, undergraduate and graduate enrollment, faculty recruitment, and a new name.
Even before Title IX and the class action lawsuits to open up single-sex institutions to women, the College determined that it needed to be more relevant, recruit faculty and students better, and start allowing men for the first time to enroll in the College of Home Economics. As a way to highlight the change in how the College perceived itself and its mission, the Blackwell Report suggested, as had the guidelines committee, that a new name might be the best way to signal a new vision. The process thus far had taken almost two years. The first committee led to a second. And many of the questions of the guidelines committee were clarified.
With the retirement of Dean Helen Canoyer inevitable in 1968 because of a mandatory retirement age, a unique opportunity presented itself. A new dean could shepherd in a new vision. Even if she or he were willing to follow the suggestions of the College's own committees, the new dean might have more clout, more impact as a fresh face or even an outsider.
In looking outside the College for a successor, Cornell was, without perhaps meaning to, creating precedents for other schools in how to change, alter, and otherwise move the large and sometimes then we'll be disciplined of home economics forward. The new challenge was how to implement the suggestions, particularly the reorganization of the College. In doing so and emphasizing problem areas, as suggested by the committee, rather than traditional disciplines, the College was forging a new path and emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of home economics.
Yet another committee was formed, the organization committee for the College of Home Economics. Over the course of a year, this committee transformed the suggestion of the two previous reports into a structure with four departments and two centers, the latter extremely interdisciplinary in nature, with the hope that faculty would be appointed to the research centers rather than formal departments. The [INAUDIBLE] Report-- so called because Henry [INAUDIBLE] chaired that committee-- of 1968 became part of the blueprint for the new dean.
In a radical departure, the new dean for the College of Home Economics was a male, David Knapp. Knapp had never headed a home economic program before but arrived to a bigger physical space with the completion of an addition to Martha Van Hall and more resources to hire faculty. The emphasis in hiring faculty was science and research based. In some departments, this translated as male.
In a shift to a new internal structure, some long-term faculty retired, thus opening up space for new hires. Many of the retirees were women who had devoted their careers to teaching or extension service often at the expense of research, a common career path repeated elsewhere. At a time of great federal funds available for many of these concerns, increased student activism and feminism challenging the traditional notions of what and where women could study, home economics was, in many ways, under siege to prove its relevance to a newly-skeptical student body.
The final challenge-- or perhaps, the most symbolic but most important one-- that Knapp faced was the name. Since Blackwell's report in December of 1966, a new name had been urged. This suggestion was not one taken lightly and led to rounds and rounds of faculty meetings, correspondence, and memos.
Of six possible names, the vote was bunched up with the top two low vote-getters here, Human Ecology and Human Development and Environment-- and the others trailing. The others, in rank order, were Human Development, Home Economics, Family and Consumer Science, and Human Welfare. In a second vote in 1967, a runoff of the top two vote-getters, Human Development edged out Human Ecology. But you know the answer.
So what happened? Both President Perkins and Dean Canoyer were unhappy with the results obtained in the democratic process in the system that is inherently autocratic. The name change did not come up again until a few months into Dean Knapp's tenure. When he raised the issue of a new name, the College faculty, with a different composition, approved Human Ecology as its new name.
And in January, 1969, Knapp wrote to the alumni informing them of the new name and why it was changed. Through the long, perhaps arduous five-year process, students were not consulted or included in the decision making. The larger State University of New York system was largely absent. And alumni were only peripherally part of the process.
In the end, I believe that all of the changes within the College from organization to orientation, from name to number of students were to one end, to appear serious, scientific, and research driven at the discipline and, therefore, inherently less female. A few other institutions underwent similar processes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And then, to my dismay, things calmed down.
I say dismay, because in my original hypothesis, intellectual ferment, campus discord, students taking over buildings, research funds were all driving forces-- or should have been-- in the transformation of the discipline of home economics. But things remained relatively quiet in the 1970s and the 1980s. Then in the Reagan recession of the mid-1980s, pressures mounted as budgets across the country were scrutinized.
In Iowa, the Board of Regents began to wonder why three programs in home economics at the University of Iowa, at the University of Northern Iowa, and at Iowa State University-- all within a two-and-a half-hour drive of each other, were concurrently open. The beginning of the end of the three separate schools of home economics at three different institutions started with an analysis of the programs in 1989. The outside reviewers, Deans Lena Bailey and Karen Craig, came from the programs at Ohio State and the University of Nebraska, respectively.
In their examination of the three schools, they looked at duplication of services, how each program fit within the school's larger mission, and the quality of education. The University of Northern Iowa, UNI, based in Cedar Falls, was viewed by students and faculty alike as a regional School. Its home economics unit offered seven majors, had 220 students, and 14 full-time faculty. It was seen as viable. The highest priority of that faculty was instruction and service. Its graduates envisioned teaching home economics themselves at the primary school level.
Iowa State University housed the land-grant institution in Iowa. One of the largest home economic programs within all land-grant institutions, Iowa State's program boasted 29 possible majors in six departments, 1,410 students, and 81 and 1/2 full-time faculty. The professional programs were geared to what students would do. And the master's and doctorate programs enhanced the undergraduate program. Many students chose the program at Iowa State based on its perceived quality, especially notable, as many students in the home economics program were not native Iowans.
By contrast, the program at the State University of Iowa, as the University of Iowa was then known, was clearly in trouble. One of 50 departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Home Economics formerly had had a distinguished history of quality programs. But from 237 undergraduates and 16 full-time faculty in 1983, the number of students had dropped to 115 and faculty to nine in 1988, '89 when the study was done.
In comparison of the programs, there was much overlap but only in two of the three programs. The University of Iowa's programs did not fare well when compared with those at the University of Northern Iowa or Iowa State. Side-by-side comparisons of child development, dietetics, family and communication, service, fashion merchandising, food service, and human nutrition, general home economics, home economics education, and housing and textiles reveal that not all programs are equal. Some had more resources, more support, and more connections within the community and better perception by students.
In general, Iowa State had the best resources, faculty, funding, space, research, connections in-house. The University of Northern Iowa had a few resources but did well with what it had, opting for internships, for example, to compensate for fewer faculty, while the University of Iowa did moderately well but often by the virtue of nearby resources, such as the Medical School for courses in gerontology and food science. Only Iowa State offered general home economics geared especially for those students who would attend professional school in law, medicine, pharmacy, or public policy.
Nontraditional students, minorities, and those of different ethnic backgrounds also found this a suitable option for their educational pursuits. Of some concern to the authors, student data suggested that no student would consider attending any of the other institutions for the same program. And this appears multiple times throughout the report.
Ultimately, Iowa State was viewed as a program that could and should serve as a model for the rest of the country. The program at the University of Northern Iowa was a concurrent program that was perhaps stretched beyond what it could provide. And the department at the University of Iowa was seen as totally overwhelmed and understaffed.
Although Bailey and Craig did not recommend eliminating any of the programs, the regents decided to do just that, targeting the weakest of the three at the University of Iowa for termination. Thus began their painful slide. The termination of the program at the University of Iowa was, in some ways, not a shock given both the decrease of faculty and students.
In August 1986, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts created a committee to examine the faculty, program, activities, and operations of the Department of Home Economics. Much like the committee at Cornell two decades earlier, the committee was heavily male. Save the chair, in fact, it was all male. All were full professors and held named chairs, including their outside evaluator, one Urie Bronfenbrenner.
The committee's report is concise, clear, and wastes no time getting to the point. What is the place of home economics at the University of Iowa? Contextualizing a little bit, they put the basis of other departments within liberal arts are positioned historically. And home economics doesn't fit.
The field of home economics, the report stated, quote, "Is neither located at the bedrock of traditional arts education, nor is it perceived as being presently socially utile. Thus, in these times, it is subject to social scrutiny and concomitant misapprehension and stereotype," end of quote. By the end of the first section, although the report is not making a recommendation per se, its point is clear. Quote, "While the faculty have neither changed the name of the department nor radically altered the mission, they nevertheless are deeply concerned about societal attitudes towards their discipline," end quote.
Reading through the report, some of the trouble within the department might be because of the very nature of the program itself. It was very interdisciplinary. A small faculty has limited options for majors.
Pointing to two decades of turmoil and increasing numbers of interdisciplinary programs such as women's studies, the diverse nature of home economics emerged as a problem. Core courses such as math, chemistry, physics, biology were taken outside in other departments. In an attempt to bolster the quality and reputation of faculty within the College of Liberal Arts at the same time, there were new and higher standards for hiring, tenure, and promotion.
Although these policies were administered campus and university wide, other departments suffered. The consequences were disproportionately high in home economics. The conclusion of the 1987 report set the stage for the 1989 review of the Iowa programs, suggesting that the decision to terminate this program was not unfounded.
"The late 1980s are awkward and uncomfortable times in the field of home economics," the report noted. "The social changes occurring in the United States in the last two decades raise important questions about the orientation and capacity of the discipline. Home economics is experiencing something akin to an identity crisis. The field displays extreme intellectual diversity, a professional component, unusual organization, and other features which make the implementation of an effective and efficient academic curriculum challenging. Meanwhile, the economic programs encountered by universities and rigorous standards for promotion and tenure have added some thorny problems to the packed agenda of the Department of Home Economics," end quote.
Part of the tension within the Department may have stemmed from a sense that professionally-oriented departments, such as interior design, were looked down upon within the College of Liberal Arts. Part of the tension also came from recent tenure decisions. With a wave of retirements, the Department had one full professor and lean ranks at the associate level.
Five recent tenure decisions had not gone well. Two had not gotten past the department. One considered very strong by the Department had been very soundly rejected by the dean.
Midway through 1987 when the report was not yet completed, the dean of the College wrote to the chair of the Department congratulating her and saying that the existence of the Department was so critical, did it not already exist, something like it would need to be invented. In his assessment, however, Bronfenbrenner called for either retaining the status quo, quote, "as a risky leadership opportunity" or dismantling the Department altogether, creating one focus on family studies and human development.
The on-campus report was grim even as it tried to be upbeat. And it did not call for dismantling the Department. However, during his visit, Bronfenbrenner had told three faculty in Fiber Arts that they should consider looking elsewhere for jobs. It's not clear if people knew that he would say what he said in his report when he came to campus. But the department chair lodged complaints as soon as he made the comments, and after his report came out, and when she thought a copy of this letter, as well.
Following the 1989 report by the regents on the Iowa system, the accounting firm of KPMG analyzed the data and concluded that Iowa State's program should remain. The University of Iowa's should not. The program at Northern Iowa should be dissolved in addition to that at University of Iowa. But that program is still in place.
These recommendations did not sit well with department members at either of the schools targeted for dissolution. The chair at the University of Iowa wrote a rebuttal to the report questioning or clarifying some of the findings. For example, the program in interior design and the program in dietetics had been discontinued in 1988, which naturally led to a decrease in both faculty and students. Changing policy and tenure decisions had hit the Department especially hard.
Here are tenure decisions. And all these faculty have recently resigned. Mostly, it's women who have resigned and are now Emerita. Most of them are at the assistant or associate professor level, suggesting an incentive to leave earlier.
It was also pointed out that women faculty in the Department of Home Economics were 6.1% of all women in the College of Liberal Arts. Without home economics, the percentage of tenured women in the college dropped from 15% to 14%. And yet, the writing was on the wall.
With the nature of the program's termination, what happened to the faculty? Some moved to other departments. Some retired. And most heeded Bronfenbrenner's suggestion and went elsewhere.
And the University of Northern Iowa-- the program changed its name in 1991 and, while still small, increased requirements for faculty so that more faculty today have doctorates and fewer have master's degrees. The program is still small. But its graduates are loyal, and most are employed locally.
Out of Iowa, then, there are some failures and some successes as the discipline of home economics realigned itself and renamed itself in the lean years of the 1980s. Lessons learned elsewhere meant that, when the program at Iowa State changed, some changes were transparent with all constituencies as part of the process, and some were not. Notably, the earlier changes at Iowa State happened more by fiat than democratic process.
In 1986, before the study for the state regents, the Department of Home Economics discussed a merger with another department and declined. Months later, in the spring of 1987, the issue of a new name came up. And they declined. But in a little addendum at the bottom in the May meeting, suddenly the name was changed anyway.
So, what happened? One of the regents for the state of Iowa for six years had been trying to change the name of home economics. She thought it was a detriment to the program. So at the April meeting of the Iowa State Board of Regents, a name change was proposed for the College of Home Economics to become the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. And so it happened, despite the faculty voting no.
Finally, when a new name was needed at Iowa State in 2004, everyone was included in the process. The incentive for change was a proposed merger between the College of Education and the College of Family and Consumer Science. The entire thing happened in one calendar year. They had a unifying vision, decisions about administration, understanding about reporting structure, admissions standards for students, accreditation from multiple agencies and organizations, the new name was discussed and voted on by students, faculty, staff, and alumni, both from inside and outside the newly-formed college.
Although not everyone was pleased with the final decision, everyone was involved. And anyone who wanted a voice in the process was empowered and able to participate. In its final-- thus far-- name change, Iowa State opted for transparency and strove to get buy-in from everyone.
Because this change was the most recent-- 2004-- it used modern technology. All meeting minutes were posted on the web and available for anyone to look at them. And mistakes from the past-- the Board of Regents changing the name of the program by themselves-- did not happen.
So what happens next at Oregon State University serves as an example of a final change of organization at another one of the oldest programs in the country. The program of home economics at Oregon State prides itself on being the fifth oldest in the country and is the first west of the Rockies. Established in 1889 as a department of domestic economy, by 1897, students could receive a master's or bachelors degree in household science.
The School of Home Economics became a college in 1983 just as other colleges of home economics were transforming their identities, as reflected by new names, or disappearing. At this moment of transition-- as so often happens-- a new dean was hired. The new dean, Kinsey Green, brought with her vast experience and a sense of home economics in the larger world. She had been the executive director of the American Home Economics Association.
Some on campus were leery. She had very little academic experience. But she was, far and away, the best qualified candidate. As had occurred elsewhere, Oregon State changes seemed to happen suddenly without much internal discussion.
But in 1964, discussion about the College future and the discipline suggests that faculty and administration were paying attention to larger educational trends. The two primary goals of the College, the 1964 plan noted, quote, "are to provide a general education and to develop a professional excellence in subject matters of home economics. The total program of the school is implemented through instruction, through research, and service."
The projected enrollment continued to grow, a natural assumption but for the opening of other department and program doors to female students. They didn't really see feminism coming. Although the assumptions by many women had been that the College was limiting its alumnae to traditional life, the 1965 report took the long view.
They wrote at the very conclusion, "Since the subject of home economics constantly changes, it is important that the School of Home Economics frequently re-examine and adapt its program." A 1984 program for the next three to five years mentions nothing about the shift from a school to a college. But within a few years of her arrival on campus, Kinsey Green started encouraging a new name change.
Again, the same thing that happened in Iowa State is happening here. The School of Home Education was about to disappear. And the School of Home Economics took in the School of Education.
The new school that was to be created was seen as an opportunity for a new name. And the committee to change the name of the college lasted for two and a half years. The marriage was an uncomfortable one. Many in the School of Education were unhappy that they came second in the newly-formed College of Home Economics and Education.
And yet, when a new name was proposed, the committee was formed. The committee examined names of other schools, received announcements of name changes, and heard from alumnae-- not happy ones-- from the classes of 1922 and the class of 1948 voicing their displeasure. This tension mirrored the unhappiness elsewhere regarding change.
Many of the alumnae who taught home economics at the junior and senior high school level or practiced it within their homes-- the Becky Home Ec-ys as one professor labelled them-- perceived the name change as a slight rather than an understanding of a field that was always evolving. Further, the change highlighted the differences always in place between an academic discipline with a drive for research and funding to support it versus its practical application, the very tension that dogged many colleges of home economics as they strove to define themselves not as a vocational training program but as a professional school. Alumni at Oregon State were unhappy with the proposed change and were vocal in their displeasure, most notably in declines in giving. A woman who had given money for 50 years to the College of Home Economics stopped and gave it to Oregon State as a whole-- anyplace but the School of Home Economics.
Although the process at Oregon State may have been deliberate, slow, and thoughtful, many people felt out of the loop, which raises the question about stakeholders. To whom is the college responsible, its larger institution, its faculty and staff, its students, its former students? Many of the changes that occurred as I have examined to them were prompted by a larger institutional sense of change, modernity, and context, leading to a project embarked upon by faculty with limited input from students and often none from graduates.
Many of the alumni, at least at Oregon State, were alerted to possible changes by word of mouth at local American Home Economic Association meetings. And nothing official was inclusive until Iowa State's decision in 2004. That the alumnae were so marginalized or ignored is highlighted at Oregon State, when one of the trustees, a home economics graduate working at Quaker, wrote to the president asking him if the rumors that she had heard about the name change were true. And they were.
What did Cornell do right? And what did Cornell do wrong in the long view? It is to the College's credit that much was done right, given that most other land-grant institutions had not yet made changes with name, funding, and research imperatives or structure of their own colleges of home economics. The process here was slow and deliberate, essentially a carefully thought-out five-year process in which one committee spawned another and then another, ultimately leading to a name change, as it's an external symbol of an internal revolution.
In some ways, the opportunity to hire a new dean because of a mandatory retirement age was fortuitous. But I think that it wasn't no way the driving force for change as I had originally suspected. Similarly, while there was pressure to bring in more research dollars, the funding for extension service, which accounted for one third of all research money in the College of Home Economics, did not shrink as Great Society programs and new health imperatives created new research and funding opportunities. And there was no budgetary imperative to alter or shut down the College as there were on other places in the 1980s or unfortunately today, as well.
On the other hand, some of the mistakes were pretty serious. In an era when student voices were increasingly strident-- takeover of buildings on this campus-- students and alumni were not part of the process. Students are often seen as temporary denizens unable to see the larger picture. But today few such committees are convened without at least an attempt to have a student representative.
Similarly, the alumni were largely out of this process, as well. And other colleges, especially in the 1980s and 1990s-- Cornell did not send out change of name cards alerting colleagues across the country to their new identity in what seems to be a quintessentially female thing to do. It's good manners. Every card I have seen is engraved-- positive spin on what was clearly a wrenching decision. And I saw one engraved card that announced the shutdown of a program.
In bringing in a male dean to guide the College in his transition from Home Ec to Hum Ec, the message was unmistakable. The change was real, permanent, and the College was serious about its new identity, its emphasis on research and new careers identified for its students. At the same time that Rachel Dardis foresaw extinction as a possibility for home economics, other colleagues were more optimistic.
In response to the same memo from Sally Blackwell, seeking comments on the college studies committee's report, Betty Smith wrote, quote, "All is now dark in the future for home economics. If we do build, as I have indicated, I think home economics will emerge as a very important segment of the University. Home economics is in the unique position of being able to bridge the gap between the basic disciplines and the individual. The opportunity is there. Let's take advantage of it," end quote.
And I'm happy to report that Smith was right. And the opportunity has been taken. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: I'm curious about-- you didn't talk much about the choice of the term human ecology, especially the ecology side of the term. How, in your looking at this, did that play into the decision that was made? And what kind of [INAUDIBLE] was given to that [INAUDIBLE]?
GWEN KAY: When the discussion's happening here on campus, there's parties lobbying for each of the six possible names. Many people point out the 1960s meaning of ecology, thinking about larger issues of behavior, social circumstances, use appropriately in biological sciences and behavioral sciences. And so that, for the people who were pushing for Human Ecology-- and for the president and the dean-- is really the vision that they have. So they're thinking about ecology at a time when people who were thinking about what we would today consider ecology are talking about the environment.
Because Cornell, Penn State, and Michigan State use variants on this term, it gets picked up. And it's one of the most common names that's used by every program as they change their name. Because it worked there. So we should think of ecology in a broad context, not a narrow scientific, bench science kind of way.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. There probably had not been many departments or programs in human ecology prior to this. So would the term, in part, maybe an acceptable one, because it didn't play to the vested interests of some that are in these colleges?
GWEN KAY: It was seen-- I think Penn State had just made the name change. And they had used it. Ecology was seen as the-- well, other people obviously wanted human development more. So they lost. But ecology was seen as the same kind of thing, spanning the multiple disciplines, and trying to get at the interdisciplinary nature that's inherent in what had been home economics. Does that answer your question?
AUDIENCE: Well, forgetting about the human development, there clearly was core constituencies for human development, or for Family studies, or for--
GWEN KAY: And home economics.
AUDIENCE: And home economics and others. And I'm wondering whether this term was appealing not so much because of what it meant but because it didn't allow any of those constituencies to be dominant [INAUDIBLE] in the name. It really provided a name that had a bigger tense.
GWEN KAY: Looking at how the vote worked when there was a runoff between the two, and human development wins, and then it doesn't two years later, it suggests to me that many of the people who were opposed to ecology were probably women who had been doing extension service, heavy teaching, not so much other kinds of research, because their schedules hadn't enabled them to do that. And they were all gone. So there are new hires who are coming in who have a higher research profile and are thinking about doing research in different ways. And so ecology appeals to their sense of identity more than development does.
AUDIENCE: Can I ask a question? Human Ecology already was a conceptual issue, certainly in biology with [INAUDIBLE] and people like that but also in the social sciences. So you have the tradition from Robert Park and others at the University of Chicago and [INAUDIBLE]. And in your review of the documents, were there any supporters or objections from the biologists, or sociologists, or anthropologists that already claimed that as a term? Or that didn't even come up?
GWEN KAY: Because the votes are within the school itself, you certainly have people who are trained in anthropology, for example, and are now within the College. But there's such a small minority that they're not seeing this as much different from how they envision or interpret its larger meaning.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] from the Education Department disappear.
GWEN KAY: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Can you talk a little bit more about that within Cornell [INAUDIBLE].
GWEN KAY: I think it's part of a larger sense that the new school needs to be professional, and the women who are in the Department of Home Economics Education are going to clearly become teachers. Although, maybe Joan can correct me. So I think that part of it is we don't want to think of training people just to be teachers. We want to think of training people to do any number of things and be less vocational, which is sort of what has been dogging home economics because of federal funding issues for its entire life.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of protest, which strikes me as very sad-- as are discussions about reorganizing and folding home economics education into-- parceling the people out into other programs. And then when they retire, they're not going to be replaced by the same kinds of people who've done what they have done, which leads-- I should point out-- to a shortage of home economics teachers. But that's a different story.
AUDIENCE: So just to follow up on Eileen's interesting question, here at Cornell, we got rid of nursing, teaching, social work, home economics, all of the poor women's professions of the late 19th and 20th century. And I'm just wondering if you've thought about how you want to position your story of home economics in this larger history of the divide of women's professions, particularly at higher-status institutions?
GWEN KAY: This makes me very sad to see these programs disappear. I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to do this. So hopefully, if you ask me this question in a year, I'll have a better sense of my answer.
I think that, for many of these schools, it's about status. And those are seen as low-status schools or schools where somebody else could pick up those students. And the administration might argue that they are opening opportunities for female students and giving them more choices. They don't have to study chemistry within the College of Human Ecology. They can do it in the College of Liberal Arts.
But I think it's the reverse. I think that, by eliminating nursing, and teaching, and home economics-- these programs-- they're forcing women into places where they might not have been otherwise, which ultimately is probably a good thing. But I think it's very hard going.
And talking to people in Iowa and also in Oregon, they eliminate program after program that serves a real need. And they just decide it's not important. No one really needs that program. So I think they're trying to elevate the status of women and elevate the status of their schools. But it's the school's profile that's much more important.
At the University of Iowa, when the Department disappears, there are seven full-time faculty left. And they all go into different departments. And they're all gone within 10 years. So trying to find them new homes-- they can't teach what they've been teaching, because they're in a new department, with a new program, with a new mission, with new core courses. It doesn't really end well.
AUDIENCE: I would just like to comment. I was actually a student here at the College of Human Ecology. I started home ec and graduated through Ecology. And the major home ec education was there when I started.
But there was very little interest in it. I think there were less than 10 people who actually declared that as their major. And the courses, I believe, were fairly expensive-- some of them-- to offer. So it just seemed like the writing was on the wall, even before we knew about all these other [INAUDIBLE].
GWEN KAY: I think it becomes a chicken and egg. There aren't lots of faculty, because there aren't lot of students. And then--
AUDIENCE: Well, we had [INAUDIBLE].
GWEN KAY: So it sort of feeds itself. And no one chose it.
AUDIENCE: We were already of the mindset that meant more into community college, because [INAUDIBLE]. We always felt [INAUDIBLE] about the name home ec did not seem to fit what we were doing, even under the old curriculum. So there was about going on
GWEN KAY: But there's a real different sense of what female students should do in 1964, versus 1967, versus 1968 and '69. So students have different expectations and assumptions when they come in also than the women who had graduated four years previously. So there's a lot going on. This is why I thought everything happened in the late '60s and early '70s, but it doesn't.
AUDIENCE: I was wondering if you could say anything about the relationship between home economics, and human ecology, and women's studies, particularly since it sounded like home economics played an important role in that conference with Betty Friedan being here in '69. And I was wondering if you them starting together and paths diverging or?
GWEN KAY: I don't know that I would say that paths diverged. But I think that the College of Home Economics in its last semester with that name was willing to sponsor the intercession program on the status of women speaks very powerfully to the support of faculty and administration within the College about what they see as the kinds of questions women should be thinking about and women should be asking. Because the next academic year, the first courses in women's studies are offered. And I think part of the syllabus is in the exhibit that's just up. Joan?
AUDIENCE: In the other exhibit, it's online. Can you help me with the URL-- how to get there?
AUDIENCE: Go to rnc.library.cornell.edu.
AUDIENCE: This is the centennial exhibit. There's a number of us--
AUDIENCE: --worked on. I would argue that there was a very strong early feminist dimension to the home economics program at Cornell. And it was unusual. It was embraced by Eleanor Roosevelt. And they were talented and highly-trained women-- one in particular, [INAUDIBLE] in history-- who gave early home economics courses that were essentially basic intro-- women's studies 101.
AUDIENCE: And Eleanor Roosevelt had actually been a supporter of the program since the 1930s. Because when she is the first lady of the state of New York, she is writing to the College and encouraging more funding during the depression for the College to sustain its mission. So she really supports the College for a very, very long time.
JEFFERY SOBAL: OK, I'd like to thank Gwen again.
This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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In 1969, after five years of deliberation and planning, Cornell's College of Home Economics became the College of Human Ecology. Gwen Kay, a 2008 recipient of the college's fellowship in the history of home economics, examines how and why the new name came into being.
Kay is an associate professor of history at SUNY Oswego. She spoke at Cornell on March 4, 2009 in Mann Library.