SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: How did home economics intersect with international missionary work? What did this mean for American women? In a special lecture hosted by the College of Human Ecology and Mann library Anna Schatz, 2012 Dean's Fellowship recipient in the History of Home Economics examines the history of the school for missionaries at Cornell University. From 1930 through the 1950s, this program sought to unite the insights and methods of academia with the Protestant missionary movement. Focusing on the participation of female missionaries in home economics, Ms. Schatz's talk explores the history of this unique and experimental program run by the colleges of agriculture and home economics and its significance as a point of intersection for the history of American women and the US in the world.
ANNA SCHATZ: OK, so when I came to Cornell, I had a dissertation plan and a proposal all written, but after that summer, I ended up completely rewriting it. And the paper I'm going to give today is actually from a chapter that was not at all a part of my initial plan, because with the help of the archivist I discovered this Cornell School for Missionaries, which has sort of become an important link for me in thinking about the different groups that I'm interested in writing about in my larger project, which I'm happy to talk more about later if you're interested.
And before I start, I do just want to say that these are ideas that I'm still developing. And so I'm happy to take any comments and questions at the end. And I welcome your feedback. OK, so in 1938, speaking to a roomful of missionaries, academics, and government workers, a sociologist threw some questions out to the audience, asking what do we know about family life in America that might be applicable to the foreign field? What are we trying to do in China? Are we trying to make over the Chinese and the Chinese culture? Do we know that American culture is the ideal that we wish to put into China, or does China have something that we might want to get?
The minutes of that conference contained no answers to these questions. But several speakers noted with certainty that in any context, culture is introduced and reproduced in the home and through the family. So whatever changes are to be made must be made there. And whatever is to be preserved must be taught there. That group was brought together for the Conference on Education for Home and Family Life, an event sponsored by an organization called Agricultural Missions and held at Cornell. The conference was part of a larger program that brought missionaries to study at Cornell's Colleges of Agriculture and Home Economics.
The Cornell School for Missionaries, a short winter course for missionaries on furlough, which culminated in the annual Farm and Home Week, was the centerpiece of a reimagined plan for Protestant foreign missions. The school, in my analysis, was emblematic of a transitional moment in the 1930s and early 1940s, when the training and work of the rural missionary began to look much like what would be the technical assistance agent of the postwar era.
So the history of missionaries and home economics, both gendered projects, were intertwined in the 20th century. From the origin of both movements in the late 19th century, American home economists and female missionaries shared a commitment to reforming and perfecting domestic life and improving women's lives. Home economics focused on reform and specifically improving the status of women by reforming their work processes and conditions, as well as the value placed on that work.
Missionaries had also long focused on women's status, in their mind a marker of civilization. But now, in the 20th century with an increasing professionalization of missionary women and a growing emphasis by mission boards on providing education for both women and men and not just for purposes of conversion, their interests lined up neatly with home economists. Their shared ideals were given an institutional home in 1930 when agricultural missions created the winter course at Cornell.
Organized around training missionaries to perform educational service work in rural areas, male missionaries took courses in agricultural science, while female missionaries received instructions on family life, nutrition, sanitation, and all the other areas of home life covered under the umbrella of home economics. The missionaries came primarily, at least at first, from stations in China and Southeast Asia. And agricultural missions wanted to transform missionaries into agents working to improve quality of life and show in a material and tangible way that Christianity meant better life on Earth, as well as in the hereafter.
So the history of the Cornell School for Missionaries reveals how home life and family figured in this shifting approach to improving and uplifting the parts of the world that were viewed both as troublesomely non-Christian and insufficiently modern. What I want to talk about today is how this school also created a space in which missionaries and academics grappled with questions about modernity, cultural change, and gender roles.
Held every winter from 1930 to 1960, the Cornell School for Missionaries brought together professors and missionary students who believed that they were part of a unique historical moment when it had finally become clear that the conditions of human life could only be improved through spreading both the Christian religion and modern science. For the Cornell faculty of the Colleges of Agriculture and Home Economics, extension programs that brought the benefits of academic research to farming communities within the US had long been seen as vitally important. Bringing foreign missionaries into this conception of extension work made great sense.
The Cornell program had the support of all the major Protestant foreign mission boards, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and Cornell United Religious Work. The school charged no tuition for the three week course, holding missionaries or their sponsoring boards responsible only for arranging room, board, and railroad fare. Annual enrollment ranged from seven to over 100 students with a peak in the late 1930s and the lowest numbers during World War II.
Faculty took on the additional teaching load at no extra pay, and Cornell's administration organized the program through the same offices that administered extension programs to communities around New York state. At the Cornell School, missionaries learned how to prevent parasites on crops, the best soybean strains, how to plan land reforestation, the best ways to preserve foods, which vegetables increased vitamin consumption, and how to design and make clothing when cloth was of limited or poor quality.
Missionaries took courses in the sociology of rural life, agriculture, rural education, and nutrition and health. The students appreciated that the Cornell faculty held missionary work in very high esteem and were excited to be a part of it. Many students commented after their attendance that they had found the courses in nutrition to be the most immediately useful, just as Americans in the 1930s valued home economists' ability to provide scientifically based advice on how to healthily feed a family on a very limited budget. This was one of the most material benefits offered by home ec to impoverished rural communities in any part of the world.
The courses included seminar periods, devoted to specific problems missionaries face or were interested in, including for the men, poultry raising, insects, plant, and animal diseases, and agricultural economics. While the women studied food production and preparation, sanitation, and childhood health. In the early years of the school, missionaries were asked to come prepared with information about the crops, livestock, and diet from their own mission fields, so that the Cornell faculty could best assist them in evaluating those conditions and make suggestions for improving efficiency and health.
The Cornell faculty frequently noted that they were experts in the American context and that the most useful thing they could provide to missionaries was an understanding of the basic principles they used in their own research process with the belief that those principles could be applied anywhere. And one of the intended goals of the program was to expose missionaries to a model of cooperation for rural uplift, by showing them the relationship between US federal programs, the New York state government, farm organizations, such as the Grange, and the research university at Cornell.
This model, organizers and missionary leaders believed, could be transplanted to any mission field. Indeed, Cornell had for several years been working to transplant that model through the Cornell Nanking King project, which included agricultural research and extension programs in China. One particular course, Rural Sociology, had a central place in the curriculum of the Cornell School. It was recommended for both male and female students, and it taught the sociological approach to understanding any society, as well as providing exposure to the principles of social welfare work.
In outlines for the course, lectures about the behavior of family groups and the influence of tradition and custom are followed by introductions to the methods of various reform movements. According to Professor Dwight Sanderson's notes, he taught that special interest groups were vital for building and maintaining a society's morals. His main example was American women's clubs. He also taught that it was important to foster a sense of the need for social improvement, while at the same time protecting the local culture.
And by local culture, Professor Sanderson meant folk dances, festivals, craft traditions. And if the course was planned as a guide to social change and perhaps gave missionaries an academic framework for thinking about culture, they all meant culture in the 1930s sense of art, food, material traditions. Those were the things that perhaps should be preserved in foreign contexts, not ideas about family, gender, or religion which we might also group under culture today.
Cornell faculty and their missionary counterparts were frequently working to nail down what to protect in any society structure and what needed improvement. In 1939, a course in family life education was added to the program. It was designed specifically for female missionaries in recognition of their interest in focusing on family problems, rather than agricultural science.
Every year, the women of the Family Life Group wrote a report on their work related to family life in rural areas, which is great for a researcher. Although it was advertised as a course that would focus on the latest research on family relationships and child development, the group also clearly created a space for the women to compare and analyze their experiences in the field. The group's annual reports show the missionaries' tendency to universalize about superstition, fear, ignorance that they were seeing in other cultures and religions.
But it also frequently showed a shared commitment to improving women's education and the status of women in every society. Together, the women of this group outlined lessons to be taught to women in the mission field, nutrition lessons focused primarily on the importance of protein and calcium in children's diets. Sanitation classes emphasized separate buildings for animals and fowl, boiling water, maintaining cleanliness of latrines, using smokeless cookstoves, eradicating pests and vermin, and personal cleanliness. The family life group also included classes on beautification, encouraging daily worship, and how to promote literacy for all family members.
Taking up a model that was popular in American religious and home ec extension circles, the Family Life Group consistently promoted women's and parents' study groups as one of the best ways of furthering education for adults. The group also expressed support for local women taking up teaching roles in those groups themselves and celebrated programs like the preparation for homemaking discussion group, a course supervised by a missionary in China, but led by a young woman from her community. The first lesson of that discussion group was what makes a yard beautiful, followed by what is a good husband, and the week after that was what is a good wife. The course also covered vegetable gardening, how to whitewash your walls, and the importance of cleanliness and order in the home.
This Family Life Group year after year expressed a belief that it was beneficial to a community when women had a wide range of educational opportunities. Often, this was expressed simply as the assumption that any modern society recognized that women were of equal value to men and deserve the same freedoms. Other reports emphasize that women needed training in the new science of the home in order to fulfill their important roles as mothers, especially in developing nations.
Another justification offered for this kind of work was that it supported the companionate model of marriage, not because women would be working in the same way as men to support the family, but because, quote, "Those women of meager training and background whose husbands now are getting high school or college training need to learn about their husbands' work and to consider how they can be more sympathetic and understanding," end quote.
Cultural change was a common theme and concern for the Family Life Group, of in terms of changes that were instigated by missionaries, by local Christians and foreign communities, and by broader global shifts that were outside of their control. The 1937 Family Life Group wrote a guide to Christianizing local culture and traditions, such as promoting the observation of Mother's and Father's Day as a substitute for ancestor worship rituals, or having church leaders use festivals, such as India's Brother's Day to emphasize mutual helpfulness. The report also suggested that Chinese New Year could indeed be safely observed if only Christians organized celebrations around a worship service at midnight, or perhaps an all church picnic on the first day of the new year.
Over the years, many of the reports from the group discussed the great difficulty in responding to practices that seemed antithetical to these American women's conception of a society that respected women. They were particularly concerned by polygamy, child marriage, and dowries. Although the missionaries saw these practices as unequivocally harmful, they were not clear on what course to take when converts challenged their position.
So this is a quote from one of the Family Life Group reports. "The question has been raised by one from Africa as to attitude toward the church requirement that no marriage dowry be paid. Present day African Christians object to the rule, saying that dowry is not harmful. Evils can easily be seen," end quote. So changes that seem to be for the better according to Western Christianity's current model of morality could sometimes create new problems, as one report noted, that polygamy is being made illegal, but as a result, extra marital relations are increasing.
So after describing some similarly troubling conflicts in other regions of the world, the report concluded the section this way. Quote, "The question was raised but not answered, would Jesus have us decide the moral questions for people of another race, that is, make rules for their change, or would he have us teach and live out his principles, helping them to make their own decisions and rules?" end quote. The status of women was a primary concern to these missionaries and to many home economists, and they saw improving women's status as an important component of facilitating healthy family relations. Yet, they were not unmoved by defenses of practices that they perceived to be harmful to women.
The documents created by this group show the missionaries grappling with how to react to cultural shifts and transformations and the complexities of determining which tendencies were improvements and which were not. In many ways, the reports constitute an ongoing analysis of the extent to which the communities in which these mission fields were held were modernizing. So questions such as is science emphasized over superstition were being asked every year. Are children treated affectionately or are they valued primarily as labor? Is education becoming formalized and moving out of the home? And of central importance, are girls being granted access to this formal education?
Communities were judged by whether they provided schooling to both sexes and valued women's contributions. Communities that needed further guidance often denigrated homemaking, limited women's movements away from the home, and if they did provide education to girls, it was simply cultural, rather than practical, and by which they meant science and skills based.
In evaluating family structures and social relations, the 1942 group declared that a wholesome family may be defined as one that permits and fosters the personality development of each family member and their relationships within the community. A wholesome family is fostered by freedom to choose marriage partners, monogamy, men providing only for their nuclear family, and when the husband respects his wife as a person, both privately and publicly.
It follows then that wholesome family relations are damaged by traditional practices, such as contractual marriage, concubinage, polygamy, and if the husband limits his respect for his wife to the duties she performs in the home. The shift that I'm looking at took place in the field of foreign missions in the 1920s and 1930s was about more than gender roles. Mission boards, veteran missionaries, and observers were all re-evaluating the field as a whole. In the 1920s, the Student Volunteer Movement, which had motivated a generation of young Americans to evangelize, or at least financially support missions, was waning. There were widespread doubts about the purpose and efficacy of foreign missions.
You can see, for example, commentary by popular author, Pearl S. Buck in her novels and speeches. Buck and others within the world of Protestant missions were beginning to doubt whether other cultures needed the total overhaul that mass conversion to Christianity had seemed to require. The fallout from World War I in addition to recent famine in China stirred Americans' humanitarian impulses, impulses that suggested that meeting the material needs of foreign people might be more urgent than conversion.
In response to new questions about the goals and efficacy of mission work, as well as sharp declines in funding, the large Protestant mission boards collectively undertook an evaluation of existing missions. Their report was published in 1932 as the hugely influential book Rethinking Missions A Layman's Inquiry After 100 Years. Though it was largely a positive review of the achievements of the past century, the authors insisted that the way forward must involve entirely new approaches.
The main argument of The Layman's Inquiry was that foreign missions must no longer be devoted primarily to church planting and evangelizing, but instead to foreign service. Missionaries could best live their Christian principles by engaging in medical, educational, and philanthropic work abroad. And if they were going to effectively serve communities abroad, missionaries would need to be trained in a different way and ally with experienced secular agencies. This was especially true for working with rural communities where the problems of hunger and malnutrition required technical expertise and focused outreach.
The layman's report, which really marked a complete transformation in the Protestant foreign missions endeavor, praised the agricultural education programs at the Allahabad, Agricultural Institute, and the Cornell Nanking partnership. The recently formed Agricultural Emissions Foundation, the authors noted, might serve as a useful coordinating agency to oversee agricultural emission work.
And this is where Cornell really becomes quite central to the story that I'm telling because the first agricultural missionaries, by which I mean missionaries with college education and agriculture in addition to their theological training, came out of the student volunteer movement for foreign missions. But there were only a handful of those specially trained missionaries before the 1920s, almost all of whom had come out of Cornell.
One of them was John Reisner, who founded Agricultural Missions, John Lossing Buck, who was Pearl S. Buck's husband and an early agricultural missionary to China, attended Cornell in the early 1910s, studying agriculture at the same time as John Reisner was working toward his master's here. And they were members of the same weekly Bible study group. Another Cornell graduate, William C. Bell, worked in Africa and became famous among his contemporaries and church historians for quote, getting African men to use the plow to replace the old time hoe wielded by women.
These agriculturally focused missionaries were still a tiny minority, but they were clearly part of a network of like minded Americans educated almost exclusively in land grant institutions and, most particularly, at Cornell. But by the late 1920s and early 1930s, this network of workers was getting increasing attention from the major mission boards.
The Agricultural Emissions Foundation was formed in New York City in 1930. John Reisner and Cornell's dean Albert Mann were in attendance and appointed to executive positions from the founding. To the missionaries and internationalists who formed the organization, the suffering of rural poor was the direct result of problems of food production and failures in the uses of natural resources, all of which could have been prevented if only farmers and homemakers had the benefit of scientific understanding.
The suffering they saw around the world was not equally distributed, but rather disproportionately affecting rural people in all nations who lacked access to modern science. The founders argued that agricultural methods must be improved and developed around the world based on Christian ethics in order to create a peaceful free world by alleviating rural people's burdens of poverty, ill health, illiteracy, and other political and economic disabilities.
In addition to the Cornell School and various conferences held here at Cornell, Agricultural Emissions also helped to create schools for missionaries at Iowa, Oregon, and Tennessee, and consulted with mission boards and seminaries who wished to offer similar programs. However, the Cornell School was really the first attempt to gather experts in agriculture and home life for the purposes of training missionaries, and was always used as the model for later short courses and degree programs.
The Cornell faculty, for the most part, as far as I can tell, embraced their role in missionary training, while Professor Hazel [? Houck ?] noted in 1942 that her only foreign experience was as a tourist, although she would go on to do a significant amount of international research and consulting, several of the agricultural professors had previously taught in China at the University of Nanking through the Nanking Cornell cooperative program, which was the pioneering program to bring American agricultural science to China.
[? Houck, ?] a prominent home economist who did extensive research in the field of dietetics that led to the National Research Council's dietary recommendations in the US, taught the nutrition and health class for the school. Her class, as I mentioned before, was of the most popular parts of the course. And in their feedback, missionaries frequently expressed their appreciation for her plans for designing low cost diets with maximum nutritional value.
She noted later in her life that her interaction with the missionary students inspired her international work. She went on to work under a Fulbright grant in Thailand in the early 1950s and through the Unitarian Service Committee in Nigeria in 1959. In 1942, Professor [? Houck ?] had written a letter to Dean [? Ladd, ?] where she expressed her support for the short course even during wartime, stating that she quote, "wished to indicate her willingness to continue to make that contribution toward world friendship using the language of missionaries."
However in 1958, she wrote a stern letter to organizer Howard Tyler, requesting or really demanding that arrangements for the faculty to teach at the Cornell School, the missionary short course, be made through the dean's office of the College of Home Economics, because under the current system, the course was considered personal service work, rather than a part of their official responsibility or their teaching load, so using quite different language than she had used in 1942, she noted that when she began teaching the short course in the '30s, she had believed it to be a duty that she had inherited and not a choice, not volunteer work.
[? Houck ?] demanded that her teaching and pointedly that of her younger tenured colleagues in the College of Home Economics be understood as professional labor, rather than volunteer service. Though you would not guess it from reading press releases or correspondence between the school's organizers, more women than men attended the Cornell School from most of the years that it was held. Since married couples attending together usually made up at least a third of the annual class, this meant that there were more single women or married women attending alone, attending versus single men.
Nevertheless, the school's press and agricultural missions publications continually highlighted the agricultural science and farming coded male side of the program more than the female or family nutrition and home ec work. The fact that more women than men were interested in the education offered by the Cornell School suggests to me that female missionaries were perhaps latching on to the school as an opportunity for missionary specific training that was largely unavailable to them a traditional seminaries and other programs geared directly for missionaries.
Furthermore, I believe this suggests that women were looking to professionalize, to garner academic credentials, and perhaps to expand their role in the mission field and foreign service work more generally, all goals that seemed to have gone unacknowledged by the program and the organizers of the Cornell School.
The women who attended the Cornell School were part of a generation of female missionaries who were really struggling to carve out a place for themselves in the mission field. The role of American Protestant women in foreign missions had undergone dramatic changes over the early 20th century. In the previous century, most mission boards did not consider women to be missionaries at all in themselves, because they could not be ordained, and so they were not out there evangelizing. They were missionary wives, and while they might teach local children or do other work in the community, their primary role was to support their husbands, raise their own children, and provide for their family's comfort.
But regardless, women began organizing in the late 19th century around this idea of woman's work for woman, and the importance of promoting the Christian home. Women's missionary societies formed to coordinate and fund this specific type of mission work, and they sent single, as well as married women to evangelize in spaces where men were not welcome, which they saw to be a real problem in parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Women's missionary work revolved around helping non-Christian women to quote, "be better mothers by sharing the Western standards of hygiene, nutrition, and health in the name of the gospel and promoting the ideal of the Christian home," end quote, where men and women received equal respect and where children received nurture and consistent care. So the Christian home idea expressed by missionaries bore much in common with the home economics vision of an ideal home life.
And so in other words, for many female missionaries, the mission work they wanted to perform looked a lot like teaching home ec. Also like home economists, even within their own field, there was doubt from male leaders about the value of their work. The work that missionary women did, even when they themselves saw it as valuable, was officially described a secondary to the primary work of evangelizing and church building.
Similar to home economists who had sought greater value and respect for domestic labor, by the 1920s, missionary women wanted their work in the mission field to be based on modern scientific education and to be respected as a work equivalent to that being done by male missionaries. After World War I, the ideals of woman's work for a woman were adopted by mainstream Protestant mission boards and this phrase world friendship became the catchphrase of mission work, as peace, partnership, and women's access to education all became popular goals.
So Protestant female missionaries embraced a gendered domesticity-centered mission. But they rarely saw their work as limited to the techniques of homemaking. Rather, they understood home and family the same way that home economists and other progressive era social scientists understood those concepts, intimate social relations that were inextricably implicated in their larger social structures.
Thus, women's work and women's role did mean housework, child rearing, and marital relations, but it also included children's education more broadly, public safety, hygiene, and general cultural practices that might affect women and children. This last was the arena about which missionaries tended to be the most passionate. For even by the 1930s, when missionaries and mission boards had abandoned many of their harshest evaluations of non-Christian religions, missionaries were less focused on saving souls, than on saving lives, and most still found much to criticize about how non-Western cultures treated women and young girls.
So I do think it's important to note that the missionaries who attended the school were in the main already very well educated. Most of the men had a college degree and some postgraduate training in theology. Many of the female missionaries also had college degrees, even if they listed their occupation as missionary wife. They were experienced in teaching or nursing, and a sizable number had prior home economics training.
In their autobiographical sketches, submitted to the daily newspaper of the school, which was another great archive find, most of the missionaries relied on a narrative of foreign missions as their life's work and a professional career for which they were prepared and committed. However, some women did label themselves simply missionary wives and struggled to list mission work that they themselves had engaged in.
In the 1930s, when missionaries were asked to label the type of work that they were involved in, the missionaries were evenly split between using the word evangelistic and educational. But by the late 1950s, at the end of the school's run, none of the attendees were using the word evangelistic to describe what they were doing. I think it's also significant to note that in the 1930s, a large majority of the missionaries were coming from or heading to China, the same country John Reisner had worked in the birthplace of much of the new thinking about agricultural missions.
However, by the late 1940s and really through the 1950s, many more of the attendees were stationed in India, other parts of Southeast Asia and Africa in particular. In their descriptions of their own roles, missionaries clearly saw their work s divided by gender. The male missionaries wanted to improve production in the fields, and the women wanted to improve work and life in the home. But many of the women did narrate their lives in terms of professional achievements and educational success.
One listed her greatest achievement as the founding of the Near East Home Economics Association, which was a partner program to the American home Economics Association. A handful of students at the Cornell School were actually foreign nationals, who had been educated in mission schools and were taking up religious and service work in their own communities. And there were other types of success stories from the field, reported back to the school as well.
The government of Southern Rhodesia hired four women and three men to work within the communities served by the mission. All of these were young people who had come up through the mission schools. They were paid by the government, but the mission directed their work. The four women-- this is a quote from a newsletter sent to the school. "The four women are called home demonstrators, and their chief activity is community work among the women of their areas, giving demonstrations of child care, simple cookery, first aid, and simple nursing, stressing all the time cleanliness. They work in close cooperation with the missionaries sending the most difficult medical cases to the mission hospital and establishing confidence among the community toward the mission." And then the newsletter emphasizes, "They are all strong Christians and leaders of the women in their communities."
In the accounts of work in the field and of content learned in the classroom, it is notable to me that the line between home economics education and religious work is often rendered invisible. Home economics seems to blend seamlessly into religious programming, partly because of the shifts in religious programming itself, but also because home economics, in a way, is quite similar to missionary work in that they're both founded on the belief that suffering can be eased by an enlightened expert, stepping in to show the way.
The women of the Cornell School for Missionaries were grappling with ideas of cultural relativity, questioning their own position of cultural superiority, and they challenged easy categorizations of their own professional identities, moving between labels such as teacher, missionary, scientist, representative of the US, and so on. Looking at their work, at their world views, and at the labels they apply to themselves, I think shows the difficulty of separating cultural expansion from exchange of knowledge, national interest from selfless humanitarianism.
Home economists like other progressives were on a mission to save the world, and at the Cornell School, it seemed that missionaries were easily accepting of the model provided by home ec and agricultural science of progress through scientific improvement. Their coming together created a space for a new way of thinking about women in mission work and I argue opened a door for the way that women participated in foreign service work generally after World War II.
Women had always had a special role in mission work, but now their work was being elevated. They were no longer wives, whose authority in women's education and domesticity came essentially by virtue of their sex, but now experts with scientific training. So not only were female missionaries modern and expert, but their skills and leadership were seen as increasingly vital to the larger mission project of changing societies.
One of the Cornell School's functions was the creation and support of a network of like minded internationalists. And at times, it functioned more like a professional conference, or even a support group, than a training program. As I mentioned before, many missionaries came already with a fair amount of background in the field. In the records left by the organizers, the faculty, and the missionary students of the Cornell School, we can see a community of humanitarian minded Americans, struggling with how best to be benevolent in a historical moment when cultural hierarchies were being called into question. Which aspects of a community or a nation, especially a new nation, should be changed in order for modernity and independence to be achieved and what deserve to be preserved from the past?
Women were at the center of many of these distinctions in that traditions that served to subjugate women were categorized as those that needed to be destroyed. Women were also the principal agents in the process of change, as change was going to happen culturally through the home. The new approach to Protestant missions placed a heavy importance on women's work and made them central to a global project of social improvement.
The Cornell School for Missionaries was part of a move to reconfigure the missionary project to fit the modern world and an effort to bring together religious groups and academics, who were both focused on improving life for rural people. The program's structure and curriculum suggest the close connection between missionary work and post World War II government development programs and nongovernmental projects as well, especially when it came to the role of women.
An attempt at a scientific academic approach to this type of reform and mission work was a way around anxiety about cultural imperialism, as it seemed to allow for some recognition of cultural relativity while providing a standard that was universal. It created, at least in theory, a space for foreign women, as well, to participate in the conversations missionaries and government agencies were having as leaders and advocates of their own communities.
And in focusing on the home economics part of the course and the women who participated in it, we can see that it also provided a space for a generation of women brought up in the heyday of progressive home ec to discuss and grapple with a complicated set of assumptions and ideals around gender roles and women's rights in an international context. I'm going to stop there. So thank you.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University on the web at cornell.edu.
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How did home economics intersect with international missionary work? What did this mean for American women?
In a special lecture hosted by the College of Human Ecology and Mann Library, Anna Schatz, 2012 Dean's Fellowship recipient in the History of Home Economics, examines the history of the School for Missionaries at Cornell University.
From 1930 through the 1950s, the School for Missionaries sought to unite the insights and methods of academia with the Protestant missionary movement. Focusing on the participation of female missionaries and home economists, Ms. Schatz's talk explores the history of this unique and experimental program run by the Colleges of Agriculture and Home Economics and its significance as a point of intersection for the history of American women and the US in the world.