The term “home economics” may conjure traumatic memories of lopsided hand-sewn pillows or sunken muffins. But the common conceptions obscure the real story and value of the once-revolutionary “science of better living.” The field exploded opportunities for women in the 20th century by reducing domestic work and providing jobs as professors, engineers, chemists, and businesspeople.
And, according to author Danielle Dreilinger it has something to teach us today: that everyone should learn how to cook a meal, balance their bank account, and fight for a better world.
She traces the field’s history and the achievements of the women in it who became chemists and marketers; studied nutrition, health, and exercise; tested parachutes; created astronaut food; and took bold steps in childhood development and education.
Home economics followed the currents of American culture even as it shaped them. Dreilinger discusses the racism within the movement, along with the strides taken by women of color who were influential leaders and innovators. She also looks at the personal lives of women in the field, as they chose to be single, share lives with other women, or try for egalitarian marriages.
Dreilinger is a North Carolina storytelling reporter for the Gannett/USA Today Network and a former New Orleans Times-Picayune education reporter.
Her book The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live (W.W. Norton & Company) is available for purchase.
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