Progress of the women's course

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Home Economics: Progress of a Course, 1895–2005

Women's course

Early classes of the women's course, known as Domestic Economy, were held in Abbot Hall under the direction of Edith McDermott, professor of Domestic Economy and Household Science. McDermott stayed at MAC for two years and was succeeded by Maud Keller, the first dean of women.

The courses taken by the women included the typical subjects of English, history, science, and languages, with the addition of courses in sewing, cooking, calisthenics, and music. Piano lessons were offered free of charge as a credit course for freshmen and sophomores. On the advice of his wife, Clara, President Snyder offered drawing as an alternative to any students who did not wish to take music.

According to "The First Three Decades of Home Economics at Michigan State College, 1896-1926," the Domestic Economy course consisted of the following elements:

  1. The House—site, heating, accounts, cleaning, waste
  2. Foods—composition, nutrition value, preparation, physiological effects, for the sick, children, and adults
  3. Health—preservation of, functions of the body and care of, diets, work, rest, sleep
  4. Clothing—features of, materials, construction of, children's, artistic points
  5. Emergencies—first aid, anatomy, and physiology

With an appropriation of $95,000, a new building for the women students was constructed during 1899-1900. The Women's Building, later known as Morrill Hall, was ready to be occupied for the fall term of 1900. A dedication ceremony was held on October 25 of that year. The 60 students in the course lived there, as well as the six female professors for the women's course. The building was designed not only to provide healthy, productive living spaces, but also to supply adequate classroom and laboratory space. By housing 120 students in addition to offices for teaching staff, classrooms, laboratories, a gymnasium, and meeting rooms, Morrill Hall became the home of the first small residential college in MSU's history.

MAC was at the forefront of a nationwide trend when it established the women's course. The early 1900s saw the home economics movement developing across the United States. The term “home economics” was coined and defined in 1902 in Lake Placid, New York. The American Home Economics Association was established in 1909. The organization was charged with continuing the early efforts begun at Lake Placid and to seek ways to apply knowledge to improving the home life of people and facilitating the pursuance of family goals. (From "The First Three Decades of Home Economics at Michigan State College, 1896-1926").

The early 1900s was a period of growth at MAC. The Semicentennial Celebration in 1907 gave enrollment a boost when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt spoke at graduation. Changes in academics shortly followed. In 1909, MAC established four academic divisions, each headed by a dean: Agriculture, Engineering, Veterinary Science, and Home Economics. The establishment of the Michigan Home Economics Association in 1911 encouraged further growth in that field. The following year, Omicron Nu (the National Home Economics Honorary) was established on campus by the faculty.

The department continued to grow throughout the 1920s when extension became a key principle. In 1918, the Smith-Hughes Act designated MAC as one of two institutions in the state to prepare teachers for vocational home economics. This act resulted in a broadening of course offerings to include textiles, household equipment, and child nutrition. By 1922, four fields of specialization were established in the Home Economics Division: general, foods and nutrition, clothing and textiles, and vocational education.

After separate divisions of Applied Sciences (1921) and Liberal Arts (1924) were organized, home economics experienced a drop in enrollment as many of the female students decided to pursue other areas. The decrease in enrollment did not prevent a new Home Economics Building opening for classes in 1924. The new building, long overdue, proved timely because the Division of Home Economics was on the verge of a great expansion.


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