Cornell home economists guided the nation's transition into a modern
consumer culture. By the late nineteenth century, American women
had become consumers rather than producers of many household items,
including food and clothing. As a result, home economists in the
Progressive Era advocated for pure food and safety standards, and
promoted the idea that women needed to be educated about purchasing
decisions. Through events such as Farm and Home Week, they offered
exhibits and lectures that informed the public about new developments
in the consumer market. In Cornell laboratories and classrooms,
faculty and students engaged in testing household equipment from
ironing boards and mattresses to ovens and refrigerators.
Beginning in the l920s, home economists began to put their scientific
training to use in the cause of business and industry. In this new
role, they were presumed to represent the "woman's point of view,"
and as such, were increasingly involved in the design and marketing
of new products. Home economists gave special attention to the structure,
design, and outfitting of the American kitchen and as a result,
they have been called "agents of modernity."
The College of Home Economics conducted scientific and systematic
testing of consumer goods. Students and professors in the Department
of Household Economics and Management evaluated products by considering
such factors as quality, cost, durability, safety, and ease of use
to determine the best products for consumers.
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