By the 1960s, the name "home economics" often suggested gender
stereotypes that many women were struggling to overcome. In 1965,
President James Perkins created a committee to study and make recommendations
to modernize the college. In its December 1966 report, the committee
suggested a college-wide reorganization based on strong, discipline-based
departments. With extension and outreach efforts increasingly focused
on broad social issues, students in the college needed to be trained
for professional roles outside the home.
Although home economics seemed socially conservative, it actually
helped to generate Cornell's contemporary women's studies program
with its feminist perspective on gender. In January l969, before
the name change, Cornell hosted a controversial Intersession Program
on Women that was sponsored by the College of Home Economics. The
conference sparked an Ithaca chapter of the National Organization
of Women (NOW) and the first collegiate "female studies" course
offered by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
That same year, President Perkins and Dean David Knapp persuaded
the faculty to accept the name Human Ecology which, while somewhat
ambiguous, accurately reflected the academic and theoretical orientation
of the College and its diverse concerns with problems of human welfare.
Incidentally, Ellen Swallow
Richards, the first president of the American Home Economics
Association, had considered the name "human ecology" back in 1909.
With the transformation of home economics complete, Dean Knapp stated,
"The time is now at hand to direct past traditions of problem-solving
toward a new focus. The basic mission of [Human Ecology] is to improve
the quality of life."
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