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Was Home Economics A Profession?

Just like the other feminized service professions -- teaching, nursing, social work, and librarianship -- home economics struggled to establish a professional identity. In a series of conferences held at Lake Placid between 1899 and 1909, home economists defined the nature of their field, debated what to call themselves, and founded their first professional association and research journal. In 1909, the American Home Economics Association (AHEA) was formally organized with the aim of improving "living conditions in the home, the institutional household, and the community."

Home economists then developed their own credentials and began to earn advanced degrees in the field. In 1919, Cornell established a chapter of Omicron Nu, the national home economics honor society for both undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty affiliated with regional groups such as the College Clothing Teachers of the Eastern United States. In 1922, Cornell awarded its first masters degree in home economics and, in 1930, its first Ph.D. in the field. After a concerted struggle, graduates of the College of Home Economics were finally permitted to join the Ithaca Branch of the American Association of University Women, in 1949. By the 1960s, Cornell home economists were affiliated with and held leadership positions in many different professional associations including the New York State Home Economics Association, the New York State Association of Extension Home Economists, the American Council on Consumer Interests, the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, the Association of College Professors of Textiles and Clothing (now the International Textiles and Apparel Association), the National Association on the Education of Young Children, the National Council on Family Relations, and the American Dietetics Association.

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