Cornell's home economics program had to struggle for autonomy
and equal status within the larger university. Although a small
number of women were granted professorships, there was real resistance
to admitting more women to the faculty. In a 1914 letter Cornell
President Jacob Gould Schurman wrote, "as women will receive lower
pay than men, there was real danger that the faculty might be
'feminized' on grounds of economy." He continued, however, "My
own belief is that no co-educational institution can adopt the
theoretic position that women, if qualified as well as men for
the work, shall hereafter be excluded from membership in the faculties
of colleges which women students frequent..."
In the early years, home economics struggled to be independent
and separate from the College of Agriculture. In 1919 the Department
of Home Economics became a school and in 1925 it became a college,
but it was not until 1941 that the College of Home Economics actually
had its own dean.
After World War II, the struggle changed. Home economics was,
for the most part, an applied science, which put it at a disadvantage
in the modern research university, where basic research generated
greater status and funding. Home economists were challenged by
a new academic ethos that placed overwhelming emphasis on specialized
knowledge and discipline-based research that was abstract, objective
and theoretical. Because they were by and large generalists who
translated and applied information from many fields, home economists
did not conform to the postwar ideal of academic social science.
Moreover the college was very much a community of women, and both
of these factors contributed to a loss of status. By the late
1960s, however, new views about women challenged Cornellians to
rethink the role of home economics in the research university.