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College of Human Ecology
Cornell University
  home sewing
  a profession?
  type of research?
  types of careers?
  national and international impact?
  educational techniques?
  role in national emergencies?
  influence on consumer culture?
  students' self-definition?
  practice apartments?
  role in the university?
  change to Human Ecology?
  women's suffrage
  Eleanor Roosevelt
  Marriage Course

What Was the Role of Home Economics
in the Life of the University?

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.

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