More Than Lore

Chapter 8: Forward Steps

Marion Talbot

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WHEN I returned from a series of interesting visits in eastern cities during the winter following my graduation from Boston University in 1880, I continued my studies for the Master's degree, which I received in 1882; but I missed the regular routine of college life and, even with my parents' help, could not see very clearly what interests should claim my time and strength. Fortunately, in the fall of 1881, a vision came to my mother of a union of the few women who at that time had graduated from college. I consulted Mrs. Ellen H. Richards, who had graduated from Vassar College in 1870 and was teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We summoned for conference the few college women whom we knew, including Alice E. Freeman, the young president

( 145) of Wellesley College; and in January, 1882, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae was formed and I was chosen to be its secretary and served in that office for thirteen years, or until my election to the presidency.

Since many people, especially physicians, were objecting to collegiate training for women on the ground that it was physically disastrous, the Association took up, as its first topic for investigation, the health of college women. Soon after, a group of members, including Ellen H. Richards, Alice Peloubet (later Mrs. Norton), and myself, formed a sanitary science club. Mrs. Richards was naturally the leader and stimulated Mrs. Norton and myself to go on with our studies in the welfare of the home and the household. I continued my studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, in 1888, received its degree of S.B. In 1889, I was asked to give a series of lectures on sanitation to the students at Lasell Seminary. It is interesting to note that I called their attention to a new theory of disease which had recently been suggested and which was called the "germ theory." I told the students that it had not been generally accepted, but it would be

( 146) worth while for them to note whether it made any progress. In 1890, through the initiative of my close friend, Alice Freeman, now Mrs. Palmer, I was appointed instructor in domestic science at Wellesley College and for two years gave to the Seniors a three-hour course including house sanitation and dietetics. In the meantime, as secretary of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, as a member of the Board of Visitors of Wellesley College, as secretary and later president of the Massachusetts Society for the University Education of Women, and as alumni trustee of Boston University, I had been studying rather closely various problems involved in the collegiate education of women.

As plans took shape for administering the new University of Chicago, Mrs. Palmer told me about what was involved and said that she wished me to assist in organizing the life of the women students and be a full member of the Faculty. When the offer came from President Harper, it was to be assistant professor of sanitary science and dean (of women) in the University Colleges. I was to teach the subjects in which I had prepared myself and had had experience;

( 147) but, as there was to be no domestic science department in the University, my courses were to be included in the Department of Social Science (later Sociology). Then came one of the most gratifying experiences of my life, a letter of welcome from Professor A. W. Small, head of the department, written in his characteristically cordial manner and without a trace of condescension or irritation because this strange young woman, with her, at that time, non-academic subject, had been administered into his Department. I was given full recognition, even to being named as one of the board of editors of the Journal of Sociology, when it was established.

In the meantime, my friend, Alice Peloubet, had married Professor L. M. Norton; and, on her husband's death, leaving her with five young children, she had begun teaching. She met with such great success that when, with the financial support and intelligent co-operation of Mrs. Emmons Blaine, Colonel Francis W. Parker left the Cook County Normal School in 1900 to organize the Chicago Institute, he selected Mrs. Norton to be a member of the faculty. She spent a year in further preparation for this special work.

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Meanwhile there had been much discussion throughout the East as to the proper term to apply to the range of subjects connected with the activities of the home. A group of actively interested persons, meeting at Lake Placid in September, 1899, agreed to discard the various terms which had been in use, and to adopt the term "home economics." When the University established the School of Education, of which the Chicago Institute was a constituent part, Mrs. Norton continued her teaching under the general term of home economics and offered courses in 1901-2.

Early in 1902, I submitted to President Harper a plan for a department of household technology, choosing the term on the analogy of departments in other fields. I proposed an increased staff of instructors, laboratory facilities, enlarged equipment, a practice house, a fellowship and scholarships, and possibly a journal. President Harper stated that he thought "the plan a strong one"; but, as so often in those days when the University's enterprises were outrunning the limits of its purse, a compromise had to be made on the ground that no extra funds were available. We

( 149) then issued a bulletin on Courses in Household Technology and Related Subjects. The opening statement read:

The University of Chicago offers special courses dealing with the problems of the home and the household. The instruction is intended to give men and women, as a means of liberal culture, a general view of the place of the household in society, to train men and women for the rational and scientific administration of the home as a social unit, and to prepare teachers. Fundamental courses in physics, chemistry, physiology, bacteriology, political economy, and the study of society are given.

Then followed a list of courses offered by Assistant Professor Norton, Associate Professor E. O. Jordan, Assistant Professor Albert P. Mathews, Associate Professor George E. Vincent, Professor Charles R. Henderson, and myself. This plan was followed for two years.

In 1904 the time seemed really ripe for the establishment of a new department. President Harper this time gave his approval. My courses were withdrawn from the Department of Sociology. Miss Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, who had just completed the course in the Law School (the first woman to take its degree of J.D.) after having received the doctorate in polit-

( 150) -ical science, had shown great interest in the legal and economic aspects of the household. She and I thought that these subjects had been almost completely overshadowed, if not ignored, by the emphasis placed on food and clothing, although in the changing conditions of industry and society they were becoming increasingly important. In order to show the changed emphasis which the new department wished to place on studies relating to the home, it was given the new name of Department of Household Administration. Mrs. Norton was made assistant professor of the teaching of home economics in the School of Education and assistant professor of household administration in the Faculty of Arts, Literature, and Science. She had charge not only of the courses in teaching but of the courses in foods which involved laboratory experimentation. Dr. Breckinridge was appointed to an instructorship and offered courses on legal and economic interests of the home, while I retained the sanitary and social aspects. The first bulletin announced courses chosen from those given in the School of Education and the Departments of Sociology, Chemistry, Ζοölogy, Physiology, and Bacteriol-

( 151) -ogy, as well as a series of special lectures on varied aspects of family life given by some of the most distinguished members of the Faculties.

The most significant part of the bulletin was, however, the introductory statement. It read in part as follows:

Students of social movements look with apprehension on present-day tendencies which draw men more and more in the direction of commercialism and women into industrialism to the detriment of home and family life and the consequent injury of the larger social interests of which it is the foundation. . . . The University of Chicago announces
the establishment of a Department of Household Administration . . . . Theoretical courses dealing with the economic, legal, sociological, sanitary, dietetic, and aesthetic interests of the household will be supplemented by practical work, all to be conducted on a strictly collegiate basis.

In this undertaking a new note was certainly struck. It was characteristic of the University of Chicago not to be bound by the academic traditions of the past. No other college or university had ventured far from the beaten path in home economics. Cooking and sewing still represented to them the essential interests of the home.

It is a satisfaction to record that the University of Chicago was the first institution to offer

( 152) courses which recognized that the great changes in industry and in political and social organization called for corresponding changes in training for family life. The home was rapidly becoming a consuming, rather than a producing, center. This called for less study of methods of domestic manufacturing and more study of those industrial and governmental institutions through whose agency the householder is enabled to care more effectively for her family and household. Dr. Breckinridge offered courses in the "Organization of the Retail Market"; "Standards of Living"; "Consumption of Wealth"; "Relations between the Householder and the Public," as represented by federal, state, and municipal authority; "Standards of Child Care"; "Legal and Economic Position of Women"; "Care of Families in Distress"; while I offered "The House as a Factor in Health"; together with courses on the social, economic, hygienic, and legal aspects of dietetics and the administration of the modern household.

But it may be true, as one observer remarked some years later, that the note was struck a quarter of a century before people were ready to heed it.

( 153) To change the metaphor, the seed, however, was planted; and though it was slow in coming to fruition, at the end of a quarter of a century it suddenly bloomed and everywhere were evidences that family relations and the well-being of the household were recognized as subjects demanding careful study and worthy of an honored place in a university curriculum. In the intervening years the University was either too handicapped financially or too fearful of increasing the proportion of women students to take any steps toward the enlargement or strengthening of the Department. It had a reasonable number of enrolments, more than in some and fewer than in other departments; and among the students were several who later became distinguished for their leadership. No special change in the organization of the Department took place until 1913, when Mrs. Norton withdrew from the School of Education, greatly to the regret of her many friends. After a short period, when Miss Agnes K. Hanna directed the work in the School of Education, Dr. Katharine Blunt took the position and retained it until her acceptance of the presidency of Connecticut College for Women in 1929. On my re-

( 154) -tirement in 1925 and the appointment of Dr. Breckinridge to a full-time professorship in the School of Social Service Administration, the Department of Household Administration in the Schools and Colleges of Arts, Literature, and Science and the Department of Home Economics in the School of Education were combined, except that the courses in the teaching and supervision of home economics were retained in the School of Education—an arrangement which was prevented years previously only because of the peculiar circumstances which attended the introduction of the work. The titles of the two departments were united in spite of the manifest cumbersomeness which resulted.

Anyone interested in studying the development of domestic activities and the relation of the home and the family to the community can but note the changes which have taken place in the type of training which schools and colleges have offered. It is not too much to claim that the University of Chicago has had a vision of needed changes and given an impetus to a movement which is already bearing rich fruit


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