The Secret History of Home Economics: How Pioneering Women Harnessed the Power of the Home and Changed Our Way of Life by Danielle Dreilinger, hardcover

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★ 01/18/2021

Journalist Dreilinger debuts with a revealing story from the field of home economics. Created in the late 19th century as a progressive and reforming discipline that sought to “change the world through housekeeping,” home economics was viewed by its founders, including MIT chemist Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911), as a subfield of the economy that had the potential to eliminate both poverty and drudgery. Universities established home economics departments, and the government sought the expertise of prominent home economists during both World Wars and the Great Depression. Noting that African Americans were often excluded from organizations and professional opportunities, Dreilinger gives full attention to the work of black domestic economists, including Flemmie Kittrell (1904-1980), whose career spanned academia, government service and national and international civil rights activism. Detailing the changes in American education that have largely marginalized the field since the 1980s, Dreilinger describes the stages of its revitalization, including diversification and a renewed focus on life skills and the transformative social and ecological vision that the discipline at his best married. With lively prose and captivating portraits of dynamic and accomplished women, it is a vital and inspiring reassessment of an often caricatured field. (May)

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