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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Ellen Richards

b. 1842, Dunstable, Massachusetts; d. 1911, Boston

Ellen Richards was a chemist, founder of the home economics movement, and the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She advocated increased opportunities for women in the sciences and to this end was instrumental in the establishment of the Woman’s Laboratory at MIT in 1876. During the 1880s, she began publishing books and pamphlets—such as The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning (1882) and Food Materials and Their Adulterations (1885)—that reflected her interest in applying scientific principles to domestic topics. Her work became the basis for the new discipline of home economics. In 1890, Richards’ ideas were actualized in the New England Kitchen. Part model kitchen, part social agency, it provided inexpensive, nutritious, scientifically prepared food to working-class families. Eight years later, she organized the first in a series of conferences on domestic science, soon officially christened “home economics.” For Richards, home economics was both a vehicle for women’s social and political engagement and a scientific blueprint for improvement of the environment beyond the household. These ideas were fully elaborated in Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment, published in 1910. That same year, Richards became a member of the National Education Council, charged with implementing a home economics curriculum in the public schools.