In This Review

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live
The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live
By Danielle Dreilinger
Norton, 2021, 368 pp
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The term “home economics” conjures up images of instruction in cooking and sewing for generations of female secondary school students. In her account of the subject’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, Dreilinger shows that home economics has always involved much more. It was a way for female educators, in secondary schools but also in universities and other advanced settings, to develop and apply their skills in an era when many academic disciplines were closed to women. It allowed those educators to redefine, sometimes in strikingly progressive ways, women’s roles in society and the economy, modernizing contemporary perceptions of women as producers and consumers. For more than a century, research by home economists has been a source of significant scientific and commercial advances, improving food storage methods, for example, and the design of kitchens. Today, with other fields available to women, the rebranded discipline of “family and consumer sciences” is dwindling, even if it has not entirely disappeared.