Campus News

Conference will explore past, future of home economics

Sharon Nickols

As part of an effort to rediscover the roots of home economics and explore its impact on modern society, professors in the fields of family and consumer sciences, history and women’s studies will gather from Feb. 27-28 at UGA for a conference entitled, “Home Economics: Classroom, Corporate and Cultural Interpretations Revisited.” Or, as a save-the-date card declares more succinctly: “Home Economics. It’s Cool Again.”

“Recent writings about the field have given a lot of attention to its positive aspects,” said Sharon Y. Nickols, the Janette Barber Professor of Housing and Consumer Economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “In the ’60s and ’70s, the field was seen through a lens that tended to equate anything related to the home as trapping women in constraining roles. The new literature examines the role home economics played in providing women access to college educations and the professionalism of a variety of fields.”

Nickols and her colleagues hope to attract a range of attendees to the conference, including students and professionals in the fields of history, women’s studies, family and consumer sciences, journalism and education.

Among the presentations scheduled for the conference is one by Peggy Meszaros, a professor of human development at Virginia Tech who is the principal investigator on a project in Appalachia designed to encourage young women to study math and science in high school and in college.

“Ellen Swallow Richards, who is considered a founder of home economics, was a chemist who believed that issues related to the household could be analyzed with the sciences,” said
Nickols. “Dr. Meszaros will be comparing the challenges faced by Ellen Richards with those faced by young women today in regards to pursuing careers in the math, science and technology fields.”

Other speakers will explore the role home economics played in the expansion of educational and professional opportunities for African-American women as well as the impact of racism and segregation on these opportunities.

While home economics has helped to improve the lives of individuals and families, Nickols and her conference colleagues also will address some of the field’s failings, including its struggle to settle on a name (by the 1990s there were more than 35 variations that included some combination of the words human, family, consumer, science, development and ecology) and how the loss of its comprehensive focus on improving the lives of individual families and larger society has detracted from the field.

Megan Elias, a history professor at City University of New York and author of Stir It Up: Home Economics in American Culture, maintains that while the current focus on America’s “obesity epidemic” serves as a flashpoint for the reinstitution of nutrition education it misses the essentialness of the “holistic connections home economics has always made between nutrition and family budgets and relationships.”

Registration for the conference is $105, with a discounted fee of $45 for students. To register or for more information go to