The Modern Home Economist - Every Job Is Important

Two things occurred this past week which piqued my interest: a discussion in a group setting about when we seasoned homemakers learned certain tasks related to home making and a stumble upon of videos from the 1940's and 1950's related to 'charm' and 'homemaking' respectively.  It made me stop and think how basic some of that information is...and how untaught it is these days as well.  Our group discussion related to when we learned basic things like shopping for groceries, planning meals, cooking, doing laundry.  It was surprising the number of us who didn't learn these basic  homemaking skills until we were in our own first homes!  Some of us had the privilege of learning to do one or two tasks but not all and by no means did any of us understand  the full import of the job we'd taken on as a homemaker. 

 When I heard a sermon later in the week related to how every job is important...well it seemed to just back up the information I'd been listening to and reinforced my feeling that it's high time we begin to once more give credence to the importance of homemaking.  Let's face it, whether you work at home as a full time homemaker or you work outside the home, you are still a homemaker and it's a job that requires skill like any other if it's to be done well.

When I was in high school, I thought Home Ec was the most boring class bar none and I mean that sincerely.  It had nothing to do with thinking it was lame and everything to do with my thinking I'd spent plenty of years cooking and sewing and cleaning and there was little anyone could teach me.  Now let's flash forward 40 years and I realize how much I have learned over the years and how much more I could still learn about home and family management. And yes, I now acknowledge how much I might have already known had I merely gone to Home Ec classes (an elective in my day) instead of choosing extra literature classes as my electives.

Despite years as a homemaker before entering the workaday world, despite my past experience in basic skills, I have found this 17 year stint of full time homemaking has pushed me to learn more than I've learned in years.  It has been my quest  to learn as much as I can about all the skills needed to do my job fully and completely and I do mean JOB because this home making business has been every bit as demanding as any job I had outside the home! 

The biggest mistake I think we make is assuming that Home Economics is related only to cooking, cleaning and sewing.  That is such a very small part of  Home Economics!  Home Economics has to do with the comfort and design of the family home, good nutrition and proper diet, care of invalids, food preservation, personal hygiene and deportment, child development, self-improvement, manners, psychology, time management, accounting, investing, maintenance and certainly could include child birth, horticulture, and just about any subject related to home.  You see it truly is an encompassing subject.  If it has to do with Life, it falls under Home Economics!

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Catherine Beecher  were leaders in the study of Home Economics.  They didn't call it Home Ec at that time.  Their goal was the broadening of  education of women and it was Catherine's assumption that young women would benefit from learning how to run a home of their own, as well as math, science and other such studies.    The sisters later wrote a book which covered the basic skills of decoration of the home to promote health and harmony and the general ideals of running a home smoothly.  In the later part of the 1800's Ellen Swallow Richards trained as the first female chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later Vassar.  She began her  ground breaking work in the area of disposal of sewage and improving water quality, two issues that greatly improved not only the health of cities overall but of homes and families.  Later she became head of the home science department and applied scientific knowledge to the building of and improvement of the family home and all the fields related to it. Recognizing the importance of her work, other educators came together with Mrs. Richards at Lake Placid, NY at an annual symposium and so began the development of the applied science we now call Home Economics.

In the early 1900's two acts passed Congress which mandated the teaching of courses at college level first and later high school level to promote the overall health of family and home.  The home economist was a highly sought employee in many fields, from interior and fashion design to chemistry and beyond and was considered of great value in community education.  No young woman who had the privilege of being fully educated would have achieved her high school degree without passing Home Economics.  By the time I was in high school in the late 1970's the class was purely elective.  By the time my oldest daughter and youngest son were in high school, Home Economics was phased out of the school curriculum, as was shop, horticulture and other classes which rural high schools especially had relied upon to educate their students for the needs of rural life.  It is my opinion that it is not technology nor industrialization which has harmed our rural area economies but the failure to recognize the value of teaching basic living skills to young men and women who might well not acquire that knowledge anywhere else.

Many vintage women's magazines, including Woman's Day and Better Home and Gardens, which are still published today, promoted articles to help the average homemaker (who might not have had the privilege of education beyond elementary years) learn the basics of good Home Economy in many fields.  One of the magazines in my collection has an article that relates to  the care of the invalid, how to give a bed bath and shampoo.  One of my cookbooks has a section devoted to the feeding of an invalid.  That information may have seemed outdated in the 1970s and even in the 1990s, but it is more and more common in today's health care that patients are discharged home from hospital in an invalid state.  It is very overwhelming to the person who finds themselves in the role of caregiver who has very limited help from a home health aide (if the patient has insurance to cover such).

What I'd like to do within this series is to highlight articles, old films, or information gathered from various other sources that relate to the subjects we may not have had access to in our educational years or might have, as I did, foolishly bypassed, not realizing the deep value the study of Home Economics.

I am not an educator nor fully knowledgeable in every subject I will address, but I'll learn right along with you as I present posts along these lines.  I hope that the information I give will at least intrigue you enough to research the various subjects more fully on your own and enable you to give better care to your home and family as well as to promote the overall health of your family home and perhaps even help those of you who are older like myself to truly instruct the younger women in your life.  And just perhaps we might start a revolution that addresses once more the necessity and inherent value of Home Economics in a world that  believes that technology has outstripped the basic human requirements.  I've a funny feeling we'll all be learning something along the way.

But I don't mean this series to be so very  serious.  I expect to make it fun too at times as we examine yesterday's mandates and compare it to today's knowledge and determine the relevancy of wisdom that transcends eras.  What's old is new again sort of realizations...And too to compare how tedious tasks have been eased by modern means so that we can better attend to deeper learning in other areas.  I hope you all will truly come to look forward to and enjoy these posts.


Anonymous said...

Sounds great ... can't wait! Pam

Louise said...

Can't wait to learn more!!! :-))

Anonymous said...

I hink you are definitely on to something with this topic. As you have said too there is always more to learn. I wish I could get hold of more of the older homemaking books. I have a few. Years ago there were so many monthly magazines for ladies showing them every kind of activity. I drooled over the few I have seen at stores. So many ideas and as you said they made it sound like they really appreciated the hard work done with love in the home. I appreciate your bring this to us. Sounds like a lot of good study and some fun too. Sarah

Anonymous said...

Although there are many homemakers blogging two I have found extra good. Perhaps you already know of them. One is and the other is Both agree on housekeeping as a very worthy occupation and have had many post on the many parts of it threw the years they have blogged. Homeliving has a place on the left side of the blog way down to click on different subjects but it only has a few newer posts in it. Both have been, as I mentioned, blogging for years. Even so some of the topics like taking care of an invalid I don't believe have been mentioned. Sounds like we all are excited over this subject. Learning more and deeper meanings of homemaking is a subject I too have always loved reading and learning as much about as possible. Thank you for thinking of ministering to us in this way. We in turn can turn around and teach others as we are instructed to do by the Bible. Sarah

Rhonda Sue said...

My high school had an excellent home economics department. It was my very favorite class and I learned so much. I took home EC all 4 years in HS and even took it one year in summer school, not because I needed the credit, I just liked it.
We cooked and sewed but we also learned budgeting, meal planning, home design, wedding planning, childcare,

Things change and there is always something to learn about home economics.

Kathy said...

Looking forward to the series!! Thank you!

Vicki in UT said...

We had required home ec in jr. high, but in high school it was an elective, and one I elected not to take. Not that I was un-interested in it, but I found the jr. high school teacher so rigid and nit-picky, that it turned me off. I still did a lot of things relating to home ec, but I did them at home on my own, not at school. I learn a lot now, because it is so easy to find information and tutorials on the internet, that it is fairly easy to become educated in many areas of interest.

Karla Neese said...

I'm excited to see what you will share with us! Most of what I know as a homemaker (I still call myself that despite that I work full time outside the home and have for the past 11 years), I've learned mostly from books, some from tv shows like Martha Stewart and from my mother-in-law.

After reading your post, I realized how poorly I've done with my own girls. I taught my 18 year old how to iron a button up shirt the other day. Yikes, why did I wait so long? Perhaps because in some ways I feel like I still haven't grown up all the way when it comes to homemaking and housekeeping. LOL

I'm always eager to learn something new so it will be neat to see what you uncover for us.

Melanie said...

I had home ec in high school, but it was the basic cooking and sewing. I think they should offer a class to both girls and boys called, Life Skills! I didn't learn the art of homemaking until I got married and was on my home. I knew how to do basic housekeeping, but that was it. Live and of hard knocks! I loved homekeeping/making from day one though - and still do, almost 29 years later. :-)

Joni CHL said...

My mom tried to teach me to cook, but I didn't have any interest in it. She taught me to clean though. When I had my own family, I learnt how to cook by trial and error. Much cheaper to cook than to buy take out.

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