Whitehead, Floy Eugenia, 1913-1998
- Existence: 1913 - 1998
Floy Eugenia Whitehead, leader in the field of nutrition research, dietetics, and education, had a rich and varied career. Born in Athens, Georgia on February 10, 1913, she was one of eight children of James Fred Whitehead and Floy Eugenia Landrum Whitehead. She graduated from the Athens public school system and enrolled at the University of Georgia in 1930. After a two-year hiatus while she worked to contribute to her family´s income during the Great Depression, she returned to school in the fall of 1933. A friend suggested that she pursue a B.S. in Home Economics. The study of nutrition - particularly nutrition education - quickly became Whitehead´s passion. She graduated with a B.S. in 1936; she subsequently received her M.S. from the University of Georgia in 1942.
As a high school teacher in Moultrie, Georgia, Whitehead learned firsthand about the practical difficulties involved in changing adolescents´ dietary habits. Later, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as Assistant Professor of Home Economics at West Georgia College and Associate Educational Director of the Georgia Department of Health, she developed a holistic, community-centered approach to nutrition education. She specialized in the improvement of school lunch programs and provided field instruction for elementary and secondary educators.
In the fall of 1942, Whitehead won the prestigious General Education Board Fellowship and embarked upon her doctoral studies in nutrition at the University of Chicago. Here she worked under the direction of another pioneer in nutrition education, Dr. Lydia J. Roberts. In 1944, Whitehead seized the opportunity to design and execute a field study of nutrition education techniques and their effectiveness in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. The resulting work, spanning 1944-1948, was the first longitudinal study of a community-centered nutrition education program in the United States. Whitehead´s innovative approach to nutrition education stressed respect for a community´s economic means and food ways, whole-curriculum (rather than subject-centered) teaching applications, and ongoing community involvement in the work of public education. This study, undertaken while Whitehead was an Associate Professor of Home Economics at Louisiana State University and Associate Home Economist for that state´s Agricultural Experiment Station, became a landmark in nutrition education research. On completion of data collection, she spent the 1948-1949 school year as an Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University. She then enrolled in the School of Public Health at Harvard. Her 1951 doctoral dissertation, "Studies in Nutrition Education," summarized the Ascension Parish project and assessed the long-lasting benefits produced by her methods. A number of distinguished publications resulted from her doctoral work.
Before coming to the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in 1955 to chair the Department of Home Economics, Whitehead served as visiting lecturer at Harvard´s School of Public Health during the 1951-1952 school year. She moved to Chicago in 1952, where she took the post of director of nutrition education at the Wheat Flour Institute. From 1953 to 1955, she worked as director of nutrition education for the National Dairy Council. During these years, she also designed and executed another award-winning longitudinal research study in the public school system of Kansas City, Missouri. Again, numerous publications document her professional accomplishments during this busy time.
Whitehead presided over the University of Iowa´s Home Economics Department for sixteen years, leading it through times of turbulent social change. She insisted that Home Economics belonged at the center of a humanistic vision of the Liberal Arts and directed a five-year departmental self-study to demonstrate the validity of her claim. Moreover, she encouraged women to consider the many professional opportunities open to Home Economics graduates, citing her own satisfaction with a life spent in academic service. The burdens of administrative work and thesis direction, coupled with near-continuous speaking engagements and her commitment to professional service, slowed her research and publications in the 1960s. She stepped down as chair in 1971, retiring from the Department of Home Economics in 1978. She died in 1998.
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Nutrition scholar and chair of the University of Iowa's Home Economics Department for sixteen years.