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University of Iowa Department of Home Economics records

Identifier: IWA0720

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Scope and Contents

The University of Iowa Home Economics Department records date from 1913 to 1991 and measure 2.7 linear feet. The papers are arranged in six series: administrative records, activities, courses, facilities, faculty, and audiovisual.

The Administrative Records series (1913-1989) includes the bulk of the collection and details the activities of the University of Iowa Home Economics department from a managerial standpoint. The series contains materials regarding department publicity, faculty selection, enrollment data, assistantships, and career data issued to students.

The Alumnae newsletters and bulletins include multi-page reports on departmental affairs and alumnae news are organized according to departmental chair. Catalogs and publications promoting the department's course offerings are also included. Summer school catalogs and a 1913 university bulletin highlighting educational opportunities for women at the State University of Iowa offers an illustrated guide to campus life.

The Publicity folders contain published materials released by the department for promotion during the years 1940-1984. Departmental newsletters, press releases, brochures, and newspaper clippings are included in the published materials.

The American Home Economics Association accreditation process is detailed in the department's bid for accreditation in 1982 and its subsequent consent to withdrawal from accreditation in 1989 when circumstances surrounding the termination process made sustaining its credentials impossible.

Also included in the Administration series are the departmental expense accounts which span the years 1913-1922. Included are records of materials and expenses incurred by the Home Economics department in its first decade of existence, including supplemental payroll information.

A thesis by Rosemary Wilmoth on the subject of perceptions of women's managerial skills (1984) and one directed study by Suzanne Dziurawiec Haines on the subject of infant nutrition in Iowa City (1974)is in the Thesis portion of the Administration series. Also the department's in-depth review of its activities in 1975 and 1986 is included in the self-study folders.

The termination of department began in 1987 and lasted until 1989. Materials are included relating to the internal and external review of the Home Economics department from 1987-1989. Of particular interest are copies of internal and external review reports, exchanges between departmental faculty and Dean Gerhard Loewenberg concerning the conduct of an external referee during his campus visit, and a vigorous faculty rebuttal of the findings of the external review report.

The Activities series (1942-1970) provides information on the various activities in which the faculty and students in the department participated. The series includes materials from old Days, the department's bean supper, departmental workshops, exhibits, field trips, and student meetings. The department's fiftieth anniversary is well represented in the series. The fiftieth anniversary folder in the series contains publications from the celebration and the transcript of the humorous play "Fifty liberal years" that was staged in honor of the anniversary.

The series contains conference proceedings from 1942, 1964, and 1965, which consist of the published materials that accompanied conferences hosted by the University of Iowa Home Economics department on the topics of nutrition, textiles, and social gerontology.

The Courses series (1963-1972) contains course materials from a team taught research methods class in 1964-1965. In addition, the series includes the department's lists of course schedules from 1963 until 1972.

The Facilities series (1945-1970) includes the department's information on equipment fabric collections, slide collections, TV films, and office space needs. In addition, it provides information on the remodeling of Macbride hall that took place in 1981.

The Faculty series (1933-1984) gives researchers information on some of the faculty members that served the department during its existence. The series is divided by faculty member and contains research publications and manuscripts produced by department faculty along with a few biographies, photographs, and press releases.

Chairs of the University of Iowa Department of Home Economics: Ruth Aimee Wardall, 1913-1922; Helen Pope, 1922-1923; Dr. Frances Zuill, 1923-1939; Mate Giddings, 1939-1940; Dr. Sybil Woodruff, 1940-1955; Dr. Eugenia Whitehead, 1955-1971; Dr. Sara Wolfson, 1972-1988; and Dr. Carolyn Lara-Braud, 1989-1991.

The Audiovisual series (2000) contains 9 audiocassettes, including oral history interviews with Alice Atkinson, Lorraine Dorfman, and Naomi Schedl.


  • Creation: 1913-1991


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa except for published materials contained therein.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

From 1913 to 1991, the University of Iowa's Home Economics Department trained thousands of women (and a few men) for careers as artists, counselors, dieticians, extension agents, fashion designers, homemakers, interior designers, mothers, nutritionists, preservationists, professors, secondary-school teachers, and weavers. Home Economics was a "historically female" department not only in the students who enrolled but also in another sense: it was chaired exclusively by women and women constituted over 95% of its faculty over the life of the department. Thus, the University of Iowa's Home Economics Department played a pivotal role in the history of women's education at the University of Iowa.

Ruth Aimee Wardall, the first woman to hold a Master of Arts in Foods from the University of Illinois, served as the first chair of Home Economics (1913-1922). Along with numerous instructors, Wardall offered comprehensive and challenging coursework that attracted students in substantial numbers. Eighty-one of the five hundred or so women on campus completed the 1913 course in Textiles; sophomore women specialized in the preparation and preservation of foods.

In two years, the program doubled its enrollment, necessitating the hiring of more instructors for the introductory courses. Under Wardall's leadership, the Department had an impact beyond the campus as well. During World War I, the Home Economics Department added a special foods training course for nurses. Junior and senior women helped to train Red Cross volunteers and made "cootie suits" to keep the Iowa soldiers lice-free. Students also nursed and fed the ill during the influenza epidemic in 1918. The creation of the Child Welfare Research station and the addition of specialists in pediatric development and nutrition rapidly increased the range of the department's offerings.

When Wardall left the University in 1922, the department was well established as an interdisciplinary and rigorous academic program. Wardall's successor, Helen Pope, presided over a thriving department. Summer School was especially popular; these accelerated courses provided training for rural secondary school teachers who were required by law to teach Home Economics. Established home economists from across the state could update their skills or form professional networks while mingling with beginning students. Although Pope only served two years as Chair, the department offered Summer Session coursework until its termination.

Frequent changes among the junior faculty, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of continuity in administration began to affect student morale. These problems would have to be faced squarely by the next administrator. Frances Zuill, who served as department chair from 1923-1939, stressed the dual goals of community service and academic excellence. At her urging, the Department began to offer graduate work. She also encouraged faculty members to pursue the doctorate, an unusual attainment among home economics educators at the time. Zuill was responsible for instituting the Alumnae newsletter and the campus-wide Christmas dinner, two of the activities that characterized the Home Economics Department in the minds of graduates of the era.

The Zuill administration was a golden time for the Home Economics Department. Zuill herself was president of the American Home Economics Association. Another faculty member, Mate Giddings, was national president of Omicron Nu (home economics honorary society). Superior educators like Edna Hill, Alice Brigham, Ione Hosman, Merle Ford, and Lula Smith joined the faculty during Zuill's tenure as chair. Additionally, the department moved to more spacious renovated quarters in McBride Hall. When Zuill departed to chair the Home Economics department at the University of Wisconsin, Mate Giddings served as interim chair the following year (1939-1940).

Under Dr. Sybil Woodruff, head of the department from 1940 to 1955, the Home Economics Department developed a national reputation for its work in the fields of dietetics and nutrition. Students worked closely with Dr. Kate Daum (Director of Nutrition at the University Hospitals until 1955), Dr. W. A. Tuttle, and Dr. Genevieve Stearns. The Iowa Breakfast Studies, joint research conducted by the University Hospital's Nutrition department and the Home Economics department, conclusively established the health benefits of eating a well-balanced breakfast.

Wartime shortages led to rationing of fabrics and foods and presented new challenges in pedagogy. Moreover, the skills of home economists were more in demand than ever, and the department struggled to offer enough classes to keep up with rising enrollments. The interdisciplinary nature of Home Economics made its courses required work for those studying to be dental hygienists, elementary educators, artists, advertisers, and social workers. Student demand drove the expansion of the department and soon, more floor space and more faculty were required.

Dr. Floy Eugenia Whitehead, department chair from 1955 to 1971, presided over Home Economics during a time of great change in American society. The department continued to stress "dual career" training for women, acknowledging that most women would marry and raise children as well as pursue employment outside the home. Whitehead's academic excellence in the field of nutrition set the tone for the department; she encouraged all faculty members to explore professional development opportunities. Yet, research had to be subordinate to quality teaching; the department firmly believed that hands-on learning, rather than "indoctrination," better served the civic mission of their discipline and the nation. Classes continued to grow throughout the 1960s and graduate study (particularly in the areas of nutrition and textiles) substantially increased.

Dr. Sara Wolfson presided over the Home Economics department from 1972-1989. Under her tenure, the department's faculty received accreditation from the American Home Economics Association and was rated as one of the top ten departments in the nation. A major renovation of department facilities was completed in 1985. There were signs, however, that Liberal Arts administrators did not support the department as enthusiastically as these accomplishments seemed to merit. Professors continued to share office space, the only faculty members in the Liberal Arts required to do so.

When professors retired, the money to hire replacements was slow in coming. The size of the teaching staff diminished; qualified faculty were hard to find due to a national shortage of Home Economics graduates with advanced degrees. Those with the desired skills could find higher salaries elsewhere. Remaining professors had to bear a heavier load of teaching and advising, with some diminution of their research activities. The department began to rely more heavily on teaching assistants and temporary or adjunct personnel to teach classes.

As the university positioned itself to become a premier research institution, those Home Economics faculty members whose strengths lay in the quality of their teaching and mentorship abilities perceived themselves to be undervalued in a system that increasingly assessed scholarly worth by examining one's publication record. Those faculty members appointed to the textile and design branches of the department also noted that their exhibition work, while professional in nature, was not considered tenure-worthy under the guidelines set forth by the College of Liberal Arts. The department, already stretched to the limit in its efforts to maintain a full menu of courses for its numerous majors, was informed in 1987 that it should plan to add high-enrollment General Education Requirement courses as well.

By 1988, morale in the Home Economics department was flagging. Dr. Carolyn Lara-Braud took over as the chair of the department during its valiant, but ultimately fruitless, battle against termination. Administrators reacted to the deep economic distress produced by the 1980s farm crisis by eliminating all perceived duplications at Iowa's regents institutions. "Historically female" programs, such as Home Economics and Dental Hygiene, had been marginalized in the years prior to external review through funding decisions, staffing priorities, and resource allocation made by University administrators.

Moreover, national trends within the discipline had moved toward reorienting the field toward family and consumer science; Iowa's department remained committed to an older humanistic vision of home economics education that some administrators perceived as old-fashioned. During the drive to eliminate duplication, the Home Economics department was perceived as a "logical" candidate for liquidation and deemed "no longer relevant to the mission of the liberal arts." Despite outcries about gender discrimination and even unconstitutionality, the Home Economics department offered its last class in 1991. (See Termination of Department series for quoted material.)


2.70 Linear Feet

Photographs in Box 7. boxes

9 audiocassettes (AC2137-AC2145)

Language of Materials



Provided training in a variety of careers including dieticians, extension agents, designers, and homemakers.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 168 ) were transferred from the University of Iowa Archives in 1999.

Related Materials

Margaret Keyes papers (IWA).

Floy Eugenia Whitehead papers (IWA).

Harriet Stevens papers (IWA).

Bridgett Williams-Searle, 1999; Heather Stecklein, 2002; Annette Bramstedt, 2009; Meredith Kite, 2024
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)