HISTORY

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live

Norton. May 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781324004493. $27.95. HIST
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In this debut, journalist Dreilinger looks at the history of home economics from a feminist perspective. She argues that home economics was intended to empower people of color and white women by giving them a way to enter fields, like chemistry or business, that were otherwise closed to them. Dreilinger’s book follows the evolution of home economics through the present day. Beginning with the expansion of education after the Civil War, home economics was formalized as a field of study at the Lake Placid Conference. Its founders believed they could improve people’s lives through science, and dedicated themselves to studying nutrition, marketing, child development, textiles, and cooking. The field grew during both World Wars and the Great Depression, but in the 1950s it was recast as the realm of homemakers only. Dreilinger devotes a chapter to racism, sexism, and bias in the field, and explains that Black women in home economics were often sidelined or dismissed while white women gained influence. She argues that home economics is still useful and offers recommendations to rejuvenate the field.
VERDICT An intriguing analysis of a stereotyped field that will find a welcome place among collections specializing in feminism and women’s studies.
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