home economics, study of homemaking and the relation of the home to the community. Formerly limited to problems of food (nutrition and cookery), clothing, sewing, textiles, household equipment, housecleaning, housing, hygiene, and household economics, it later came to include many aspects of family relations, parental education, consumer education, and institutional management. The application of scientific techniques to home economics was developed under the leadership of Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards; later an emphasis was placed on the social, economic, and aesthetic aspects. Although called in some countries home science, household arts, domestic science, or domestic economy, the subject is known today in the United States as home economics, and specialized terms are used for its subdivisions. The field of home economics has, at different times, emphasized training in needlework, cookery, the management of servants, the preparation of medicines, and food preservation; such instruction was once given mainly in the home and from a practical rather than a scientific standpoint. In the United States the teaching of cooking and sewing in the public schools was coincident with manual training for boys, beginning in the 1880s. State institutions, notably in Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, pioneered in introducing home economics courses on the college level in the 1870s. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act made federal funds available for extension work in home economics and agriculture, in cooperation with the states; through this provision, supplemented by later acts, home demonstration work is carried on in many rural localities. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 instituted secondary school vocational education in home economics and other fields. Home economics, once taught only to women, is now taught to both men and women; in the United States home economics courses are taught mainly at the secondary school level, more commonly in rural than in urban areas. The International Federation of Home Economics, an organization devoted to the teaching of home economics on a worldwide basis, has members in over 60 countries.
See S. Schuler and E. M. Schuler, The Householders' Encyclopedia (1973); M. B. Tate, Home Economics As a Profession (2d ed. 1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.