Beyond Euthenics: Home Economics and the Reinvention of the American House, 1893-1939

Open Access
Swisher, Christine Bronner
Graduate Program:
Art History
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 26, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Craig Robert Zabel, Dissertation Advisor
  • Craig Robert Zabel, Committee Chair
  • Nancy Elizabeth Locke, Committee Member
  • Elizabeth Bradford Smith, Committee Member
  • Christine Lee Gorby, Special Member
  • Euthenics
  • Home Economics
  • Domestic Architecture
This dissertation examines the role played by the academic discipline of Home Economics in shaping American house design in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The evolution of the American house, while bearing signs of modernist theory, has essentially been a tale of compromise, and as such serves as an apt allegory for the history of Home Economics itself. Whereas the house, as understood and experienced by most Americans, exhibits the ostensibly conflicting traits of traditionalism and modernism, historicism and technical innovation, Home Economics instructors sought to inspire their female students to improve the functional aspects of the home with scientific theories and techniques while, at the same time, reminding them that their natural sphere of influence was confined to its walls. Beginning with the Lake Placid Conference in 1899, domestic scientists encouraged women to reevaluate the home as not only a space of comfort and repose but as a workspace badly in need of reform. The efforts toward that reform ranged well beyond the classroom, sparking a cultural phenomenon; its impact was felt in every aspect of American culture, from rural Extension Services to popular magazines, from corporate marketing strategies to Herbert Hoover’s Commerce department. The lessons of Home Economics were embraced, appropriated, and repeated ad infinitum, and are still part of our collective experience today.