From Home Ec To High Tech

December 19, 2005

The traditional home economics discipline is one of the oldest programs of study in the United States. In the late 19th century, Ellen Swallow Richards, the most prominent female American chemist of her day, started to apply science to the everyday household -- cooking, sanitation, the care and sewing of clothing and child care. In those days, people were not aware of how germs were spread, and women wore bulky clothing that sometimes was unsafe for the tasks they performed. 
"She was really advanced in her thinking as far as how the science of what was going on in the home was critical to the health of society and the health of the nation," says Suzy Weems, new chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Richards convinced people that these skills "were not just something you were born with, but they had to be studied and learned," Weems says. 
Richards began to teach college classes on nutrition and hygiene. In 1908, the American Home Economics Association -- the precursor to the family and consumer sciences programs -- was formed with Richards as its president. Today, there are about 300 colleges and universities offering family and consumer sciences programs. More than 145 of those, including Baylor's, are members of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
At Baylor, family and consumer sciences was established as a degree-conferring department in 1933 and was called the Department of Home Economics. At that time, only bachelor's of science degrees in general home economics, home economics education and fashion merchandising were offered. In 1977, the Mary Jones Gibbs Family and Consumer Science Building was completed, and in 1994 the program's current name was adopted.
Since Baylor's department began, almost 2,600 students have graduated from its programs. Alumni have entered a variety of careers, from architecture and food service to child and family counseling and nutritional consultation. Some are becoming big names in the fashion industry, such as Jodi Arnold, designer of the Mint Collection in New York City; Lagaya Quiocho, vice president of merchandising at Gap Headquarters in San Francisco; and Carol McColgin, assistant to the editor of US magazine.
Students attend classes at the Mary Jones Gibbs Family and Consumer Science Building and also at the computer and drafting facilities in the Parker Design Center -- a two-story, colonial-style house next to Collins Residence Hall on the corner of Baylor Avenue and Eighth Street. The Piper Center for Family Studies and Child Development is a learning lab for child and family studies students located minutes from the University.
"With an increase in national and international attention to the academic programs within family and consumer sciences," Weems says, "I see the future of these professionals as being exceptionally bright."