As part of their course requirements, students in FOR797 share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions speaker series. The following was prepared by Holly Granat, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management, M.S./M.P.A. Candidate
Dr. Gwen Kay, Professor and Graduate Program Director of the History Department, and Director of the Honors Program at SUNY Oswego, presented her research titled Not Just Stitchin’ & Stirrin’—An Alternative View of Women’s Science Education at ESF on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 as part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Speaker Series. The ESF Women’s Caucus and the Environmental Scholars program jointly sponsored the presentation.
Dr. Kay discussed the history of home economics and the role it has played as a haven for women in science. Land grant colleges helped to establish educational opportunities for women, and Home Economics became a back alley for women to enter into studies primarily dominated by men. Since the core courses of Home Economics majors included art, biology, calculus, chemistry, engineering, microbiology, psychology, and physics, women finally had the opportunity to apply scientific information that they were previously excluded from.
As women began to gain stronger footing in the STEM fields, Home Economics began to carry a negative connotation, and many stereotyped it as being a “housewife” major. This stereotype caused a loss of capable female students in the major, and a growing need to attract male students and keep on male faculty. Programs began to change their names to appeal to students interested in applying the sciences to the home and family. Names were tossed around at leading Home Economics institutions that included everything from Family and Consumer Sciences to Human Ecology. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there was a call to strengthen Home Economics programs in higher education to attract more science-focused students.
The major of Home Economics has begun to loose steam into the later 1990s since women have more opportunities than ever in “regular” science majors, and the programs are no longer considered a priority to get women involved in science. In 1993 the name of Home Economics was officially changed at a Scottsdale, Arizona Conference to Family and Consumer Sciences to try to eliminate the stereotype altogether, however, many universities have refused to change their institution’s name even after the consensus—some due to the time and expense they had already invested in rebranding, others citing alumnae concerns. Dr. Kay’s research demonstrates that Home Economics is still a valuable focus for those interested in home and family dynamics, and deserves its place among the STEM majors.
Dr. Kay received her B.A. from Bowdoin College, where she dual majored in biology and history, and a PhD from Yale University in the history of medicine and science. Her research specializations are the history of medicine and science, Progressive Era America, and women's history. She authored the 2005 American Nurses Association's book of the year (2005) Dying to be Beautiful: The Fight for Safe Cosmetics (Ohio State University Press) and edited Remaking Home Economics: Resourcefulness and Innovation in Changing Times (University of Georgia Press, 2015) with Sharon Y. Nichols. Dr. Kay directs Oswego's Honors Program and serves as Graduate Director for the History department. She teaches courses in American history and women’s history and in women’s studies. In addition, she currently serves as Vice President and Secretary of the SUNY Faculty Senate. Prior to joining Oswego's faculty, she held faculty positions at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, DePaul University, and a fellowship at Ohio State. She was awarded a Dean's Fellowship in the History of Home Economics, Cornell University (2008, 2006), studying Taking the Home out of Economics: From Home Economics to Human Ecology.
For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus. For upcoming lectures, please visit the College Calendar at http://www.esf.edu/calendar.