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ELLEN RICHARDS’S HOME ECONOMICS MOVEMENT AND THE BIRTH OF THE ECONOMICS OF CONSUMPTION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 June 2021

David Philippy*
Affiliation:
David Philippy: Centre Walras-Pareto, Université de Lausanne.
*Corresponding
Corresponding author. E-mail: David.philippy@gmail.com.

Abstract

In 1899, MIT chemist Ellen H. Richards (1842–1911) instigated a series of annual “Lake Placid Conferences” (1899–1908) that became known as the foundation of the home economics movement. Richards’s first interest was in improving the household’s well-being by using sanitary and nutrition sciences, an objective that was passed on to the movement. However, by the 1920s, home economists rather identified their field of expertise as the “science of consumption,” emphasizing the idea of “rational consumption.” My aim in this article is to give an account of how this shift in focus came about, by telling the story of the home economics movement founded by Richards. I examine how the movement problematized consumption by highlighting its relationship, and perception of itself, regarding economics. I argue that the concept of consumption was central to the structuring of the movement from its beginning and allowed home economists to claim it as their field of expertise because, as they believed, economists were not addressing the issue.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© The History of Economics Society, 2021

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Footnotes

I am grateful to my PhD supervisor Harro Maas, Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, and Philip Gerard for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article. I also thank the two anonymous referees for their careful reading and useful suggestions.

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ELLEN RICHARDS’S HOME ECONOMICS MOVEMENT AND THE BIRTH OF THE ECONOMICS OF CONSUMPTION
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