Welcome to Katherine’s bookshelf, and another deep dive into home economics. Steel yourself. Stuffed vegetables, casual sexism, and some very surprising surprises lurk within. It’s exactly what it looks like from the cover: a home economics textbook from 1960.
I’ve got more pictures from the inside of this one, because the production values are quite high, quite 1960s, and quite informative, actually. Let’s start at the beginning, the table of contents:
This book gets bonus postmodern-ironic appreciation points for using the word “attractive” three times in the table of contents alone. The entirety of Unit I can be summarized as “any problems you have in life are because you haven’t tried to fit in with other people hard enough, and you better be able to deal with babies, because that’s your job, now and forever” – which is a sentiment that I find to be really messed up. Unit II continues the concentration on diet and health found in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book and ads some instruction for not giving everybody food poisoning, as well as some updated (1960) advice on a balanced diet: eat a vegetable or fruit once in a while. They’re good for you. Don’t be deceived by the title of Unit III, Part 4 – they mean your budget allotted to you for groceries, basically, although the home decorating advice is hilarious, and there are some neat tips about house cleaning. Then there’s Unit IV: Making Yourself Attractive, which certainly sounds – and is – awful and condescending. Yet… this is the most useful and relevant part of the book. I’m not even kidding. Parts 3 – 6 are actually indispensable for clothes shopping. As it happens, if you take care of and repair your things, you have to buy replacements less often, which means you can afford better quality things, and replace them even less often, resulting in a virtuous cycle of saving money in the long run. That’s why I definitely do darn my socks.
In this vein of pragmatism, and the ultimate point of home economics education, here’s a nifty Google Ngram that tracks the frequency of the phrase “home economics” against the names of a few vitamin deficiency diseases. (I didn’t include scurvy, because it was well-known and discussed in the age of sail, as well as a cure found – fruit – even if they didn’t know why it worked. If I’d kept scurvy in, it would have flooded the results, but there is a bump in the early 1900s, right as vitamins are discovered.) I did, however, include rickets, pellagra, and beriberi, and there is, indeed, a nice boost in frequency right at the same time. In large part, the purpose of home economics was to provide a formal education with the sophistication and authority of logic and science in how to be a housewife, in the hopes that this information – especially about nutrition – would improve public health.
Double stuffed squashes.
One thing I really have taken away from my old cookbooks is that American palates have gotten MUCH more used to spicy foods, even in just the last forty years. Very interesting.
— Article by Katherine, Shawnee