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Home Economics at Oregon State

What Is Home Economics?

The College of Home Economics at Oregon State University (then known as Oregon Agricultural College) was established in 1889 as the Department of Household Economy and Hygiene.  OAC was the fifth land-grant college to introduce this field of education (the fourth to maintain the field continuously) and the first institution west of the Rocky Mountains. Over the years, the one department expanded and grew from a collection of departments to a school and then a college, changing titles as it went.  

The 1889-1890 General Catalog noted that the purpose of home economics was to “teach girls how to cook, to sew, and how to take care of their own health and that of a family.”  A strong connection was made between the health of a household and the health of society more broadly.  Early on at Oregon State, an emphasis in instruction was placed on hygiene and nutrition to fulfill this mission.  Students took classes like Algebra, English, and General History alongside courses in Physiology, Household Accounts, and Household Chemistry.

As the field of home economics grew and evolved, so too did the size of the department at Oregon State.  This meant that as time went on, solving the problems facing the field was divided into more and more specialized departments within the School of Home Economics.  When Margaret Snell began in 1889, there was one department.  When Ava Milam started in 1911, there were two.  By the end of Milam's tenure there were six!  

In 2002, the College of Home Economics merged with the College of Health and Human Performance to form the College of Health and Human Sciences.  Although neither a department, nor school, exists by the name home economics anymore, you will currently find many of the home economics courses still taught within the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.  No matter it's classification or name on campus, the home economics program at Oregon State focused on the home and family life.  

Want to dig deeper?  Check out these histories on Oregon Digital or see how Home Economics fits into the broader University chronology!