The Department of Agriculture is a fact-finding institution. It was organized for the purpose of making researches [sic] along agricultural lines and disseminating the information thus obtained, not only in technical form, but also in popular terms which could be understood and utilized by all the people of the country…
The establishment of a bureau of home economics in the Department was therefore a logical development. In line with the general policies of this organization, it is primarily a research unit charged with studying problems and accumulating facts in the various fields of home economics.
-- Ruth O'Brien, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Home Economics. Division of Textiles and Clothing. 'The Program of Textile Research in the Bureau of Home Economics.' (1930).
The Bureau of Home Economics was a pioneering unit in the U.S. Department of Agriculture for several reasons. It was the first major unit to have been headed by a woman: Louise Stanley, Ph.D. It focused on topics of central concern to women, as defined by the cultural norms of the early 20th century: sewing, kitchen design and features, time spent on housework, children's clothing, and food preparation and preservation. Lastly, it took a then-novel approach to its work: it strove to first understand what its primary audience needed within its broad mandate and then shaped its specific programs around those needs.
This exhibit showcases the work of this Bureau -- especially the work related to clothing and kitchen design.
Many of the items featured here were published half a century ago. Therefore, please do not assume that the content reflects current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices. All views expressed in these items are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Agricultural Library.
Unless otherwise indicated, all materials contained in "Apron Strings and Kitchen Sinks" are either in the public domain due to copyright expiration or because they are works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties and thus are not copyrighted within the United States.
This exhibit was created by Emily Marsh, Ph.D., MLS.
Please contact NAL if you have any questions about this site.
Secondary Sources Used
Betters, Paul V. (1930). The Bureau of Home Economics: Its History, Activities, and Organization. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution.
Effland, Anne B.W. (n.d.). USDA's Historical Studies of the Use of Time by Homemakers. Retrieved from: http://www.farmfoundation.org/news/articlefiles/133-Effland.presentation.pdf.
Goldstein, Carolyn M. (2012). Creating Consumers: Home Economists in Twentieth-Century America Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press.
Kline, Ronald R. (2000). Consumers in the Country: Technology and Social Change in Rural America. Baltimore, M.D.: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Laboissonniere, Wade (2009). Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s, Revised Second edition. Atglen, P.A.: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
O'Brien, Ruth (1930). "The program of textile research in the Bureau of Home Economics." Journal of Home Economics, 9(4), 281-287.
O'Brien, Ruth (1948). "BHNHE celebrates a quarter century of service." Journal of Home Economics, 40(6), 293-296.
Przybyszewski, Linda (2014). The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. New York: Basic Books.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service (1958). Home Economics Research in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. PA Number 364. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/CAT31303143#page/n1/mode/2up