Browse Exhibits : 5

Bureau of Home Economics

[T]he contribution which home economics studies have to make to national economy has not yet been realized. The welfare of any group is based upon a combination of efficient production and wise consumption. There has been a tendency to study and develop the former to the neglect of the latter. The closer the adjustment between production and home demands the greater the economy to all, especially if the home demands are so directed as to promote health, efficiency, and well-being of the individuals.

Through studies now under way in food and nutrition, textiles and clothing, and housing and equipment, guided by the studies in the economics division, it is possible to set up standards to guide the housewife in these demands.

--Louise Stanley (1925). Report of the Chief of The Bureau of Home Economics for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1925, p. 1.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture designed an extensive research program to support the work performed by homemakers in the early 20th century. The Bureau of Home Economics studied the best ways to clean, sew, and purchase food and clothing.

This exhibit will highlight several of the Bureau's most prominent employees and provide a timeline of the Bureau within the content of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Kitchen and Farmhouse Design Plans

Many housewives actually walk miles while doing their kitchen work because the stove, sink and work table are far apart in their great big kitchens. That was the way especially with many old-fashioned kitchens.
But recently the housewives and the architects and the engineers and the home economics specialists got at it and began talking and planning con- venient kitchens. So modern kitchens in general are better workshops and kitchen jobs can be done in less time, and with less effort.

--Easier Kitchens (1932) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Office of Information. Radio Service. Housekeepers' Chat

Throughout its existence, the Bureau of Home Economics used principles of systematic research to devise the best designs for efficient kitchens and farmhouses. This exhibit showcases several of the more prominent results of this work.

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Self-Help Children's Clothing and Standardized Sizing

[T]he attention given lately to child study throughout the country has emphasized the need of more comfortable and convenient clothing for children which would encourage 'self-help' and thus stimulate mental development. Although there has been much discussion of this need and ways of meeting it, no definite designs for such garments were available. The Bureau has, therefore, as part of its cotton and wool utilization program, developed by experimental methods garments which have proved valuable to mothers and workers in this field. The designs are being accepted by pattern and garment manufacturers, are being advocated by extension workers, and are having a noticeable effect on children's clothing throughout the country.

--Ruth O'Brien. "The Program of Textile Research in the Bureau of Home Economics." (1930). Journal of Home Economics, 9(4), p. 285.

The Bureau of Home Economics' Division of Textiles and Clothing developed patterns for children's clothing that would allow the maximum amount of freedom of movement and ease in wear. Their work can be seen as part of the larger Child-Study Movement of the early 20th century. This educational and vocational movement sought to design programs and products for children in ways that conformed to their developmental needs. The findings of experimental and developmental psychology were used to produce garments that would be most appropriate for a given child's stage of life.

This exhibit illustrates some of the designs that were developed by the Bureau and showcases some of their unique features.

There was also an effort to develop standard sizes for children's clothing based on scientific measurements of large samples of boys and girls. The second part of the exhibit contains items that resulted from this work.

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Sewing and Pattern Design

Every style feature serves a purpose.

-- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics. (1947). Round-the-House Work Clothes, p. 1

The Bureau's staff developed many patterns for women's and children's clothes based on specific criteria that tied form to function. These patterns were then marketed directly to consumers by private companies such as Advance, Simplicity, and Butterick. This section of the exhibit will show many of the patterns and provide some background into their specific creation and the Bureau's work in general.

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USDA Time-Use Studies

Many and various are the duties of the homemaker

-- Wilson, Maud (1929). Use of Time by Oregon Homemakers. Oregon State Agricultural College. Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin, Number 256, p. 41

The Purnell Act of 1925 provided federal funding to conduct "economic and sociologic investigations as have as their purpose the development and improvement of the rural home and rural life, and for printing and disseminating the result of said researches."

The study was named, "The Present Use of Time by Homemakers."

In response, the Bureau of Home Economics started systematic investigations into the types of tasks that were being performed by homemakers, along with the amount of time it took to complete them.

This section surveys the methods and results of what has been called the USDA Time-Use Studies.

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