Home ec, for folks of a certain age who studied the subject in high school, may conjure up lessons in baking blueberry muffins and sewing dresses, but in her detail-filled and fascinating book, Danielle Dreilinger dynamites that cliché with glee. She shows how home economists pushed for affordable day care and STEM education for girls as early as the beginning of the 20th century.
At its heart, home ec began as an effort to remove the drudgery from housework, and along the way ushered generations of women into science careers that belied its reputation as “just stitching and stirring.” Few embraced the movement as strongly as Eleanor Roosevelt, who as First Lady during the depths of the Depression published a book that covered not only nutrition but how to care for a baby and manage money. Mrs. Roosevelt insisted on testing out the latest nutritional (and budget-saving) meals on her husband. Alas, there is no record of his reaction to a heaping serving of Milkorno, “made of cornmeal mixed with dried-milk powder.”