Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

Liberation or Domesticity?: The Struggle over Women's Education in the 20th Century

Rima D. Apple.

The goals and content of women's education have long been a site of struggle. This paper traces the evolution of women's education, using the discipline of home economics as an emblematic case study. The field (variously called home economics, family sciences, and human ecology) began in the early 20th century as a social reform movement, designed to empower women in the home and in the community. By the interwar period, this political perspective was weakening as social, cultural, and pedagogic considerations moved the discipline towards training in domesticity. In the latter third of the 20th century, professional development dominated the ethos of the field with some subtle, renewed hints of a reformist perspective. This analysis of home economics highlights salient factors that shaped what was accepted as appropriate education for women, and that continue to serve as sources of conflict and tension in education today.


Rima D. Apple  (United States)

School of Human Ecology and the Women's Studies Program
University of Wisconsin

Rima D. Apple is Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (U.S.A.) in the School of Human Ecology and the Women’s Studies Program. She has published extensively on the history of the relationship between experts and expertise and the public, including Vitamania: Vitamins in American culture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996), which in 1998 received the Kremers Award of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. She is currently studying the history of American motherhood.

  • Women's Education
  • Home Economics
  • Soical Reform
  • Domesticity

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)