Home Economics at Iowa State University & the Story of Ruth Ellen Church

By Kimberly Voss, PhD
Professor, University of Central Florida

Home economics often gets a bad rap – reduced to descriptions of boring stories about sewing aprons or cooking dishes with too many raisins. Yet, this field offered many opportunities and adventures for women in the 1930s through the 1970s. These graduates had impressive careers in the test kitchens of food companies, magazine or newspaper journalists and university professors. One of the most prominent home economics graduates from Iowa State University was Ruth Ellen Church – the longtime food editor, cookbook author and pioneering wine editor at the Chicago Tribune. She set the standard for quality newspaper food journalism at an important time in food history – earning the University’s Schwartz Award in 1984.

Ruth Ellen Church on the back of her book Mary Meade's Magic Recipes for the Electric Blender. Photo Source: Ebay.

Journalism – often combined with home economics – long provided paid employment for American women, especially for material that was aimed at female readership. For example, at newspapers, women journalists worked in the women’s pages from the 1880s through the end of the sections in the 1970s. These sections have been described as housing the four F’s: family, fashion, food, and furnishings. While some journalists derisively dismissed these as “fluff,” these are topics that impact daily life and meant a great deal to readers.

The ISU Special Collections and University Archives offer a wealth of material about Church and home economics journalism, which helps us understand a history that is too often overlooked. The annual course catalogs provide proof of the rigor of the home economics’ curriculum. The students also showed they were good researchers and reporters who produced significant materials student publications and yearbooks. They also had a lot of fun. After all, they had been taught about entertaining. Church showed off those skills at many parties on her Wisconsin farm – with lots of good food.[1]

Home Economics Background

While too often mocked for reinforcing tradition, home economics was a significant major for college women. The students majoring in and later working in the home economics field in the 1950s and 1960s were well aware of the issues that would become part of the mission of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s. In truth, they were much closer to their activist sisters as acquaintances than enemies. A common textbook, Introduction to Home Economics, began with quotes from the report The American Women that documented women’s employment difficulties faced by many women in 1965.[2] It was based on a 1962 report from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which predicted a new role for women in society. The textbook addressed the numerous jobs that the home economists field offered.[3] The author cited an article in Cosmopolitan magazine that described home economists as “Today’s Glamour Girls.”[4]  

Home economics journalism, a common major at several land-grant colleges, has a long history at Iowa State University. According to a history of ISU, home economics journalism was a significant major – especially from 1927 to 1952. A school history noted, “Manufacturers of food products and household equipment discovered that home economics-trained women could write reports and directions.”[5]

These ISU home economics students were taught by impressive professors. Pioneer Katherine Goeppinger was a home economics journalism professor from 1936 until 1950. (She is honored in the ISU Plaza of Heroines.) She wrote the foreword and a chapter in the classic home economics textbook, “How to Write for Homemakers.” During her career, she addressed changes in the department from the depression days through the war years and consumer years. Through it all, she taught about home economics skills and journalism ethics, as well as the significance of food and fashion. Goeppinger graduated from Iowa State College in 1924. Before returning to the school as a professor, she served as director of home economics for various utilities, as well as an editor at Curtis Publishing in Philadelphia.

ISU Alum Ruth Ellen Church       

    Church was born Ruth Ellen Lovrien in Humboldt, Iowa, in 1909 and graduated from Iowa State University in 1933. She was a staff writer for the school’s yearbook, editor for the student magazine Iowa Homemaker and an editor of the student publication Green Gander. She made the most of her home economics journalism degree – a popular variation of home economics at the time. Catalogs found in Special Collections and University Archives show the classes taken, yearbooks verify activities and student publications feature the work student produced. In Church’s case, there were examples of her writing about cosmetics with the great title of “From Cleopatra to Betty Co-ed” and an article about an Iowa State television show “Homemakers’ Half Hour.”

She briefly held the position of society editor at a small Iowa daily but left because she refused to get involved in advertising – a violation of her journalism background.[6] By 1936, she began her nearly 40-year run as food editor at the ChicagoTribune. (She became Ruth Ellen Church when she married advertising executive Freeman Church later that same year.)

Initially, Church used the pen name “Mary Meade” as her byline. It was a common for newspaper food writers was to use pen names, often at the request of management because they wanted to preserve the continuity of the columnist, as it was expected the female reporter would leave employment once married. Church – despite marrying and having two children – never left her job.

At the Tribune, Church oversaw numerous projects including a weekly recipe contest. The winner earned a $5 prize and her recipe was published. Readers were advised to test the recipes and be specific with the measurements and directions.[7] During her career, she wrote a daily food column plus a weekly special section and oversaw a test kitchen. She also directed all of the food photography that ran in her section.[8]

Church also traveled internationally and shared her adventures with her Chicago readers – including stories of wine. For example, she spent three months abroad in 1967 for her “What’s Cooking in Europe” feature series, which ran for 56 days in the Tribune. She visited a dozen countries and sent back stories from restaurants and home cooks.[9] This was a time when few newspapers wrote about wines. It was more of a cocktail era.[10]

Her wine writing style was described as “conversational, disarmingly breezy and unabashedly enthusiastic. When something particularly pleased Ms. Church, she often noted it with an exclamation mark!”[11] Some specific headlines from 1962 included “Wines Can Be Divided into Five Classes,” “Today’s Lesson is on Sauternes,” and “Our Wine Columnist Visits Home of Famed Sherry.”[12]

It was a time that the foundation of wine journalism was being developed. As current wine journalist Lettie Teague wrote: “Church made it clear that she was learning right along with her readers. She approached wine as accessible, and that fact alone is worth an exclamation point!”[13] Thankfully, ISU Special Collections and University Archives has information that provides for a better understanding of home economics journalism!   

Kimberly Wilmot Voss, PhD, is a University of Central Florida full professor of journalism and author of the books The Food Section: Newspaper Women and the Culinary Community; Politicking Politely: Well-Behaved Women Making a Difference in the 1960s and 1970s; Re-Evaluating Women’s Page Journalism in the Post-World War II Era: Celebrating Soft News and a co-author of Mad Men & Working Women: Feminist Perspectives on Historical Power, Resistance and Otherness. She has also published more than 25 journal articles about women and journalism history.

[1] Jodi Wilgoren and Carol Haddix, “Ruth Ellen Church, Ex-Tribune Editor,” Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1991.

[2] Ruth Hoeflin, Introduction to Home Economics (Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State University, 1965), 1.

[3] Hoeflin, 183.

[4] Joan Younger, “Home Economists – Today’s Glamour Girls,” Cosmopolitan, April 1965, 12.

[5] Ercel Sherman Eppright and Elizabeth Storm Ferguson, A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University, 1971), 202.

[6] “Ruth Ellen Church, Food Editor, Retires,” Chicago Tribune, December 2, 1974.

[7] Mary Meade, “Follow Rules When Entering Recipe Contest,” Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1942.

[8] Susan Adams, “Personality of the Month,” 1962. Ruth Ellen Church file, Cecily Brownstone papers, Fales Library, New York University.

[9] Ruth Ellen Church, “What’s Cooking in Europe,” (British food), Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1967. Ruth Ellen Church, “What’s Cooking in Europe,” (Swedish food), Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1967.

[10] Lettie Teague, “The Wine Writer Who Taught Us How to Say ‘Rosé’” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2020.

[11] Lettie Teague, “The Wine Writer Who Taught Us How to say Rose,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2020.

[12] Tom Acitelli, American Wine: A Coming-of-Age Story (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015), 9.

[13] Lettie Teague, “The Wine Writer Who Taught Us How to say Rose,” Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2020.

Domestic Economy Class #TBT

The first day of school is Monday, August 21. We are so excited! The students pictured below seem a little less enthused about being in class. Perhaps the absence of smiles was merely a convention of their time and not a reflection on how they felt about class. This article in Time provides possible reasons why people didn’t smile in earlier photographs.

Domestic Economy Sewing Class. Short Course. 1910 Iowa State College (University Photographs, box 981).

Want to see more photographs that document the history of Iowa State University? Drop by our reading room. We’re open 9-5, Monday through Friday.

Notable Women of ISU: Mary B. Welch

Welch is a name with strong ties to Iowa State University. Welch Avenue is a well-known street in Campustown, and Welch Hall is a residence hall on campus. The former was likely named after ISU’s first president, Adonijah Welch, but the latter is named for his wife, Mary Beaumont Welch. Mrs. Welch is not known merely as the president’s wife, but rather as a pioneer in home economics education.

Portrait of Mary B. Welch, [date]. University Photographs, Box [#]
Portrait of Mary B. Welch, undated. University Photographs, Box 50
Mary B. Welch was born in 1841 in Lyons, New York. After the death of her first husband, George Dudley, she met and married Adonijah Welch in 1868. Shortly after, the Welches moved to Ames, Iowa, so that he could serve as Iowa State University’s (then the Iowa Agricultural College) first president. Mrs. Welch attended various institutions to prepare for her time as a domestic science instructor at Iowa State. These included Elmira Seminary in New York, the New York School of Cooking, and The National Training School for Cookery in South Kensington, London. Of her time in London, she had this to say:

“Many amusing incidents of that London experience might be told. The only object of the school there was to train cooks for service. It was incomprehensible to the English mind that a woman, apparently a lady, whose husband was, as my letters of introduction proved, at the head of an important institution of learning, should be anxious either to learn or to teach cooking. The question was often asked me what family I was engaged to work for when I received my certificate.” ~ The Alumnus, Vol. 18, No. 5 (reproduced from an earlier issue)

Photo published in The Alumnus, Vol. 8, No. 5, 1923. RS 12/3/11, Box 1, Folder 1
Photo published in The Alumnus, Vol. 8, No. 5, 1923. RS 12/3/11, Box 1, Folder 1

All of this experience in addition to self-study and other life experience played into her teaching. Mrs. Welch organized and became head of the Department of Domestic Economy in 1875, one of the first such programs in the nation. She developed a curriculum around the properties of chemistry, botany, physiology, geology, and physics that applied to domestic science.

In 1881, Mrs. Welch expanded her teaching to outside of Iowa State and taught a class to women in Des Moines. This is considered the first extension work in home economics at a land grant institution. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Welch wrote a cookbook titled Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook, along with writings that appeared in various periodicals.

Cover of Mrs. Welch's Cookbook, 1884. TX715.W441.1884
Cover of Mrs. Welch’s Cookbook, 1884. TX715.W441

After her resignation in 1883, Mrs. Welch continued to lecture to various clubs, colleges, and the YWCA. She passed away in 1923 at her home in California, leaving behind a legacy that continues today within the College of Human Sciences. In 1992, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

More information on Mary B. Welch can be found in her collection in the University Archives, and some items from that collection can be found in Digital Collections.

Notable Women of ISU: Catherine MacKay @IowaStateU

For this installment of Notable Women of ISU, we’re going to highlight Catherine (also spelled “Catharine”) MacKay. Born in Canada in 1871, MacKay eventually became the first dean of the Division of Home Economics at Iowa State College (University).

Portrait of MacKay, featured in a 1951 article in The Iowa Homemaker. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 6
Portrait of MacKay, featured in a 1951 article in The Iowa Homemaker. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 6

At the young age of 16, MacKay took over the maternal role in her large family after her mother died, leaving education behind. Eventually she returned to school and received her Master’s degree from Drexel Institute in Boston in 1905. She also attended the Boston Cooking School as well as Teacher’s College, Columbia University.

MacKay joined Iowa State in 1911, at which time she worked as an assistant to Domestic Science department head Virgilia Purmort. The following year, MacKay took over as head of the department and was named dean when it became the Division of Home Economics in 1913. During her tenure at Iowa State, the Division for Home Economics saw a significant increase in student enrollment, as well as an increase in faculty and staff. MacKay also initiated the use of “practice houses,” which you can read about in this blog post.

Home Economics faculty (MacKay is third from left), 1912. University Photographs, RS 12/1/D, Box 908
Home Economics faculty (MacKay is third from left), 1912. University Photographs, RS 12/1/D, Box 908

Over the course of her career, MacKay was involved in a number of other things. She served as a consultant for the New Housekeeping department of the Ladies’ Home Journal, was a member of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association, served as president of the American Home Economics Association, and worked with the United States Food and Drug Administration, to name a few. She was awarded an honorary Master’s degree in 1917 by the Drexel Institute.

Portrait of MacKay from the 1917 Bomb. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 9
Portrait of MacKay from the 1917 Bomb. RS 12/1/11, Box 1, Folder 9

Dean MacKay died at her brother’s home in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1921 after a long illness. She was greatly missed by the Division of Home Economics, as evidenced by this passage in an August 23, 1921, article from an Ames newspaper (possibly the Student [now the Iowa State Daily], but it’s not labeled):

“Home Economics at Iowa State without Miss MacKay will seem much like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. She was the heart and soul of the division for so long that she came to personify it. It stood for her and she stood for it.” (RS 12/1/11, box 1, folder 9)

With words like that, it’s no wonder the Home Economics building was later named after her.

For more information, come in and see the Catherine J. MacKay Papers. As always, we look forward to seeing you!

CyPix: Meal preparations

As many around the United States prepare for Thanksgiving gatherings this Thursday, there is a lot of baking, cooking, and setting of tables, just like these two cuties are doing.

Undated photo from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. University Photograph Collection box 918.
Undated photo from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. University Photograph Collection box 918.

While there is not much information about this photograph, these two girls were likely playing in part of Iowa State’s nursery school, a part of the Human Development and Family Studies program where students worked alongside seasoned teachers to develop skills in child care and teaching.

Finding aids for our collections from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, RS 12/4 can be found on our website. Stop in and see us!

The World Wars at Home: Guides and Recipe Books

As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, November 11th was Veterans Day, a day in which we honor all those who have served our country. During WWI and WWII, guides and recipe books were published for the housewives left at home, which provided tips on feeding children, meal planning, home improvement and management, and practical recipes for wartime. Here at the ISU Special Collections and University Archives, we have a collection of these guides and recipe books in the Wartime Guides and Recipe Books Collection, MS 380.

Preface to Best War Time Recipes, by Royal Baking Powder Co., 1918. MS 380, Box 1, Folder 1.
Preface to Best War Time Recipes by Royal Baking Powder Co., 1918 (click to enlarge). MS 380, Box 1, Folder 1.

During the World Wars, food shortages were common. These would make certain foods such as butter and sugar much more expensive and impractical for heavy use in most households. These recipe books focused on maintaining a healthy diet – or at least, making delicious food – while using alternatives to scarce ingredients.

A dessert recipe booklet, (year).
A WWII-era dessert recipe booklet, undated. MS 380, Box 1, Folder 10.

Here is a WWI recipe for something called War Cake from the Liberty Cook Book (Box 1, Folder 1):

2 c. brown sugar; 2 c. hot water; 2 T. lard, 1 package or less of seeded raisins, 1 t. ground cinnamon, 1 t. ground cloves, 1 t. soda, 3 c. flour, 1 t. salt

Boil all ingredients but the flour, raisins and soda together for 5 minutes. Cool. When cold add soda sifted in 1/2 the flour. Bake in a loaf 45 minutes, in a slow oven, or in a sheet 30 minutes.

From WWII, here is a recipe for Corn Bisque from Wartime Recipes from Canned Foods (Box 1, Folder 7), which was created to help homemakers stretch canned foods farther:

1/2 no. 2 cream style corn; 3 c. milk; 1 small onion, sliced; 1 T. butter or margarine; 1 T. flour; 1/4 t. salt; dash of pepper

Cook corn and 2 cups of the milk in top of double boiler for 20 minutes. Add onion; continue cooking 10 minutes longer. Mash through coarse sieve if desired. Melt butter in saucepan; add flour and seasonings; blend. Add remaining 1 cup milk; cook until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add milk-corn mixture; return to double boiler; heat thoroughly. Garnish each serving with sprig of parsley and a sprinkle of paprika. 4 servings.


A proposed cleaning schedule for housewives, (year). MS 380, Box 1, Folder (?).
A proposed weekly cleaning schedule for homemakers, 1944. MS 380, Box 1, Folder 6.

Housekeeping also was (and is) a large part of being a homemaker. The 1944 booklet above, House Cleaning and Home Management Manual by The Hoover Company, offers many suggestions on housekeeping, including possible schedules to follow and equipment to have on hand. Without actually reading the cleaning schedule above, you can see how extensive cleaning duties could be. Examples in the booklet of things to be done daily include preparing and serving meals, washing dishes, packing lunches, planning menus, going to the market and running errands, light cleaning and dusting, caring for children and other family members, and apparently care of fires. Weekly housekeeping work includes washing, ironing, cleaning every room, washing windows, mending and sewing, special baking and cooking, and cleaning the cleaning equipment.

From (title) by (someone), (year). MS 380, Box 1, Folder (?)
From Real Ideas of Real Housewives on Wartime Living, undated. MS 380, Box 1, Folder 3.

Of course, helping the boys from home was also a priority. The above image highlights suggestions on how to help soldiers overseas, provided by actual housewives for other housewives. Some advice includes tips on mailing packages, buying stamps, and sending cakes. This booklet also includes ways to save time around the house, keep clothes looking new, and tips on going to the market.

For more WWI and WWII collections, see our manuscripts subject guides. Looking for more wartime recipes? Recipes from these eras can also be found in the Iowa Cookbook Collection, some of which can be viewed online.

Thank you to all our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us!

CyPix: Late Night Get-together

[Eight home management students catch up on the events of the day.] (1953)(University Photographs box 946)
[Eight home management students catch up on the events of the day.] (1953)(University Photographs box 946)
The University Photographer added this to the back of the above photograph:

Every evening just about 10, you might see a gathering just like this in each of the four home management houses on the campus. For this is the time to get together to talk over the days happening and have an evening snack.  Left to right, seated, are Bonnie Rae Kundel, home economics education senior; Thelma Roos, home economics education, senior, Holland; Phyliis Sliron, textiles and clothing senior, Chicago; Marcia Wagner, home economics education senior, Muscatine; Lois Wilson, Child development senior, Beresford S.D.; and Ruth Littlefield, house advisor. Standing, Eleanor Peterson, household equipment senior, Eagle Grove, and Doris Follett, home economics senior, Nevada.

To learn more about home management houses at Iowa State, check out the collections we have in record group RS 12/5 (Department of Family Environment) and the Home Management House Program administrative files (RS 12/5/5). We’ve also posted previously on home management “house babies” and the establishment of Domestic Economy program.

“House Babies” at Iowa State

"Jack" (RS 12/5/4, 1925-1936, box 7)
“Jack” (RS 12/5/4, 1925-1936, box 7)

Imagine that it’s your last year in college. Before you can graduate you have to move in with 8 or so roommates (plus a resident advisor) to a single family house on campus. You will have to keep the house spotless, host a dinner or birthday party, decorate, manage accounts, schedule leisure time, continue with your other classes, and take care of an actual baby for six weeks. You and your new roommates will take turn being cook, accountant, hostess, manager, and “child director,” and you have to do it all for a grade! For over thirty years (1924-1958) female Iowa State students and “borrowed” children formed temporary families in the Home Management houses. By the time the program was over, Iowa State students had participated in raising 257 children.

Continue reading ““House Babies” at Iowa State”

Christmas Menus Courtesy of Homemaker’s Half-Hour

It’s that time again! Time to get together with family and friends and celebrate the holiday season. For many, that season means Christmas, and with Christmas comes lots and lots of food. In case any of you are still trying to figure out your menus, here are some ideas courtesy of WOI-TV’s Homemaker’s Half-Hour. While these menus were originally created for Christmas, I see no reason why they couldn’t be used or adapted for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or anything else anybody might celebrate.

Christmas week menus, 1945 (RS 5/6/3, box 40, folder 1)
Christmas week menus, 1945 (RS 5/6/3, box 40, folder 1)

This three-way Christmas dinner menu (broadcast the week of December 17-22, 1945) gives you plenty of options to choose from in each category. Comments were made on the various dishes in this menu throughout the week:

  • Fruit Appetizer: mixed fruit cup or fruit salad or fruit juice
  • Bird in the Hand: Roast goose, roast duck, or “mock duck” from lamb or pork tenderloins
  • Stuffings: celery stuffing, rice and dried apricot stuffing, savory dressing with walnut meats
  • Potatoes: honeyed sweet potatoes or fluffy mashed potatoes with rich brown gravy
  • A Homey Vegetable: cheese creamed onions, mashed turnip or squash or green beans
  • Festive Relish Tray: celery, pickles, carrot sticks, etc.
  • Sweets: spiced currants, gooseberries or cranberries
  • Rolls: assorted hot rolls (refrigerator roll dough) as parker-house, clover leaf, crescent
  • Dessert: steamed pudding or mince pie (choice or carrot pudding with lemon sauce; raisin pudding with foamy sauce, plum pudding, cranberry pudding vanilla sauce, etc.)
  • Beverage

Below are a couple of recipes featured in the notes for this menu’s episodes.

Recipe for carrot pudding and lemon sauce (RS 5/6/3, box 40, folder 1)
Recipes for carrot pudding and lemon sauce (RS 5/6/3, box 40, folder 1)

Some items in other Christmas menus include the following:

  • Christmas dinner, 1946: Oyster baked potatoes (presumably using leftover oysters from Christmas Eve’s oyster stew – a tradition in many families)
  • Christmas dinner, 1946: Molded cranberry nut salad
  • Christmas dinner, 1946: Plum pudding with hard sauce (a combination of butter, sugar, and brandy or rum) for those who fancy an English Christmas tradition
  • Christmas Luncheon or Supper, 1947: Oyster or salsify soup (salsify is a root vegetable that tastes like oysters when cooked; salsify soup is sometimes called “poor man’s oyster stew”)
  • Christmas Luncheon or Supper, 1947: Fruit cake
  • Christmas Dinner, 1950: Chilled grapefruit sections with red hots
  • Christmas Dinner, 1950: Bride’s salad (mixture of fruit including white grapes and nuts folded into whipped cream; lemon juice and sugar may be added to the whipped cream if desired)

Unfortunately we don’t have recipes for all of these items, but I’m sure similar recipes can be found online. Well, maybe not for everything, but then again the internet is full of surprises!

Many more menus – holiday or not – are available in the WOI Radio and Television Records, as well as scripts of Homemaker’s Half-Hour and other productions. Our cookbook collection is also full of some great and interesting recipes, some of which you can view online.

Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, we wish you a very happy holiday!

(Vintage) Things to Do in Winter When Its Cold

Plowed road passing a snow-covered farm with farmhouse and swine (09-02-H.IAHEES.529-11-04)
Plowed road passing a snow-covered farm with farmhouse and swine (09-02-H.IAHEES.529-11-04)

Does it (or will it) look like this where you are this winter?  Not a time to venture outside without bundling up! I like to spend winter curled up on the couch, watching a mini-series, and getting some knitting/crocheting/beadweaving/tatting/weaving time in. Being a multi-crafty person I am always interested in finding “vintage” craft patterns, instructions, and ideas.

I gave myself the challenge of finding craft ideas from within our collections. This might seem quite difficult – our collections are strong in agriculture, science, and technology. However, we also document the University and so we have collections that match the major research and teaching areas on campus, one of which is the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. We also have the papers of alumni, rare books, and Iowa-related materials in other areas. So, after scouring our collections I’ve found several fun things you can do indoors this winter!

Continue reading “(Vintage) Things to Do in Winter When Its Cold”

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