"A Lady in the South:" LSU Home Management Residence, 1935-1945.



Presented by the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History in conjunction with Hill Memorial Library Lecture Hall Exhibition: COOPERATIVE EXTENSION: CELEBRATING 100 YEARS: A Preview of the Fall 2014 Exhibition curated by Cristina Caminita, with assistance from Barry Cowan and Michelle Melancon. Designed and installed by Leah Wood Jewett with Louise Cheetham, assisted by Rebecca Stephens.



About

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Women Interviewed for this Project:

Dorothy Colvin Howell (pictured top left) attended Louisiana Normal School (now Northwestern State University of Louisiana) in 1938 and enrolled in School of Home Economics at LSU from 1939-1942, completing her internship in the Helen Carter House. She then received her graduate degree in Agriculture Industry at LSU, where she had a fellowship. After working for years as a teacher, she returned to LSU to teach in 1962 and retired in 1983 as Assistant Director of the School of Home Economics.

Dr. A.B. Clark (pictured bottom left) was interviewed about her time as a student in the Home Management House and as an instructor living there. She attended LSU and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics along with Teaching Certification. She went on to receive her Master of Science degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she studied Home Management and Child Development. While at the University of Tennessee, she worked as a Home Residence instructor. In 1947, she returned to LSU to teach in the School of Home Economics; first as an instructor and later as a professor and Director of the School of Home Economics. During her time at LSU, she lived in Pakistan for a total of four years where she helped with the founding of and instructed in a women's college in Karachi. She received her PhD from Cornell University.

LSU Home Management Residence, 1935-1945

Founded in 1915, LSU's Women's Home Economics Program began with three sewing machines, a refrigerator, and a pressing iron. By 1935, resources within this College of Agriculture department were expanded and the curriculum was reoriented toward vocational training, reflecting national trends in women’s education. Teaching domestic science to future homemakers, school teachers, and agricultural extension agents was seen as a reform measure to improve the economic hardships of the Great Depression.

Despite the plummeting economy and social turmoil of this period, LSU grew in an unprecedented manner, powered by Governor and later Senator Huey P. Long’s structural expansion of the campus, and by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal public works programs. During this period, the Home Management Residences were built near historic structures such as the Faculty Club and the French House. In the Helen Carter House and the Agnes Morris House, women lived for nine-week internships to practice their new technological and economic skills. The prerequisite domestic science courses included chemistry, zoology, bacteriology, psychology, sociology, nutrition, dietetics, meal planning, household administration, and childcare and development.

Oral histories of women who lived and taught in the Home Management Residences offer glimpses into gender relations and women’s education during the 1930s and '40s. Dorothy Colvin Howell (Class of 1942) recalls her vocational internship: “In our classes, we were taught how to make furniture out of orange crates. We were taught how to take men’s worn out trousers to make a skirt out of the legs that were not worn. I remember we took some old wicker furniture and we upholstered it. We were taught to make do with whatever we had.”

Dr. A.B. Clark (Class of 1944) was a student and later a teacher in the Home Management Houses and recalls in her oral history how they made modifications to adapt to married students whose husbands had returned from World War II: “After the war, you had couples on the campus . . . a group of couples that lived in the Morris House — three couples. It was an interesting experience to have men doing these household jobs, because they approached it from a completely different point of view.""

Howell reflects on the significance of the program: “It was definitely a part of LSU’s history. I think they [the houses] are involved in the changes of the life of the American woman.” Clark imagines the impact of such an internship today: “I would love to have some of those students today living in a home management house like that, because the relationships that you developed and how you lived with people were so vibrant in a situation like that. . . .Now that was a good experience!” The Home Economics students continued internships at the houses through the 1960s.

Oral history excerpts in this exhibit are taken from T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History interviews in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Hill Memorial Library, LSU, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

For more information about the oral histories of women who lived in the Home Management Residences, please contact Jennifer A. Cramer, Director, T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History jabrah1@lsu.edu.

Acknowledgements:

The listening station portion of the exhibition was curated by Jennifer A. Cramer, Director, T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History (THWCOH).

Many individuals helped make this exhibition possible. The curator wishes to thank the following people for their assistance:

Kyle Tanglao, THWCOH Audio Engineer and Web Developer, who designed the updated format; Angie Juban, Interviewer (2004) THWCOH; Pamela Rabalais Vinci, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter; Amber Vlasnik, former head of the LSU Women’s Center; Leah Wood Jewett, Exhibitions Coordinator; and Erin M. Hess, Manuscripts Processor, THWCOH.

LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939.

History

LSU College of Agriculture Home Economics Program and Its Campus History, 1915-1945

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The national importance of vocational education in general grew at the turn of the century, and especially after World War I. Congressional acts like the Morrill Act, the Smith-Lever Act, and the Smith-Hughes Act worked together to connect land-grant colleges with Agricultural Extension agencies and to promote vocational teaching of industrial and agricultural skills, including home economics. The prosperity of the 1920s helped meet these challenges, but the plummeting economy of the 1930s interrupted the growth of schools until state and national agencies designed programs to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression.

The history of Home Management at LSU is also embedded within changing Victorian-era gender roles that arose in response to the cultural and economic shifts that accompanied the transition to an industrial society from an agrarian one.

Industrialization compartmentalized many spheres: work and home, black and white, and women and men. Increasingly, the woman’s place was related to domesticity, while the man’s was separated into the field of income procurement. This was somewhat in opposition to most rural lifeways, as men and women did many of the same tasks on farmsteads. During the Great Depression, the Victorian definition of separate roles for women and men continued, and demographic changes during the 1920s and '30s saw many families in Louisiana leaving farms for cities, thus separating the generations and generally dispersing the extended kinship networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The lack of jobs for men sometimes made it essential for women to take work outside the home. In such an atmosphere, it was understandable that communities might begin to worry about their girls losing the opportunity to learn traditional home-making skills from their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts.

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It is within this cultural landscape that the importance of women’s vocational education and domestic science was elevated. Demands for vocational training of women in schools increased and depended on women’s activities in the industrial society. The idea was that application of science to household tasks necessitated instruction, and the notion of teaching domestic science was seen as a reform measure. Vocational education and agricultural extension agencies were viewed as an opportunity for economic growth, a goal embraced by many agricultural states, including Louisiana.

In the early 1930s in Louisiana, Public Works Administration (PWA) proposals provided federal funds that assisted to replace dilapidated schools and expand one-room school houses. New educational opportunities for children, only imagined by educators prior to the Depression, were made possible with the addition and repair of new buildings with libraries, science and agricultural laboratories, art and music rooms, industrial art shops, and home economics rooms and cottages. Such cottages and rooms served as a laboratory for teaching the “domestic sciences” of nutrition, cooking, sewing, childcare, and home maintenance.

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Vocational education in colleges in Louisiana grew during the Great Depression. Although the segregation of the era separated land-grant institutions like LSU and Southern University, Jim Crow racism did not deter African American women from obtaining degrees from land-grant institutions. Both LSU and Southern University had vocational training programs, including home economics. LSU housed its Home Economics program under the Agricultural College, while Southern’s program was under the Department of Industrial Arts. Both universities offered courses that trained students to be teachers in home economics, and home management cottages were built on each of their Baton Rouge campuses. A comparison of both programs would be intriguing, and offers a promising future research avenue.

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The LSU Women's Home Economics Program, founded in 1915, began with three sewing machines, a refrigerator, and a pressing iron. By 1920, the curriculum was oriented toward vocational training, which reflected the era influenced by World War I and the establishment of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and 4-H club programs.

By 1935, Home Economics was an educational force within the College of Agriculture. LSU's historic Home Economics Department’s goals were later modified to meet the changing needs of a world at war.

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For example, after World War II, and upon the increase of married women’s enrollment in the Home Ec program, couples lived at the Home Management Houses to complete their mandatory internship. The end of World War II brought modernization accompanied by demographic, economic, social, and cultural changes. Consequently, the role of the Home Management Houses changed, and decades later their functions were discontinued. The historic buildings were razed in 2011 for the construction of a campus parking garage, which is located in that part of campus which is still comprised of historic buildings from the same era, such as the Faculty Club, the Old President's House, and the French House.


image-1 LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939

The LSU Women's Home Economics Program in the 1930s and '40s corresponded to both regional and national movements in education in general, and in women’s education specifically. Huey Long’s unprecedented expansion of governmental resources in education and technology development ignited growth as LSU strove to be a national leader in many fields. LSU Home Economics graduate student, Katherine Pierce Green, noted in her 1935 thesis that thirty-seven out of forty-eight land-grant colleges had home management houses, where internships ranged from two weeks to one-third of a college year. Notably absent southern states are South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Mississippi didn’t even have a home economics department at the time! The average internship length in the houses was nine weeks. The number of girls per house ranged from three to forty-one. All in all, LSU, included in this survey, was above average in training and facilities.

Two forces powered such growth of the LSU campus, despite the economic depression and social turmoil. The first force was Governor and later Senator Huey P. Long. The second was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and his massive public works programs.

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Long's vision of LSU as a national leader in education included improving LSU's position as a nationally competitive flagship university. To this end, Long instituted several changes, one of which was to literally build up the campus. Seed money received from revenue gained from the sale of the capital grounds enabled the building of, for example, what’s now known as Pleasant Hall, the Huey P. Long Field House, the Music and Dramatic Arts building, and a home economics practice cottage.

Original Home manamgement Cottage, located on today’s Infirmary Road, built with funds procured from sale of Capital Grounds, 1939

Federal funding did not have a major impact on the LSU campus until Richard Leche became governor and he repaired the relationship Long had established with Roosevelt. PWA proposals added a geology building extension, Himes Hall, and the Faculty Club. The WPA also aided campus growth, and their contributions include, for example, the Parker Agricultural Coliseum, the creation of the LSU Lakes, new buildings for Agricultural Extension and Forestry, Alex Box Stadium, paved roads, sewers, and a new infirmary, which necessitated the demolition of the home economics cottage.

LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. Gumbo, 1939

The state also contributed funds to several facilities including the Law School building, the French House, Allen Hall, the Artillery Building, and the two Home Management Houses: Helen Carter and Agnes Morris, to replace the cottage torn down to make way for the new infirmary.

LSU Campus. Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939
LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, there were opportunities for women to receive an education in law, art, music, and journalism (as evidenced by oral histories with women like Marian Berkett, one of the first women to graduate from LSU Law School.) One of the most viable and popular choices for women in that time period was Home Economics. The courses entailed a curriculum of domestic science to take on nutrition, dietetics, meal planning, household administration, and child care and development. Requisites included chemistry, zoology, bacteriology, psychology, and sociology.

LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939.
LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. Gumbo, 1939. LSU Campus.  Arrow points to Home Management Residence, Agnes Morris House. LSU Gumbo, 1939

The women carried out their residences for nine-week periods in the Helen Carter House and the Agnes Morris House in order to graduate from the College of Agriculture.

For more information about what it was like for Home Economics majors and women university students in the 1930s and 1940s, please peruse the oral history portion of this kiosk. Please note that many of the photographs included here are from a scrapbook, courtesy of the Human Ecology Department, Dr. Pamela Rabelais Vinci, LSU AgCenter. You can find out more about the individual photographs and images here.

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Oral History

Featuring Dorothy Howell and A.B. Clark

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Well, women in my generation--there weren't too many opportunities open for us about in ’38 and ’40 . . . A lady in the South could only do certain things. She could teach school and she could maybe be a nurse, and a homemaker, and that was about it. And so I decided that home economics solved both things. I never really wanted to be anything but a wife and a mother, and if I took home economics I could learn to be a better wife and mother. But I also . . . if I had to earn a living, I had a way to do it. So that’s why I chose home economics. Because of the age and time. Now I don’t know what I would do today.

-Dorothy Howell

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Dorothy Howell: Yeah. Oh yeah. The curriculum, when you look at it, people think it’s just cooking and sewing. It never has been. We had a wider educational background in many different areas than most people.

Jennifer Abraham: Didn't you have to take chemistry and . . .

Howell: Oh yes. Chemistry and . . . In fact, my master’s work was almost all chemistry because it was foods and nutrition and that’s what it is. And we had a well-rounded education. I’ve never been ashamed of it or sorry I did anything else.

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You were taught home furnishings, different periods of furniture, how you could judge when a piece of furniture was a good piece or not. We were taught how to read blueprints and we even had to make a blueprint because it was assumed that you would build your house someday, and so you had to be able to work with the architect. We had a course in home nursing because, as a mother, you would have to take care of your children. We had a course in clothing construction and food preparation, the main things you did. And so you could either teach these things as a home ec teacher or you could do them at home. That’s close to all the opportunities there were in home economics. And then out of that grew a lot of experimental kitchens and a real time in the United States when it was really a big deal to . . . [flipping pages] Here’s some pictures of a Betty Crocker home economics kitchen with the home economist in it. And see, you could be trained to do these consumer services, too. So you were trained in how to give demonstrations. We were the Julia Childs of the day and made all the demonstrations.

– Dorothy Howell

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Well, each one of us had to live half a term in the home management house. So when you were a home economics major, you had to learn to manage a home. That’s what home economics was . . . the money management in the home is what it really was, so therefore, you had to learn about food preparation was a big part of the expense of the family. And you realize coming from the Depression times then this was extremely important. And that’s when home economics developed was to be able to make the most of family resources no matter what they were. In our classes, we were taught how to make furniture out of orange crates. We were taught how to take men’s worn out trousers that were worn in the seat and to make a skirt out of the legs that were not worn. I remember we took some old wicker furniture and we upholstered. We padded it with cotton and put slip covers on it so it looked like a . . . We were taught to make do with whatever we had. One of the professors went to [Louisiana] Tech and majored in home ec; she made all of her clothes out of flour sacks because they really didn’t have any money. They looked like . . . she got the solid colors so they looked like linen, and made some really very beautiful clothes. She taught clothing construction later at LSU from her beginnings of flour sacks.

– Dorothy Howell

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Well, this is where you put into practice everything you had learned in class. It was like your internship, so we had to prepare, plan the meals for a week. You’ll find that’s in that cookbook, the menu for a week and some of these. Oh, here’s one; Cooking Within Your Income. This was after the Depression. You see how they planned the menus. You’d have to plan the menu in the home management house for the week. Then you’d make out your shopping list for the week. You were not allowed to throw away a crust of bread for the week, so we had the strangest casseroles on Saturday because everything left over went in the casserole [laughs]. And then you were graded on how well you prepared the food and how you served it and how you managed the money at the end of the preparation you had to stay in the budget. And that was the foods. Then you also had to have skills in taking care of the appliances.

– Dorothy Howell

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Dorothy Howell: The Agnes Morris House had an ironer, a rolling ironer. You don’t know what that is, do you?

Jennifer Abraham: No, I don’t.

Howell: Well, you put your sheets through it all the sheets were ironed. You know, there were no cottons that didn’t wrinkle. Everything had to be ironed, and so you’d run all the household linens through the ironer and you had to learn to use it. Had to learn to use the washing machine. You had to know how to take out stains. Meal management, you had to know how to entertain guests. You would invite people to come to dinner once a week and you would be expected to know how to meet them at the door, how to seat them at the table, how to set the table properly, how to be a good hostess. And the home management houses were really good at sort of preparing you for life. We had to . . . We didn’t have money for flowers but we’d go all over the campus and pick different kinds of greenery to decorate the place. They’re skills that I really have enjoyed all my life.

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So we didn’t have company every night, but we had company at least one night a week. And all cloth napkins. All linen table cloths. All china, the china’s still in the Human Ecology building that was in the home management houses. And there was silver to be polished and . . . you know, there were a lot of little chores to be done. And I remember, it was not my job when I moved out of the home management house, I helped Miss [?] , , , it was not my job to take care of the linens that week or that last . . . but I was the last one in the house. So I remember the professor telling me before I left, “You need to mend those linens before you leave.” And I said, I thought, “But that was not my job.” I always felt put upon because I had to stop and mend those linens before I could leave the home management house. [laughs]

- Dorothy Howell

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Going to college in 1940 was not easy, financially. I have an aunt who lived in Baton Rouge, my mother’s sister who lived in Baton Rouge, and I lived with her during the time that I was a student at LSU. She was superintendent of nurses at the Baton Rouge General Hospital and we lived on Government Street, not far from the hospital, which was on Government Street then. And we would walk down to Ferdinand Street and catch a ride. People would pass by on the way to the university and hold up two fingers or three fingers, they could take two people or three people and we always hoped somebody would come along and pick us up and we didn’t have to use the money for the bus.

- A.B. Clark

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I had not taken home economics in high school until I was in my senior year. Junior or senior year, I can’t remember which,. But I always enjoyed cooking and sewing at home. And again I had this interest in math at the time, and I didn’t know whether I was going to major in math or not . . . when I walked into the gym, the home ec table was closer [laughs] . . . But anyway, I ended up at the home ec table.

- A.B. Clark




Clara Tucker came at midterm and was the head of the department then and it was over in Prescott Hall, which is right next to Allen Hall. We were . . . The Home Ec Department was upstairs in Prescott Hall. Ag Economics was downstairs. When Clara Tucker, came, just things popped and home ec just grew by leaps and bounds, because she was a very visionary person and was able to bring in new faculty. And in the four years that I was there, home economics was quite different from the prior four years, let’s say, because of all the new influences. But I was there when they started the Institutional Foods Program, and they started that in what’s now Pleasant Hall. It was Smith Hall at that time they had it in the basement and they started Food Service and the Institutional Foods Program. So I was majoring in this Food Nutrition area and this was during the war years, when the boys were leaving the campus quickly. I remember going home on the weekend and coming back after a busy, busy, busy weekend, getting into a Quantity Foods class that Monday morning, grating carrots. I’ll never forget that, grating those carrots. I thought, “I’ll never get through with these carrots.” [laughs]

- A.B. Clark




I started out in that Institutional Foods Program. But my father said to me as I got on towards the junior and senior year, he said, “You know, you might think about what can you do to get a job with that now. And it might be smart to get your teacher’s certificate, just as security.” And so I thought that was a pretty good idea, too. I talked with the faculty at that time and I was able to elect in my junior and senior year all the courses that I would need to meet state certification requirements, because I had the other . . . I had all the science background, because I had the chemistry and so forth for the foods work that I was involved in. And I had general ed[ucation], sociology, and all those social sciences, so it was easy at that time to elect the education courses. So I elected student teaching. And I did my student teaching in Dutchtown, Louisiana, in Ascension Parish. At that time, that was an eleven year school all in one building. And I loved the experience so much that I ended up . . . that’s all I ever did.

- A.B. Clark

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Angie Juban: Since you did home management as a student at LSU and then you were sort of a student, sort of an instructor at [University of] Tennessee, what were the differences between LSU's program and the Tennessee program?

A.B. Clark: I think basically they were pretty much the same. Students lived in a group situation, small group situation, and determined what kinds of jobs needed to be done to run a household and then divided those into categories and you were, you know . . . like gave a name to each one of those categories and then you shifted from one category to the next. You were like the hostess, or the cook, or the maid, or whatever for so many weeks or days or something like that.

I think the difference in the program at Tennessee and at LSU basically, they had babies in the houses in Tennessee, which we did not have at LSU. They would get them from the welfare department and they would be in the house. That was a major role which we did not have at LSU. They did away with that pretty quickly, because it just was difficult . . . but it was a good experience for the girls, to have a baby and know that they cry and they are demanding.




When I came back to LSU, I lived as an instructor for a number of years and the boys came back from the war. Girls were getting married and we did not have married students before this, you see, until after the war and then you had couples on the campus. And it was difficult to say to them . . . This was the requirement for all home economics majors at that time, to live in a home management residence.And it was difficult to say to them, you know, "You’ve got to leave your husband for nine weeks and come live in this home management house situation." So we were beginning to realize that this was not the best way to handle teaching home management. It was an excellent way, but it was not practical. We started experimenting and I remember Elizabeth Tucker had a group of couples that lived in the Morris House, three couples . . . The boys just agreed to do it. They didn’t get any credit for it, but they agreed to assume responsibility to see what, you know, what it was like. And it was an interesting experience to have men doing these household jobs, because the looked at it, they approached it from a completely different point of view. I’ll never forget the day I walked in the kitchen one day and here was this boy drying — we didn’t have dishwashers then — drying the dishes and he had a dishtowel and then he’d put all the silver in the dishtowel and rolled it up and just shook it. “Oh this is a quicker way to dry those forks and knives.” And I was like, “Well, that’s pretty good!”

- A.B. Clark

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But I found the skills that I had learned at LSU that were useful all my life. And I have never regretted the home economics. It even gave me a profession later when I needed a professional life. Well, it’s definitely a part of LSU’s history. I think they're [the Home Management Houses] involved in the changes in the life of the American woman. They were definitely a part of a very important . . . Some of today’s research is just coming out about the importance of the family eating together and all these things. These are things we taught and don’t teach anymore.

- A.B. Clark

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But it changed nationwide. It was not only here, this system of teaching, which served as a wonderful way to teach. In fact, right now I can visualize on the campus; I would love to have some of those students living in a home management house like that, because the relationships that you developed and how you lived with people were so vibrant in a situation like that. I had girls who were all good friends, sorority sisters, who would come to the home management house and leave being almost enemies. So we had to work with the students, you know. And we would have a meeting every week about the problems we’d had this past week, and how’d we work them out and how could it have been done differently. Now that was a good experience.

- A.B. Clark

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