The History of Household Science / Home Economics
at the University of Saskatchewan

1916-20 The Early Years

In outlining the requirements for the new University of Saskatchewan, President Walter C. Murray included the need for a school of domestic science. Mrs. Ethel B. Rutter came to the campus in 1916 to teach household science to Normal School (Education) students and students in the College of Arts and Science. Her first laboratory was in the College Building, with lectures given in Emmanuel College.

School Established in the Twenties


From 1920-23, additional household science classes were offered, leading to a special certificate for teachers of domestic science. Although this course was discontinued, household science classes could be chosen to fulfill requirements for a BSc with a major or minor in household science. In the mid 1920s, the Saskatchewan government announced that all hospitals of 60 beds or over should employ full time dietitians. Professor Rutter approached President Murray with the suggestion that graduates of the household science major would have a better chance at dietetic internships and employment as dietitians if they had a degree in household science, rather than a BA or BSc. In 1928, the School of Household Science was established within the College of Arts and Science.

Expansion in the Thirties


Enrolment in the School of Household Science increased rapidly, although budgets did not. Dean Emerita Edith Simpson, who joined the University staff in 1932 in the College of Agriculture and taught the household science equipment class that year, describes her three colleagues as remarkable women: “Professor Rutter, dynamic, dramatic and devoted to her calling, appearing in her stiffly starched white uniform that rustled as she walked; Bertha Oxner, brilliant, scholarly, hard working and impatient with those who did not agree with her point of view; Helen Wilmot, gentle, kind hearted, meticulous and artistic.” In 1931, Mrs. Gladys Dobson, a recent graduate, called a meeting of all of the Household Science students to establish a student society – the Household Science Association. A crest was designed depicting the colors of the spectrum, which appear when white light – the light of knowledge – is broken into its component parts. An initiation ceremony for new students with the lighting of candles was adopted. The selection of a Senior Stick, an honorary position conferred by vote of classmates, was introduced in 1936.

Changes in the Forties


In 1940, Professor Rutter retired, and Dr. Hope Hunt arrived to become head of the School. Dean Emerita Simpson, who joined the faculty in 1944, describes the program: “only five of the 15 classes were in Household Science with other departments contributing the remainder, two and a half faculty members, and inadequate teaching facilities. The one encouraging state of affairs was the number of students enrolled.” Dr. Simpson goes on to say: “Dr. Hunt attacked the problems with characteristic vigour, courage, determination and hard work. She introduced new classes and secured additional faculty.” The School became a College in 1941, with a four year program, and Dr. Hunt became the first dean of a College of Household Science in Canada. In 1947, the College moved from the College Building to the Physics Annex, also known as the “huts” – wartime air force buildings moved onto campus. Dean Hunt spent weeks planning the Annex facilities that included a walk-in refrigerator, pantry, dining room, students’ common room, foods laboratory, clothing and textiles laboratory and four faculty offices. Although overcrowded, Household Science had a home!

New Name in the Fifties


In 1952, the College of Household Science became the College of Home Economics. There was much scurrying around to change the initials on the newly adopted College sweater – a navy blue pullover – from H.Sc. to H.Ec. The General degree program, intended to meet all needs, was revised in 1952-53 to provide two specializations – Teaching and Dietetics – and the number of home economics classes increased. Students introduced an awards system to recognize social and athletic participation. It has been said that the most daring innovation was introduced in 1958 when the graduating class met prior to the banquet for a champagne party! Gradually more of the Physics Annex was given to the College and in 1959 the whole Annex became the Home Economics building. Research in the College was expanding, including work by Professor Rowles (Simpson) on using Saskatchewan cultivated and wild fruits, and on freezing fruits and vegetables.

New Home in the Sixties


Dean Hunt retired in 1965 after 25 years of leadership. A graduate scholarship was established in her honour. During her Deanship she emphasized the importance of scholarly work and academic qualifications and that “undergraduates should be challenged to develop a basis of judgement and the ability to distinguish between present needs, future benefits and evanescent pleasure.” On June 6, 1966, the new Dean, Edith Rowles Simpson, accepted the keys to the Home Economics section of the new Thorvaldson Building. Later that year a revised curriculum was unveiled, comprising a General course to meet the needs of teachers, and five majors: Dietetics and Nutrition, Housing and Design, Food Science, Clothing and Textiles, and Home Management. The idea for a professional ring was originated by U of S students and the first Ring Ceremony was held in 1967. The Home Economics ring was adopted by all of the Home Economics programs in Canada and the national association – the Canadian Home Economics Association.

Celebrations in the Seventies


Dean Simpson retired in 1972. Throughout her tenure she expressed her strong belief that home economists can contribute in a most significant way toward meeting the needs of the individual and helping solve world problems. The annual Simpson Lecture was established to celebrate her immense contributions to the profession and to the University. The College’s first graduate student received the Master’s degree in 1971 for a thesis investigating effects of processing on insecticide residues in food. Dr. Helen Abel served as Dean during 1973-74, after which she returned to work in the international field. In the mid-seventies a study on the role of the College was initiated under the guidance of Acting Dean Marjorie (Madge) Guilford. Major curriculum recommendations included the development of a new specialization in Family Studies and the appointment of new faculty in this area. Dr. Douglas Gibson was appointed Dean in 1976 and urged that the College maintain its high standards, openness to new ideas and esprit de corps! The number of graduate students grew and undergraduate enrolment was maintained at a high level. Jubilee events were held throughout 1978 to celebrate the College’s 50th birthday, capped by a hugely successful Homecoming in May.

Challenges in the Eighties


Further curriculum revisions were implemented in 1980, with the creation of the Divisions of Family and Consumer Studies and Foods and Nutrition. Dr. Tom Abernathy joined the faculty to expand family and consumer studies. He became Dean in 1981, leaving shortly after to accept a position in Calgary. Dr. Howard Nixon completed the year as Acting Dean and supported the College’s faculty, staff and students through this transition. Dr. Gwenna Moss took on the Deanship in 1982 at a time when Home Economics programs across the country were considering making the transition from the traditional programs, which had served society well in the past, to programs that would meet social needs into the future. In 1985, the President initiated an internal review of the College, which was later followed by an external study. The reviews were based on concerns related to the breadth of offerings relative to the size of the College and variable productivity. Although much time was spent on the review process, scholarly output increased and the College undertook a number of special initiatives, including a nutrition outreach program for seniors, fact sheets on various research topics and interventions before the Public Utilities Review Commission.

Dean Eva Lee was appointed in 1986, and shortly thereafter the external reviewers’ report on the College was released. In March 1987, the President recommended, with regret, that the College close in 1990. The Dietetics program would be transferred to the College of Pharmacy and a faculty position established in the College of Education to coordinate the education of Home Economics teachers. Establishment of a family resource management program was to receive further study. Shepherded by the new Dean Margaret Crowle, the years prior to closure were difficult ones.

The recommendations required ratification by a number of University bodies. During the time leading up to the final decision, the Saskatchewan Home Economics Association, Saskatchewan Home Economics Teachers’ Association, Saskatchewan Dietetic Association, Regina and District Home Economics Association, Saskatoon and District Home Economics Association, Saskatoon Council of Women, Consumers’ Association of Canada (Saskatchewan) and Canadian Home Economics Association worked tirelessly to express their concerns. Submissions were written, letters were drafted and networks formed supporting continuation of the College. Prior to a special meeting of the University Senate all senate members were phoned and position papers opposing the closure were distributed. The debate lasted over four hours but in the end the recommendations were approved and the College closed – but not without a fight!

There are 1675 U of S Home Economics graduates. They were and are teachers, dietitians, home economists in business, specialists in family and consumer studies, clothing, textiles and design, civil servants, homemakers and hold numerous other positions. They continue to make invaluable contributions in their homes, communities and places of employment.

New Paths in the 1990s and Beyond

Substantial numbers of students at the University of Saskatchewan continue to follow the paths encompassed within the field of Home Economics.

The College of Education offers a Teaching Area (Major) in Home Economics for the Secondary and Middle Years Programs. Classes are offered in family studies, family and technology, food studies, consumer studies, financial management, clothing and textiles and housing and environment. A class in nutrition may be taken from the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. In addition, most of these classes may be chosen by students in other programs as electives. Demand for the program is strong. The program is looking forward renovating and reequipping its multi-purpose laboratory, and a fund-raising campaign is underway with the Canadian Home Economics Foundation.  The CHEF fund, established by home economists, has provided much needed equipment to support the program. You can see more information on the Home Economics Education program.

The Division of Nutrition and Dietetics is part of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. Innovative revisions have been made to integrate the dietetic internship into the B.Sc. in Nutrition program in a format unique in Canada. The Nutrition graduate program (Master’s and Ph.D.) has grown rapidly and faculty are actively pursuing research in basic and applied areas. The Division houses the Nutrition Resource and Volunteer Centre, which provides students with experience working on projects in the community, serves as a resource to dietitians, nutritionists and other professionals, and operates the successful Summer Food Fun Camp for children.

Faculty and staff in Home Economics Education and Nutrition, along with University leaders, are committed to maintaining links and providing support for College of Home Economics graduates.

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