Public Policy Involvement

Vol. 20, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

Dorothy Mitstifer (Posthumous)

Guest Editor:
Holly Roseski

Publication date:
Compiled 2022

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM, Vol. 20, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Holly Roseski. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2022. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

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Kappa Omicron Nu


The Enigmatic Profession

Nina L. Roofe
University of Central Arkansa

Contact: [email protected]


The field of family and consumer sciences originated in the area of domestic science. The field evolved in great part due to the need to improve living conditions resulting from the social, economic, and public health issues that arose during the Industrial Revolution. From Ellen Richards initiating the Lake Placid Conferences to the work of Brown and Paolucci in formulating a definition of home economics to today, our field of study has struggled with identity and public recognition. This paper explores the philosophical foundations, the influence of historical and current events, and the future of the discipline.


One definition of “enigma” is “something hard to understand or explain” (Merriam-Webster, 2009). Persons practicing in the field of family and consumer sciences know who they are and what they do, but communicating this purpose to those outside of the field has proven challenging. The field of family and consumer sciences has a rich history grounded in science, which should garner the respect of other science-based professions. Yet, our colleagues are often unaware of our contributions to science and to society. The work of this field is most evident in times of economic or resource scarcity, for example the rationing of food after World War I or the loss of income during the Great Depression. Yet, most Americans cannot verbalize or identify the work of a family and consumer scientist.

Early Pioneers

The early beginnings of the field of family and consumer sciences were in what Catharine Beecher championed as “Victorian domesticity” and focused on the development of domestic science. Her early writings, first published in 1841, Treatise on Domestic Economy, focused on the homemaker and management of her home. Her later writings reflected the movement to view domestic science as a profession with a focus on teacher education (Stage & Vincenti, 1997). Fifty-two years later Ellen Richards hosted the first Lake Placid Conference to usher in the birth of a new national organization with an innovative focus. The early pioneers of the field of family and consumer sciences dedicated their lives to the study and the practice of improving the quality of life for people. The need to improve living conditions resulted from the social, economic, and public health issues that arose during the Industrial Revolution.

The practice of home economics in the nineteenth century as an organization for social reform and as a career path for women reflects the early work of pioneers like Ellen Richards, Catherine Beecher, Caroline Hunt, and many others. Issues of gender and race affected access to education and employment while early legislation laid the foundation to open the doors of higher education to women. Known as the founder of home economics, Ellen Richards was a strong proponent of science and education. In 1873, Ellen Richards earned both a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in chemistry, and a Master’s degree from Vassar (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

During these years, we see evidence of Ellen Richards’ roots in chemistry through her work in water and soil science, nutrition, public health, and sanitation. Chemistry is the vehicle through which she studied and developed processes to improve social conditions. She focused on improving environmental conditions such as air and water quality, ventilation, and sanitation. Ellen also promoted education in areas such as nutrition and scientific housekeeping as a means to alleviate poor living conditions (Hunt, 1958).

Ellen Richards is described as having the ability to “cut off fruitless debate without injuring anyone’s feelings, and could bring out all of the value that the members had to contribute and at the same time suppress all that was irrelevant” (Hunt, 1958). She fits the description of a transformational leader. As Ellen Richards took over the leadership of the new American Home Economics Association, we see her “challenging the process, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, modeling the way, and encouraging the heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 1987). She challenged sanitation processes, inspired students to share her vision of women as professionals, enabled other women to receive education and training, used her home as a model of efficiency and organization, and encouraged correspondence students. She leaves a legacy of caring for others, educating everyone she contacted, and making the world a better place one home at a time. (Welcher, Hansen, Marx & Paulson, 2003; Stage & Vincenti, 1997; Hunt, 1958).

The origin of the discipline we know today is evident in the work of many inspiring leaders. Catherine Beecher was instrumental in the education of women through her work at the Hartford Female Seminary. She promoted a science-based curriculum to prepare women for professional employment as well as for management of their homes. Marion Talbot was a student of Ellen Richards and a teacher at Richards’ School of Housekeeping. Talbot went on to the University of Chicago where she held the position of Dean of Women. She promoted the home as an instrument of social and political change by stating that the “obligations of home life are not by any means limited to its own four walls . . . “ (Stage & Vincenti, 1997, p. 28). This idea of social activism promoted by the AHEA reflected the goals of Talbot and other early leaders to improve standards of living (Stage & Vincenti, 1997). Caroline Hunt, well known as the author of The Life of Ellen H. Richards, and Revaluations, was instrumental in data collection for an immigration and ethnicity study conducted in Chicago in the late 1890s. She planned and implemented a home economics program at the University of Wisconsin in 1903, and later worked with Wilbur Atwater in nutrition research (East, 1982).

The history of the profession reveals many examples of home economics professionals providing substantive and creative approaches to solving problems. Flora Rose served as the director of the College of Home Economics at Cornell. She was instrumental in the provision of nutrition education by Cooperative Extension Service specialists to help families meet their nutrition needs on relief allotments during the Great Depression. Using her menus, a family of five could eat nutritiously for less than five dollars a week. Lucy Maltby also responded to the issue of scarce resources by creating recipes based on postwar ingredient availability. Her work in engineering and design at Corning Glass Works resulted in solutions to practical problems faced by women in their kitchens on a daily basis. Lucy’s work on Pyrex products addressed product design, recipe standardization and testing, and new product development (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

Another example of home economics professionals working in a business setting is Mary Engle Pennington and the National Association of Ice Industries. Her goal was to improve refrigeration for consumers and address gender stereotypes. She trained home service workers, developed a grading scale for refrigerators, and later worked for the American Poultry Industries. Dora Boston and Marion Paul are inspiring examples of African American women striving to improve conditions for families through their work as extension agents in South Carolina. These women faced the challenges of dire economic times as well as segregation and racial discrimination. These are just a few examples of the work of early pioneers. Their time in history is marked by urbanization, industrial progress, immigration issues, war, social and economic inequality, and health concerns. Their collective mission was to initiate social change to improve living conditions for individuals, families, and communities. They initiated this change by promoting science as the basis for action, education as a platform to emancipate women, and the home as a place to raise the standard of living and enact social change (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

Legislative Influences

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the first Morrill Act into law, which provided federal land to the states for building colleges of agriculture. The original goal of the land-grant colleges was to provide practical education for boys. The idea that girls could benefit from education in domestic skills gained support a few years later. Land-grant colleges and universities provided education in many areas including agriculture and home economics (Stage & Vincenti, 1997). Today, the mission of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), now Association of Public and Land-grant Universities—APLU, is to “support high-quality public higher education and its member institutions as they perform their traditional teaching, research, and public service roles” (West Virginia University Extension Service, 2009, p.7 ). The Hatch Act of 1887 provided federal money for states to establish agricultural experiment stations to help farmers upgrade their agricultural methods. The first Morrill Act passed during segregation, so people of African American or other minority descent could not attend these colleges or universities. The second Morrill Act, signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890, provided funding for historically black land-grant colleges. This act required states to distribute federal funding to create institutions of higher learning open to African Americans and other minority races (Stage & Vincenti, 1997). Appendix A contains a brief chronology of these and other notable events.

Societal and Environmental Influences

The progress of the Industrial Revolution brought to the forefront issues like social and economic inequality and health concerns (Chambers, 2000). The Industrial Era ushered in mechanization in many areas including textiles and agriculture. Factories became more efficient with the development of assembly lines and utilization of immigrant and child workers. The use of other forms of energy, like steam, expanded improvements to roads and railways and improved transportation. Obvious divisions between the rich and the poor were evident in living conditions and diseases associated with these living conditions. The development of labor unions began in the Industrial Era and strengthened in the Progressive Era.

The Progressive Era brought reform in many areas including gender, class, and race. World War I began in 1914, removing men from families and the workplace. This created an immediate need for women to receive training and opportunity for work outside the home as well as the need for childcare. The social work and the public administration professions expanded in response to growing social needs of safe housing, equitable pay, and child advocacy. Laws enacted in the areas of prohibition, child labor, and labor unions reflect the needs of people during this time in history. The effects of industrialization, immigration, and urbanization are strong forces in the Industrial and Progressive Eras. The early pioneers of the family and consumer sciences (FCS) profession focused their efforts on these issues (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

Lake Placid Conferences

The Lake Placid Conferences conducted from 1899 to 1908 mostly in Lake Placid, New York, addressed a variety of topics including the name of the profession, public awareness, natural sciences, educational curriculum, and the creation of a national organization. The first Lake Placid Conference held at the mountain retreat of Mr. and Mrs. Melville Dewey included eleven people. Those in attendance were on the forefront of a social movement, which would affect the lives of people for decades to come (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

The attendees at the first conference dealt with strategies to improve daily life for families in their homes. This is reflective of the social and economic struggles common to families at this time in history, including low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of training and education for the majority of the American public. The topic of education comprised ten of the fifteen topics at the first conference. The education of women as agents of social change in their homes and for future careers was a primary focus of the early pioneers of the field.

They also struggled with selecting a name for the field of study. Ellen Richards would continue to struggle with the issue of name for years to come. She promoted “oekology” as the “science of right living” in the 1880s and “euthenics” as the science of controllable environment at the 1904 Lake Placid Conference. Ellen Richards supported “domestic science” at the first Conference and strove to develop a professional field for women. The group decided on “home economics” to denote this new field of study (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

The second conference, held in 1900 expanded to thirty members, and membership grew over the years. Topics of discussion varied each year and included education and curriculum, public awareness, application of science to the home, and international efforts. This definition of home economics emerged from the fourth Lake Placid Conference (1902):

Home economics in its most comprehensive sense is the study of the laws, conditions, principles, and ideals which are concerned on the one hand with man’s immediate physical environment and on the other with his nature as a social being, and is the study of the relation between these two factors.

By this time, the National Household Economics Association dissolved due to the thought that the Lake Placid group was accomplishing the same work in a better fashion. Establishing a new national organization began at the tenth conference in 1908 in Chautauqua, New York. The formation of this new organization included the development of home economics groups in each state, dues payment by members, the publication of a professional journal, and a new name. The American Home Economics Association (AHEA) was established in 1909, an accomplishment of the tenth Lake Placid Conference (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

These yearly conferences provided a forum for leaders in the field to share ideas, develop a mission and creed, and enact a plan of social action. Appendix B provides a brief chronology of the Lake Placid Conferences. The evolution of the Lake Placid Conferences from deciding on a name in 1899 to forming a national organization is 1908 is interesting and prescient in that the profession continues to struggle with the issues of name recognition and public awareness today (Haley, Peggram, & Ley, 1993).

Philosophical Foundations

Critical science, ecosystems theory, and practical reasoning entwine throughout the history of the profession. Specific applications of these foundations have changed in response to current need, but these foundational principles are still evident in the current structure of family and consumer sciences. These principles also frame the future of the profession.

Critical Science

Ellen Richards had the ability to see what was and what could or should be in order to improve conditions. Applying science to solving problems encountered in day-to-day living was her social mission. In the area of education, she recognized the need to develop curriculum to prepare women for professional employment. The sense of social mission inherent in this field of study is reflected in the goal set forth by the AHEA in 1909, “the improvement of living conditions in the home, the institutional household and the community” (Announcement: AHEA, 1909, p. 1). Critical science is the process used to examine a situation and develop strategies for improvement. This concept is evident in the mission statement for home economics developed by Brown and Paolucci (1979, p. 23),

The mission of home economics is to enable families, both as individual units and generally as a social institution, to build and maintain systems of action which lead (1) to maturing in individual self-formation and (2) to enlightened, cooperative participation in the critique and formulation of social goals and means for accomplishing them.

Critical science requires a focus on what the profession should be doing, which involves constant self-evaluation (Gentzler, 1999). Marjorie Brown encouraged the use of critical science as a part of critical theory to critique past work and guide decisions about future work in her Commemorative Lecture to the American Home Economics Association Annual Meeting (Brown, 1984). Today, FCS professionals use critical science to improve practice in a variety of ways. We use critical science to think beyond the immediate effects of a solution to question underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions. Engaging in intellectual discussions on various topics is valuable to recognize another point of view or unintended consequences, develop logical reasoning skills, and improve presentation skills (Vincenti, Smith, & Fabian, 2004).

Eco-Systems Theory

The interactive nature of relationships between and among individuals, families, and communities with their environment is the basis of eco-system theory (Nickols, 2003). We see the ecosystems theory in the mission statement developed at the fourth Lake Placid Conference (1902) and in the mission by Brown & Paolucci (1979). Most recently, the ecosystems theory is evident in the “interrelationships, synergy, and interaction” of core concepts of the body of knowledge model for family and consumer sciences. The core concepts include “basic human needs, individual well-being, family strengths, and community vitality.” This model emphasizes the interactive nature of families with their micro- and macro-environments. One example is family purchasing decisions. Families make changes in their purchasing habits based on their income, goals, and priorities. These decisions in turn affect the local and global economy. Anywhere individual, family, and community systems intersect represent an opportunity for intervention (Nickols, Ralston, Anderson, Browne, Schroeder, Thomas, Wild, 2009, p. 271 ). The field of FCS is well suited to eco-systems theory. This field encompasses a wide variety of specializations and work settings, which interact with the environment as well as with individuals, families, and communities (Vincenti, Smith, & Fabian, 2004).

Practical Reasoning

Solving practical problems requires a full understanding of the context, history and underlying issues. Information gathering includes the thoughts and feelings of persons involved. This is a systematic process, which considers the consequences of possible decisions or actions. A critical and logical analysis of the problem and possible solutions leads to adoption of a rational best choice (Robbins & Wallace, 2007; Gentzler, 1999; Wedgewood, 1998). Practical reasoning fits well with topics addressed by FCS professionals. Teen pregnancy prevention (Herz & Reis, 1987) and management of overweight children (Stewart, Houghton, Hughes, Pearson, & Reilly, 2005) are two areas in which practical reasoning enhances the utility of an intervention. Practical reasoning is an important part of professional communication. The ability to communicate a position, both verbally and in writing, influences practice, public policy, and the advancement of a profession (Barge & Little, 2008).

Current Structure of Family and Consumer Sciences

Recent History

The Eleventh Lake Placid Conference held in 1973 addressed the future of the field. A study commissioned by the AHEA assessed the public’s view of home economics. The results of this study, New Directions II published in 1975, identified the lack of congruent public perception of the field and the need for a broader concept regarding the interrelated nature of the discipline. The authors of this document identified five priorities: futuristic thinking, public policy formation, creative adaptation to uncertainty and change, redistribution of resources, and interrelatedness of the professional and the paraprofessional (Bivens, Fitch, Newkirk, Paolucci, Riggs, & St. Marie, 1975). The recommendations in this statement shifted focus from home and family to emphasize the ecosystem concept of humans and their environment (Stage & Vincenti, 1997).

The 1993 meeting of the American Home Economics Association held in Scottsdale, Arizona is known as the Scottsdale Conference. The previous year, a task force made up of five home economics organizations explored the future of the field in regards to a mission, breadth, scope, and name. The field continued to deal with a lack of identity and pervasive stereotypes. The conference identified the need to communicate a broader definition than simply a focus on the home to include business, industry, government, and social services. They chose the name family and consumer sciences (FCS) to reflect this broader definition. The following purpose statement still shows elements of critical science and ecosystems theory, “an integrative approach to the relationships among individuals, families, and communities and the environments in which they function” (Stage & Vincenti, 1997, p. 306).

Family and Consumer Sciences

Current FCS professionals work in a variety of settings, including education, nutrition and wellness, hotel and restaurant management, interior design, textiles, and others. This field of study continues to use critical theory and critical science to meet the changing needs of the society in which it functions. Increasing population diversity, a global and insecure economy, and an aging population are trends identified by Clausell (1998). Additional issues include the effects of digital technology, nutritional genomics, changing family structure, the environment, employment and education, globalization, and community (Baugher, Anderson, Green, Nickols, Shane, & Jolly, 2000). Cultural competency education is vital to reflect practical issues important to a society with increasing diversity. The profession continues to develop and evolve to meet the dynamic needs of society. One example is the AAFCS Communities of Practice, which allows professionals to collaborate on projects and share information to improve practice.

Another way the profession is evolving is in the credentialing of FCS professionals and the accreditation of programs by the American Association of Family and consumer Sciences. The umbrella concept provides an overview of the field with the various specializations underneath. Family and consumer sciences is a broad field, which contributes to the lack of public identity, but also provides an avenue for serving the diverse needs of individuals, families, and communities in a variety of venues. The next step is to improve the cohesiveness of these underlying specialization areas.

Future of Family and Consumer Sciences

Regardless of the area of focus, FCS professionals remain concerned with enhancing security and well-being to improve life. I see this field of study continuing to better society by serving individuals and families and thereby strengthening communities. Practice should be research or evidence-based, and research should reflect practical applications for FCS professionals in practice settings. This means FCS educators teach sound research design in institutions of higher learning and that practicing professionals conduct sound research. I feel we also have a responsibility to share our findings through professional publications and presentations.

As a profession, we should constantly assess our work for relevance to current needs of our customers. This year many individuals and families in our country experienced economic struggles. The FCS profession is in a unique position to help people with budgeting, nutrition education, personal finance education, and community resource assistance. The economic situation further emphasizes the need to educate future FCS professionals on how to help individuals and families using practical reasoning and critical science as the basis of their approach to problem solving.

We must also be forward thinking to anticipate future needs. Being active in professional organizations, communicating with FCS professionals in different geographic areas through the AAFCS Communities of Practice, and reading current research and professional literature are just a few ways to stay abreast of trends. Ellen Richards challenged those at the 1899 Lake Placid Conference by stating, “Real progress is often retarded by trying to make the new fit into the old scheme of things” (Baugher, et. al., 2000, p. 3). This admonition is just as pertinent today.

One major issue that remains for our profession is identity. Consistent branding in each state will lessen confusion regarding who we are and what we do. A national marketing effort by AAFCS using traditional media and newer venues like Facebook can improve public identity and influence public perception about the field of study. Responding to current trends like reality television opens another medium for the promotion of FCS professionals on shows such as Iron Chef and Design on a Dime.

I anticipate the FCS profession using current technology and creativity in marketing strategies to recruit new professionals and promote the field. Many opportunities exist to promote FCS careers in new and exciting ways. As a profession, we must focus not on the “stitch and stir” activities that dominated the field of home economics but rather focus on activities pertinent to families today. Using technology to collaborate with students and professionals in other geographic areas to solve similar problems is the goal of the AAFCS Communities of Practice. Including service-learning projects as part of high school and university course requirements provides students with practical experience in their field of study and benefits the service recipients. Recruiting new students from atypical venues like sporting events is a unique way to promote the profession to those who may not be familiar with family and consumer sciences (Clauss, 2007).

Critical science, ecosystems theory, and practical reasoning are the foundations of family and consumer sciences. As practitioners in this field of study, we must stay grounded in science. This was the hallmark of our founder, Ellen Richards, and brings credibility and legitimacy to the field today. Continually assessing and evaluating our body of knowledge and the environment in which we practice keeps the profession fresh and able to uphold its mission to serve individuals, families, and communities. Critical theory and critical science guide practitioners to work to improve conditions and examine the consequences of their efforts. Ecosystems theory frames the activities of the FCS professional by identifying intersections between the family and their environment. These points of intersection identify areas for intervention to promote individual well-being and strengthen families and communities. This in turn helps individuals and families meet their basic human needs. Development of practical reasoning skills is essential to application of theory. The FCS field of study has a history of improving living conditions by offering acceptable interventions that individuals and families are able to implement. Interventions must fit with each customer’s gender, socio-economic status, race, religion, etc. in order to meet his or her needs. Each FCS professional must be proactive to anticipate and address the needs of individuals, families, and communities to “create the future that we want” (Nickols, et. al., 2009, p. 279).


Announcement: The American Home Economics Association and the Journal of Home Economics. (1909). Journal of Home Economics, 1, 1.

Appendix A: Chronology of Notable Events




Catherine Beecher publishes Treatise on Domestic Economy


First Morrill Act establishes land-grant college and universities


Ellen Richards earns Bachelor of Science in chemistry from MIT and Master’s Degree from Vassar


Hatch Act establishes agricultural experiment stations


Second Morrill Act establishes land-grant colleges and universities for historically black institutions of higher education


Chicago World’s Fair including the Rumford Kitchen


First school lunch / nutrition program established by Ellen Richards in Boston


First Lake Placid Conference


Tenth Lake Placid Conference; formed AHEA


AHEA formally started on January 1; first volume of Journal of Home Economics published in February


Ellen Richards dies


Caroline Hunt publishes The Life of Ellen H. Richards: 1842-1911


Start of World War I; Smith-Lever Act establishes Agriculture Extension Service


Smith-Hughes Act provides federal funds for vocational education


Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote


Betty Lamp adopted as official logo


Start of Great Depression; home economists work with families to extend resources


George-Dean Act authorizes equal funding for vocational home economics and agriculture although funds are limited by Great Depression


AHEA published New Directions; philosophy and goals statement


French Lick Seminar addressed articulation and differentiation / specialization


Eleventh Lake Placid Conference; publication of New Direction II


Brown and Paolucci publish Home Economics: A Definition


Scottsdale Conference; examined mission, breadth, scope and name ; proposed name change to Family and consumer sciences


San Diego Conference; name change to Family and consumer sciences approved


Centennial anniversary of AHEA/AAFCS

(Stage & Vincenti, 1997)

Appendix B: Brief Chronology of the Lake Placid Conferences







Lake Placid, NY

Improve living conditions; women’s education; name: Home Economics (HE)



Lake Placid, NY

Increase public awareness, home economics and education



Lake Placid, NY

Move, teach, revaluations



Lake Placid, NY

Meaning of laws, HE principles and definition



Boston, MA

First open meeting, apply science to homes



Lake Placid, NY

Ellen Richard’s creed



Lake Placid, NY

HE curriculum



Lake Placid, NY

HE curriculum



Lake Placid, NY

Secondary curriculum, international efforts



Chautauqua, NY

Formation of national organization—AHEA, formation of state groups, members to pay annual dues, Journal of Home Economics



Lake Placid, NY

Future direction of the field, AHEA-commissioned study of public perception of HE led to development of goals for public relations campaign

(Stage & Vincenti, 1997; Hunt, 1958)





Kappa Omicron Nu Forum Volume 20 No. 1

Consumer Moral Ambiguity: The Gray Area of Consumption

Sue L. T. McGregor

Peer Review: A Filter for Quality

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Mentoring Students in Cross-Specialization Teams

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Consumerism as a Source of Structural Violence

Sue L. T. McGregor

Consumer Entitlement, Narcissism, and Immoral Consumption

Sue L. T. McGregor

A Satire: Confessions of Recovering Home Economists

Sue L. T. McGregor

The Nature of Transdisciplinary Research and Practice

Sue L. T. McGregor

Reflection Matters: Connecting Theory to Practice in Service Learning Courses

Mary E. Henry

What's It All About—Learning in the Human Sciences

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Leadership Responsibilities of Professionals

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Categories of Sexual Harassment: A Preliminary Analysis

Catherine Amoroso Leslie, William E. Hauck

Knowledge Management / Keeping the Edge

Dorothy I. Mitstifer 

Super Kids Program Evaluation Plan

Nina L. Roofe

The Enigmatic Profession

Nina L. Roofe

The Wilberian Integral Approach

Sue L. T. McGregor