On March 4th, 2022 M.A. student, Kathleen McHugh, presented a talk entitled “Expanding Home Economics: Ava B. Milam’s Home Economics Extension Bulletins, 1913-1916” at the Columbia History of Science Group (CHSG) annual conference. The talk was adapted from the third chapter of her thesis which explores the first ten years of Ava B. Milam’s, the former dean of Oregon State University’s home economics program, career.
McHugh’s talk focused on Milam’s extension program, which she argues was created as a way for rural Oregonian women to ease the drudgery of farm life during the early part of the 20th century. Other historians have traditionally viewed extension programs as a means of teaching women new skills, but as McHugh points out, Milam’s extension program did not present new skills to the women, but rather imbued them with tools on how to make their work less time consuming and more effective. Through Milam’s courses on cake baking, making jellies, and perfecting apple recipes, McHugh demonstrates that the extension programs taught rural women how to economize the skills they already knew, rather than teach them new ones. For example, McHugh demonstrates how the courses showed women which apples were best for cooking various apple foods (Northern Spy), but did not show them what recipes to make, or even how to make them. Similarly, the courses also told women which flour is best for baking (pastry flour), but did not provide a cake baking recipe.
CHSG, founded in the early 1980s, and sometimes affectionately known as the History of Science Society’s “Soggiest Subsection,” holds an annual regional conference for historians of science. At the conclusion of the presentations awards are given to participants. Over the years the awards have verged on the edge of whimsy, but are nonetheless important markers of excellence. This year, McHugh received the Research Raptor, an award created specifically for her to highlight her exceptional research skills and professional acumen.
CATEGORIES: Graduate Students