The First Woman at Mit

“Simple tests are possible to detect adulterations in food, yet few housekeepers know how to make these tests…. Mrs. Ellen H. Richards has published two books, one on “Food Materials and their Adulteration,” and one on “The Chemistry of Cooking and Feeding,” both published by Estes & Lauriat, Boston, Mass. These books are necessary in every house where its mistress has a care for the best results for money expended, and the desire to secure these results with the least waste.”

From: The woman’s book, dealing practically with the modern conditions of home-life, self-support, education, opportunties, and every-day problems; published in 1894

Mrs. Ellen H. Richards was the most prominent American female chemist in the 19th century. Her work resulted in the first sewage treatment plant in the country. Her family was quite poor, and she wanted to go to college, so she spent years tutoring, teaching, and cleaning hourses and finally was able to enter Vassar in her mid twenties. She then was accepted as a special student at MIT, the first woman to be accepted at a scientific institute in America.

She favored better education for women as well as better access to the tools of science. She was a pioneer in advocating for clean water and nutritious, clean foods. She also believed that women could and should put that knowledge to use in their homes as well as elsewhere:
“Perhaps the fact that I am not a radical and that I do not scorn womanly duties but claim it as a privilege to clean up and sort of supervise the room and sew things is winning me stronger allies than anything else,” she wrote to her parents. She published The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for House-keepers in 1881, designed and demonstrated model kitchens, devised curricula, and organized conferences”

She coined a term called euthenics, which the writers at Wikipedia worked hard at diluting and proving it had nothing really to do with eugenics, it was all about clean living and clean housing and good air and such.

I was nearly convinced, and then I read the forward in her book on Euthenics (it’s at Gutenberg):

“The betterment of living conditions, through conscious endeavor, for the purpose of securing efficient human beings, is what the author means by Euthenics.

“Human vitality depends upon two primary conditions—heredity and hygiene—or conditions preceding birth and conditions during life.”[Report on National Vitality, p. 49., written by Dr. Irving Fisher, noted Progressive and a eugenicist. Progressivism’s roots are truly nasty]

Eugenics deals with race improvement through heredity.

Euthenics deals with race improvement through environment.

Eugenics is hygiene for the future generations.

Euthenics is hygiene for the present generation.

Eugenics must await careful investigation.

Euthenics has immediate opportunity.

Euthenics precedes eugenics, developing better men now, and thus inevitably creating a better race of men in the future. Euthenics is the term proposed for the preliminary science on which Eugenics must be based.

This new science seeks to emphasize the immediate duty of man to better his conditions by availing himself of knowledge already at hand. As far as in him lies he must make application of this knowledge to secure his greatest efficiency under conditions which he can create or under such existing conditions as he may not be able wholly to control, but such as he may modify. The[ix] knowledge of the causes of disease tends only to depress the average citizen rather than to arouse him to combat it. Hope of success will urge him forward, and it is the duty of lovers of mankind to show all possible ways of attaining the goal. The tendency to hopelessness retards reformation and regeneration, and the lack of belief in success holds back the wheels of progress.”

Most of her other books are at

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 4, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    It reminds me of the scene in “That Hideous Strength” where professor somebody or other talks about scouring the world of nature and putting up metal trees as ornaments.

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