A Woman to Know: Ellen Swallow Richards

You cannot make women contented with cooking and cleaning, and you need not try. — Ellen

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Ellen was a lot of firsts: the first American woman to graduate with a degree in chemistry (from Vassar in 1870); the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and, in 1873, the first woman to teach there, too.

Ellen pioneered the study of "ecofeminism," which today we call "home ec." But in the 1870s and 1880s, "ecofeminism" wasn't just a high school class — it was radical. Ellen lectured, researched and published on the value that "women's work" brought to the national economy. She devoted decades of research to making housework "efficient," showing women how everyday science (in nutrition, chemistry, home appliances, and more) could empower them at home. She believed that a happier, healthier home meant happier, healthier communities.

"The quality of life," she later wrote, "Depends upon the ability of society to teach its members how to live in harmony with their environment."

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