Doctoral Public Presentation: The Founding of the Home Economics Movement and Its Roots in Progressive Political Theory

Doctoral Public Presentation: The Founding of the Home Economics Movement and Its Roots in Progressive Political Theory

Written by Veronica Brooks

On March 26, 2018, Kathleen Thompson delivered a public presentation of her doctoral research on “The Founding of the Home Economics Movement and Its Roots in Progressive Political Theory.” Kathleen is one of two doctoral students earning the first Ph.D.’s from Hillsdale College this year.

Kathleen’s dissertation claims that the home economics movement embraced early progressive political thought. Leading figures like Caroline Hunt and Ellen Swallow Richards criticized the idea that family traditions were sufficient education in home “economics” and instead embraced the hard sciences and the concept of “expertise” in order to foster a standardized method of home-making. Women were expected to become scientific experts of the domestic sphere and to employ chemistry, biology, physics and bacteriology to their work in the home. The home economists defended this approach with the language of dedication to progressive democracy and the attempt to realize the national will. The home economics movement also embraced the progressive principles of men like Richard T. Ely and argued that women should foster an ethics that would enable individuals to achieve their full potential. The efficient home would provide the material conditions for personal development and would allow the home-maker to uplift less-privileged families around her. Good housewives were also expected to embrace political activism and to view their community as an extension of their home.

The presentation was lively and provoked several bouts of laughter from the audience as Kathleen explained in humorous detail the chemistry of stain-removal and the science of grocery shopping.

Earlier that afternoon, Kathleen defended her dissertation and later participated in a question-and-answer session, along with Nathan Gill, who also recently completed his dissertation defense. During the session, current graduate students had the chance to ask questions about the dissertation process over pizza and wine. When asked how she was able to complete her graduate work with two small children, Kathleen laughed as she recalled rising at 5:30 each morning to write in a closet she converted into a makeshift office and teaching herself Latin with a baby in tow.

Kathleen was part of the first cohort to enter the Van Andel Graduate School in 2012 after double-majoring in English and Politics for her B.A. at the University of Dallas. Kathleen was looking for an education in statesmanship and recalls, “I was drawn to Hillsdale because of its unique goal of providing a graduate education not only for those interested in teaching at a university level, but also those interested in practicing politics.” During her time at Hillsdale, Kathleen was known for her upbeat and cheerful disposition. Her favorite course was Dr. Portteus’ “Nationalism and Sectionalism” and she says that her time in the program taught her to write well and reinforced the habits of close reading that she learned at the University of Dallas.

Midway through her graduate work, Kathleen married her husband, Rocky. They reside in Nebraska with their two children. They are expecting their third child in June of 2018, and plan to move back to Baton Rouge. Kathleen endeavors to serve as a stateswoman and to become involved in state and local politics.


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