Thirty years ago, directly after she had earned her BS degree at Kansas State College, Elizabeth May went to Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical College, 46 miles northwest of Houston, to teach home economics.
Only 23 girls were enrolled in home economics when she took over, and four of them were ready for graduation. Today Prairie View has an average of 55 majors in home economics graduating each year; at its post-war peak it had 70. Total enrollment runs around 200 a year and has been 300.
Most of the Negro homemaking teachers of Texas have been trained at Prairie View, as it is one of the approved state institutions for the training of Negro teachers of home economics.
So, too, have most of the Negro home demonstration agents and all teacher supervisors of the Texas Educational Agency, and a goodly number of dietitians. Smaller numbers of graduates go into commercial jobs, government service, and nursery schools.
In 1923, when Miss May first went to Texas, about 20 homemaking teachers attended the annual teachers' conference; actually few high schools of the state offered approved courses in homemaking. Today those conferences attract more than 200 women.
Then home economics was a sketchy group of courses for teachers of "homemaking" in high school. Today there are fully developed curricula in household economics and child development, clothing and textiles, foods and nutrition, dietetics, and home demonstration, as well as a graduate and undergraduate program in home economics education.
The home economics staff now is a group of well trained persons, each of whom has a master's degree from such schools as Kansas State College, the University of Colorado, the Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin.
Mrs. Galloway herself (she married a Texan) has completed two years of work toward her doctorate at the University of Minnesota. She has served as president of the Texas Association for Negro Home Economists and has been active in professional societies such as the American Home Economics Association.
Two of the members of her staff are also K-State graduates: Mrs. Lillie Mae (Paley) Burns, MS '41, and Mrs. Zelia Simington Coleman, MS '43. Nine other K-Staters are at Prairie View.
Quite naturally home economics at Prairie View has outgrown its quarters. The new building which is being planned for it will make possible improved offerings, but won't completely meet the need.
"We should have a second home management house and new equipment," she writes. "Also a nursery school, and scholarships for worthy needy students."
Girls and women make an important contribution in the world," she pointed out. "If the quality of this contribution is to be improved, more young persons of ability must be recruited into the ranks of professional home economists. College work which we offer must be challenging if we are to attract students who are intellectually able."
Accordingly there is constant effort to improve course offerings. But the objective now, as at the start, is to help young women "make a worthwhile life and a respectable living."
Since many students leave school at the end of the freshman and sophomore years, the home economics curriculum has in those years the basic elements of nutrition, food preparation, and home management, clothing, art applied to the home, and family relations as well as English, and mathematics.
Elizabeth May was one of 11 children born to one of the few Negro couples in Holton, Kansas, and as would be expected was the only Negro student in her high school graduating class.
Her father worked as janitor of the high school. When he died in 1946 W. T. Beck, of the Holton Recorder, wrote of him:
"From early childhood we knew this worthy man ... Industrious ... Christian, moral, a good citizen, and a good neighbor was King May. He and Mrs. May reared and educated a large family of children who without exception became useful men and women. The family has been patrons of the schools and supporters of the church ...."
The May children included a physician, a dentist, a laboratory technician, a nurse, a lawyer, and a printer. Educating them has borne rich dividends both to them as individuals and to American life which has been enriched by their contribution.