Skip to main content
Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - K-State Women
Nellie Kedzie Jones: Pioneering in Home Economics

During the summer of 1882 when I was living in the city of Topeka, Kansas, President Fairchild of KSAC was calling on the alumnae of the College and called on me. As was the custom, I invited him to eat supper with us. As we were finishing the meal the President said to me, "Do you think you can teach Kansas girls to make such biscuits as these we have just been eating?"

It was a surprise question, and I answered, "I could try." That was his invitation to come to KSAC to try to help college girls to become efficient home makers with less effort than many women were then exerting. They were not looking for doctorates in those days; they wanted biscuits.

The Regents and the President helped me to make a list of what knowledge might be valuable to girls. We believed that every girl hopes to have a home whether she marries or not. So we decided that every girl ought to have some knowledge of hygiene to keep herself in the best of health. Also, that she should be thinking of what foods she will want to learn to cook and serve to a family, and should be able to make the garments needed by herself and by anybody dependent upon her. The teaching of hygiene, sewing, and cooking to every girl who went through the College was therefore decided upon.

In September, when I went to the College, I found that three very small rooms and one quite large one over the shop were to be "my department." Each small room had one table and six or seven chairs. One had a good-sized mirror and two sewing machines for the students of the sewing classes. The large room had a small closet with shelves, one large table, about a dozen wooden chairs, and an elderly wood range. I was given $100 "to buy what equipment I needed."

I was told that I was not to use the rooms for long, since I was to have a real department in the main building of what is now Anderson Hall, as soon as it was built. The north wing was already in use. The College was new. Classes were small; so we decided that we would begin classes in sewing, cooking, and hygiene in the first year.

In my sewing class, I let each girl bring the material she wanted to make the garment she wished to have. The girls were all happy in making what they wanted. One girl brought a ball of yarn, saying, "I want a piano and my father says that if I will knit him a pair of stockings he will buy me one."

I knew how to knit but had never knit a stocking. That night I bought a box of knitting silk, and with a friend's help set up a silk stocking. Both the student and I knitted--she in the school hours and I at home nights to keep ahead of her--and we finished the stockings before the term closed. My brother got a Christmas gift and the girl got her piano before spring.

In 1884 the girls who were to graduate decided to make their own graduation dresses. I believe there is only one girl now living who made her own graduation dress: Mrs. Hattie Peck Berry of Manhattan. A Kansas City newspaper man who reported commencement exercises printed quite an article about the College that taught the girls to make the beautiful dresses they wore to receive their diplomas!

Teaching sewing to the small class of freshman girls was plain sailing, so we decided to give the sophomore girls who had passed Chemistry a term of beginning cooking. The $100 had been only partially used for sewing necessities.

There were no beaters nor refrigerators to buy. A few people had ice boxes, but there was no ice to be had except for an unusual occasion. We had no hot water, no power in the building. I didn't know how the stove would behave, but we secured enough small kitchen tools to begin cooking. As there were no books on the subject, I had to write lectures, which I tried to make interesting and informative.

I gave the cooking class some subjects on homemaking to write about. I once gave the week's assignment making a plan for an eight-room, two-story house. The girls were interested in drawing up the plans, and we took a few minutes on several different days for the class to look them over. The best looking plan had no stair case in it. It pleases me to know that many colleges now have a semester on housing in their home economics courses.

The cooking class was always glad to prepare and serve a meal for the Regents. The Regents were always very polite to the girls and gave them many compliments.

Since the sophomores had to gather bugs and butterflies for the collection Prof. E. A. Popenoe demanded in the entomology class, I asked the girls if they would like to prepare a picnic dinner for some Saturday, go to the woods with their bug nets, and invite the boys of the class. I had found that we could have a team and big farm wagon to drive to the woods. The girls voted yes.

Our first picnic was such a success we not only had one every autumn, but arranged one every spring.

Remember such things as vitamins and calories had not yet been discovered. Electric kitchen stoves had not been invented. In fact, one of the two large stoves we had in the new department in Anderson Hall burned wood, the other coal. We asked the iron worker to cut a hole in the coal stove so we could put the borrowed thermometer from the chemistry department through the top of the oven to learn some facts about time and temperatures for roasting meat and baking.

We had various tribulations with our rooms while we waited for our permanent department in the "main building." One morning we found a flood of water on the floor. In the closet where all the groceries were kept everything was soaked. The water tank stood above that closet. Someone had opened the pipe to fill the tank but had forgotten to close it. Such a mess!

A class set a large batch of yeast bread one night to make several kinds of bread in their cooking hour the next day. A sudden Kansas freeze came along in the night and our bread was a frozen dough dish in the morning.

When we got to pie making, the first pies put into the oven did not bake on top. So I said, "Let's turn one pie over into a clean tin and let that nice crust have it's share of the heat." It worked. The pies tasted good, but as the pieces were cut, they scarcely looked as we expected! I slipped into the shop and invited the men students of the class to come up and help eat the pies to get them out of sight.

Creameries and cheese factories were rare in the Middle West until the 1880's. Grocers bought their butter from farmers' wives. Some people in small towns were fortunate enough to find a farm wife who would bring them their weekly or monthly butter supply.

We thought we should let the cooking class have six weeks of butter and cheese making. The professor of agriculture was kind to promise us the milk from the fine college cows for six weeks. This was after we were moved into the better rooms in the main building and after Mrs. Elida Winchip had taken over the sewing classes.

Two girls came a week at a time early in the morning to skim yesterday's milk and set the morning's milk. The men who brought in the milk from the barns strained it into tin pans which had been set on the shelves ready for the milk. When we had cream enough we churned it. Two girls worked the butter and salted it while the rest of us watched. We had some small butter moulds and the girls always enjoyed making the butter pats.

I was the only woman of the faculty when we decided to give the senior girls a class in hygiene. I had to write the lectures and give the class topics on which to write up what they could find in books from the library. Doctor Roberts and Dr. Mary Lyman were very generous to give me much help for my lectures. The girls were helpful and we had pleasant lessons until there was a teacher of physiology who taught both men and women.

When we had so many students that we were sure we must have more room for them, the Regents moved to get into the Legislature a bill for a home economics building. I was called to Topeka several times to answer the legislators' many questions.

I was ready to answer anything favorably till one man asked, "Will you teach the girls to milk?" I knew at once he was opposed to us, but I said quietly, "No, sir."

"Why not?" he asked.

I said, "Because I think milking is not a woman's work." The bill was killed; so we did not get the building at that time. As we started for the train, that man stopped me at the door, saying with a grin, "Well! Mrs. Kedzie, what are you going to do now?"

"I am going home to tend to my classes," I replied. "When you come here again, I am coming, too, and I will keep coming until we get that building if it takes a hundred years!"

He laughed, but he said, "Maybe I'll help you next time." And he did! We got the building at the next session. It was named Kedzie Hall and was used for home economics until it became too small.

Then Calvin Hall was voted by the legislature and built. Calvin Hall has seen a very wonderful growth in the teaching of home economics.

When I left the college I felt that my 15 years had been well spent. A new department had become a valuable part of the College.

Presidents of other colleges had come to secure graduates from the College to organize a Homemaking Department in their own colleges: South Dakota, Utah, Ohio, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and others. Each of these states secured a KSAC graduate to begin the teaching of homemaking. Those colleges have thriving home economics departments still.

As I look back to the beginning work my girls did in the colleges, with the little I had to give them, I think God's hand was in the work; the world was ready for it.

Source: K-Stater, October 1954
Article appears here with permission from the K-State Alumni Association.
Any typographical errors are the result of retyping.