A Synopsis of The First Lake Placid Conference

By Bobbi Cox


Many historical papers are difficult for the ordinary individual to obtain, so it is thrilling to actually hold a one hundred year old document.  I am fortunate to have been allowed to read an original copy of the Lake Placid Proceedings (published in 1901) owned by Dean Sharon Nichols, of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  Reading it is somewhat of a deciphering trick.  The terms used are not ones that we employ, and familiar terms do not have modern meanings.  However, the document can give us a sense of what the writers were thinking in a way not possible from a report about that document, so my paper here is only a poor substitute for the real thing.

Historical Contexts of the Day

At the turn of the nineteenth century, most colleges and universities in the United States were just beginning to be formed.  They did not have many departments, nor did they have a large body of study.  Science was the driving force in education-bacteria had just been discovered and the country was on a tear to examine everything under a microscope in an effort to understand it.  The people who attended the First Lake Placid Conference came in an effort to begin a study of home sanitation.  They believed that the home needed to be cleaned up, and that then the cleaning up of the “larger home”, society, would follow.  The driving force in this effort was Ellen Richards, an M.I.T. trained chemist.   She came to the first meeting at the request of Melvil Dewey and several others, who were interested in developing a body of knowledge for new domestic science departments being founded at many women colleges.

About the Lake Placid Conference

First Lake Placid Conference, Lake Placid Club, Morningside, NY, September 19-25, 1899

Mrs. Ellen Richards- chairman

Miss Anna Barrows- secretary

Invitations were sent to several people in early September 1899. 

Some of the topics considered for discussion were:

·        The preparation of a series of papers in domestic science to be distributed by the U.S. government

·        Training of domestic science teachers

·        A name for this new science

·        Method of cooperation between government experiment stations and domestic science teachers

·        “How can domestic science help women who does her own work?”

Even though many of the invitees were not able to attend this first meeting, the group that gathered was not willing to wait to begin its work.  The talks were begun with eleven participants.

Melvil Dewey (Dewey Decimal System) opened the conference saying that there is current interest in home science.  It is very important to the educational community and to the American people.

The purpose of the conference was to work through existing agencies rather than form its own organization, so the chore of a constitution and bylaws was not undertaken.

Home Economics was considered by the delegates to be a distinct section of economics.  They felt that it should be a college course of study, and not be confused with “household arts” (dusting, cleaning, mending) which would never be part of the university setting.

Home Economics was the general term with the following distinctions:

·        Domestic economy- lessons for younger (3-12 year old) students

·        Domestic science- high school (8th grade and higher) classes where foods and house sanitation would be studied by scientific methods

·        Home economics- college courses

            Discussion of the Course of Study and the preparation of young women for leadership in the field:  “normal” work of the day was discussed and it was decided that it should be much more thorough than was currently offered by elective courses.  There was a conversation about how a library school in Boston in 1887 had high standards of excellence that increased the efficiencies of libraries that took on its practices. (This seemed to make the group agree that they were on the right track in raising their own standards for the new studies.)  Mrs. A.P. Norton suggested that electives might help.  Science courses could give attention to “household affairs” and the sociologic side of questions could be addressed. 

Other topics:

·        Professional schools should provide theoretical training- and “something allied to the clinic” (practical training?), possibly through  “college settlement” work (women living in dormitories for study)

·        Stressed the need for trained women as leaders of public sentiment, “emphasized by many” (of the conference participants), and that colleges need to be informed that there is a trend to include this in college courses.  Possibility of new profession requiring “adequate compensation”.

·        Classification under the Dewey Decimal System.  After an explanation, it was decided to place H.E. in 339, as part of sociology.  “Pauperism, which is already classed under that head, is the result of lack of attention to home economics.” Libraries were said to need a complete selection of H.E. books, including all related books, and history as well as books on development.  The New York State Library had already started such a collection and it was decided to help it complete its work. 

Other papers of general interest were presented: (no details in proceedings)


·        “How Can Domestic Science Help the Woman Who Does her Own Work?” by Miss Maria Parloa

·        “Domestic Science at Farmers Institutes” by Miss Anna Barrows

·        “Kitchen Gardens and Kindergarden” by Miss E. Huntington

There was a discussion about the efforts to give lessons to women in city tenements and about providing training classes for cooks and waitresses by a branch of New York City household economics association by Mrs. W. Shailer.

Mrs. Ellen Richards talked about the standards of living of the day saying that some people who were earning $1500-$2500 per year (middle income of the day) were probably hardest hit.  They want more than the necessities of life but don’t know how to allocate their money well.  She said that the home is not maintained on an economical basis.

Mrs. William Shailer was chosen to present their findings to the National Household Economics Association meeting in Chicago in October 1899.


·        Schools of H.E. should stay in touch with the U.S.D.A. and with colleges, universities, and experiment stations of each state.  Problems arising in these schools could be presented to experiment station for solution.

·        The committee thanked the Secretary of Agriculture for work done on behalf of H.E. by U.S.D.A., and requested that more bulletins on original and scientific research (notably food science) be published by U.S.D.A.  The committee offered to help in any way possible.

·        It was the opinion of the committee that the time “has come when public interest demands” recognition by the state of the important sociologic problem” of the home.  Therefore states should be asked to give household arts and home economics the same encouragement given to agriculture and mechanical arts in state schools and colleges, by publications, traveling libraries, institutes and other agencies for extension teachings and home education.

There were eleven attendees to this first conference.  The following list includes their association as found in the proceedings:

Ellen Richards, MIT, Boston

Anna Barrows, editor American Kitchen Magazine, Boston

Maria Daniell, Lecturer of Foods, Boston

Annie Dewey, trustee Lack Placid Club, Albany, New York

Melvil Dewey, Director, New York State Library and Home Education, Albany, New York

Emily Huntington, New York Cooking School

Mrs. W.V. Kellon, Boston

Alice Peloubet Norton, Supervisor of Domestic Science in Brookline Schools, Mass

Maria Parloa, NewYork

Mrs. William Shailer, President New York. State Household Economics Association

Louisa Nicholass, State Normal School, Framingham, Mass.


First Lake Placid Conference Proceedings, 1901, Lake Placid Club, Morningside, New York


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