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By 1928, King’s College of Household and Social Science was a thriving institution with its own architect-designed set of buildings in Campden Hill, Kensington, a highly motivated student and staff community and a full complement of household science courses. This chapter looks at how it evolved from its modest beginnings to an independent college of London University. This is a story of energetic fundraising and networking, and of the curious intervention of the Haldane Report on London University in 1913 which split household science from its feeder arts and sciences disciplines. It is a case study in the struggles that household science faced when it tried to claim a place in the academic world.

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This chapter considers a theme that is firmly embedded in any story about housework: gender. Unpaid care work is one of the most glaring manifestations of gender inequality world-wide. Everywhere women do more housework than men and housework tasks are gendered into his and hers. The chapter explores another subject, germs, that is a topic of crucial importance to the household science movement. Highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, personal and domestic hygiene is vital to the maintenance of health and wellbeing. Scientific research on cleanliness hides in obscure places but it tells us much that we need to know about effective techniques for keeping ourselves and our environments clean. Kitchens, especially, are dangerous places.

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The Science of Housework is about an international movement to make housework a scientific subject and to introduce household science courses into higher education on a par with other sciences. The book charts the author’s journey from writing about the sociology of housework in the 1970s to studying the science of housework today. It considers the history of housework and housewives, and the reasons for which the household science movement has been neglected in this history. Feminist scholars have mostly dismissed the household science movement as oppressive to women. The prominence in anthropological work of ideas about purity and danger has diverted attention from the public and private health importance of housework, and it is this role which underpins everyday life today.

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This chapter explores the beginnings of household science as a topic in secondary and higher education through the case study of King’s College of Household and Social Science, which became an independent part of the University of London in 1928. The College began as ‘lecture for ladies’ taught by staff from King’s College in Kensington in the 1870s. Responding to women’s desire for access to higher education, these lectures developed into King’s College for Women before specialising in household science.

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The household science/sanitary science/domestic economy/home economics movement brought many individuals and groups in many nations and cultures together in an effort to make homes cleaner, food better and people healthier. The intellectual apex of this ambitious programme was the provision of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in household science. While the household science movement didn’t achieve any obvious revolution, there were some spectacular successes along the way. In addition to its academic achievements, the household movement created new opportunities for women who wanted to do science. There was also an indisputable effect on health. Knowledge relevant to domestic life generated by scientists in their laboratories and offices from the later 19th century onwards wasn’t accessible to the general public until the domestic science movement took on the mission of broadcasting it. The result was a unique impact on health improvement. According to some of those who have studied this process, the result adds up to a transformation of social habits as great as that generated by the first Industrial Revolution.

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The Home and Public Health, 1880–1940
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In an era of pandemic infection, the importance of hygiene at home and in public spaces has never been greater. This book recaptures the buried history of the household science movement, including domestic science teaching, public health, higher education for women and the scientific content and aims of domestic science courses. It explores how it was viewed in the context of new public health concerns and as a driver to opening higher education to women, raising questions about the legacy and modern relevance of the household science movement.

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This chapter looks at two of the most fundamental of all modern housework technologies: gas and electricity. Along with running water and sewerage, they form the ‘technological infrastructure’ of housework. The story of their evolution interweaves several themes that are central to the household science movement. One is the impact of scientific-technological developments. How core is technology to the doing of scientific housework? Has technology really reduced household labour? A second theme is how such developments have helped to shape women’s position as workers both inside and outside homes. Third, there is the fascinating question of the relationship between scientific understandings of housework and the modern culture of mass consumption. The chapter looks at women pioneers of domestic gas and electricity and at how demonstrating the use of these new devices enabled some women to slip into the technical-scientific world through the back door.

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This chapter engages with several important preludes to the academic household science movement. The emergence of germ theory revolutionised the scientific underpinnings of housework. As germs appeared on the landscape of conversations about housework, servants increasingly disappeared. This created a stage on which women reformers’ espousal of sanitary reform could more easily penetrate the private world of the home. At the close of the 19th century, the strengthened scientific rationale for housework formed the basis of a ground-breaking meeting of household science reformers that took place at Lake Placid in the United States. The Lake Placid convention was a moment that launched all kinds of energetic currents and ideas that helped to propel household science into the world of higher education.

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The inclusion of cooking, sewing, cleaning, washing and other forms of domestic labour in the school curriculum for girls laid the groundwork for the introduction of these subjects into higher education. The schoolgirl’s body was subject to moral and physical regulation as her character was being prepared for its adult mission of housekeeping. Around the world, a huge variety of different kinds of institutions evolved to teach domestic economy: state primary and secondary schools; private schools; evening schools; continuation schools and classes; special housekeeping, cookery or needlework schools; and peripatetic teachers lugging their own stoves around the country to show rural housewives how to cook more efficiently. All this, for the girls themselves, was a lesson in the fabric of patriarchy: through their saucepans and scrubbing brushes teachers hammered home the notion of domestic life as a female responsibility.

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This chapter ties together various themes about house design, efficiency and economics in a story about how the domestic science movement developed in the period from around 1910 to the 1930s. A more housewife-centred approach to house planning; the transfer to household work of efficiency principles originally developed in industry; an economic analysis with productive housework at its centre; and the reimagining of housework as a collective enterprise all formed the backdrop to the university career of domestic science. However, none, for various reasons, had an enduring impact on the world of everyday housework.

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