Home Economics classes taught life skills
March 22, 2010
A significant portion of my life has been taken up with home economics. The school subject is no longer called that. Instead, it is given other names having to do with family relations, etc. To me, it will always be “home ec.”
I had two years of it in high school with an old-fashioned teacher named Mrs. Waters. Our first project in freshman class was sewing, all of us making identical aprons and head bands with a pattern out of the 1920s. If a photo had been taken of our group, we could have been mistaken for a nursing class of the early 20th century.
When the aprons were finished and duly embroidered at the top of the bib with a diamond-shaped insignia enclosing our initials, we turned to cooking. Having already learned the basics in 4-H, not much of this was new to me. But I remember clearly the candy unit. Our high school had a carnival at some point in the term, and the home ec students were to sell homemade candy. I was excited when I saw the wonderful recipes written on the blackboard for us to copy, and watched the demonstrations given by Mrs. Waters. One was on making fondant, and I was intrigued with the part about tying a wet cloth around the tines of a table fork to wipe down the sides of the pan while the syrup was boiling. This was to prevent crystals from forming. Then enthusiasm turned to disappointment when we freshmen were only allowed to make ordinary fudge while the upper classes did the more exotic fondant, caramels, divinity and candied grapefruit peel.
When it was time to look at college, the only way I could afford to attend was to live at Love Memorial Hall , a low cost co-op on UNL’s Ag Campus (now called east campus) using several 4-H scholarships, good only for ag and home ec majors. This is how I came to sign on for home economics instead of majoring in English, history or art which would have been my first choices.
I never regretted this, however. I have to say I absolutely loved the college experience, and my Love Hall classmates have remained lifelong friends. Afterward, I enjoyed teaching home ec. I’ve had some funny, weird and rewarding times in the classroom. Teaching girls to sew was sometimes exasperating. There was the large girl who wanted the dress she made to be slenderizing, so I thought of sewing a vertical stripe of contrasting color all the way down the front, from the neckline to the hem. She was satisfied with that, though I’m not sure if made her look any smaller. With another girl, we had trouble getting her dress to fit, and I found out later she was pregnant. Then there were those in tears at their sewing machines because the bobbin thread kept knotting up on them or they’d sew the wrong pieces together and have to rip it out.
What I enjoyed most was food and nutrition. Everyone loved to cook, and we had fun making meals in the family groups. When I was at Fullerton, Neb., we had a week of exchange between the ag classes and home ec classes, so I had a taste of dealing with boys in the kitchen. One thing that caught my attention was that boys tended to solve their own problems, as compared to girls who would ask, “What can I do with this?” When we prepared our meal, the team making tossed salad couldn’t find a container large enough to hold it all, so the guys grabbed a vegetable drawer out of the refrigerator and made it in that.
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When I taught in Central City, Neb., I thoroughly enjoyed the class of senior girls, who were more interested than the younger students in what we were doing. I was able to get into greater depth in the matter of nutrients and how they work in our bodies. One day when I had been lecturing enthusiastically on this subject, a girl came up to me after class and said “You love this, don’t you?” And I did.
The stereotype of home economics was that it was all cooking and sewing, and that wasn’t strictly true. We also had health, home decoration, money management and child care units among others. One thing I recall from the “play school” week at Fullerton is that one of the little boy attendees was five-year-old Mark Gloor, who in adulthood came to live and teach in Central City while my own children were in high school.
When we started our family, it pretty well ended my teaching career, though there was one year I taught half-days at the Marquette School. It was fun to get back into it for a while, and I loved the people of the Marquette community.