1922 Definitions: Home Economics, Domestic Science, Household Engineering, Etc.

Query in Old Magazine
Source: American Cookery (December, 1922)

You might enjoy this 1922 article that gave definitions for several terms associated with the day-to-day operation of a home. The article was written in response to a reader’s request for definitions.

Definitions Wanted

We find that these terms are variously defined, sometimes they are all taken to mean pretty much the same thing, sometimes the distinctions are quite arbitrary and neither included nor connoted in the common significance of the word. We are glad to define them as they appear to us to be distinguished one from another:. 

Domestic Science. The application of scientific methods of thought and work to the problems of the house, or to household problems. 

Domestic Art. The application to the house, in its exterior and interior, of the artistic principles of form and color, also of materials used. Building, decorating, tinting, and furnishing are included also – but properly by no means chiefly –  artistic clothing. The term is very much a misnomer when applied to work in plain sewing. 

Household Economy. Following the Greek word from which “economy” is derived, this means the “running” of the entire household, with regard to division of labor, expenditure of incomes, provision of food, care in sickness, and provision of amusement and recreation. In our modern use of the term, a careful thrift is connoted. 

Household Management. The direction and care of the household, as in the foregoing, but not necessarily, with any implication of thrift. The house of a millionaire can be “managed” without thought of the cost.

Household Engineering. Here we have a more mechanical ordering of the house. Both “economy” and “management” seem to us to include the human element in all its phases, as co-dwellers in the house. “Engineering” appears to consider the human element only as a means to an end, the end of the mechanical ordering of the dwelling. 

Household Administration. This includes both the economy, and also the management and engineering – but, as though it were done by a ruler who sits aloft and directs the activities without either sharing them, or giving his heart to them. He does it all with brains like the administrator of an estate. At least, it sounds like that to us. 

Home Economics. The new word, “home,” in this term, introduces an ethical and even spiritual element which all the others lack. It signifies economics as under definition (3), but with one whole eye on higher, rather than material values. It means running the house with common sense, but also with uncommon sense, and always subordinating the common and the uncommon. This means that the spirit of the home will be the first and chiefest, and most important thing to be considered, and will always come before the mere care of the house. 

American Cookery (December, 1922)

19 thoughts on “1922 Definitions: Home Economics, Domestic Science, Household Engineering, Etc.

    1. Maybe . . . It’s interesting to think about which cookbooks our ancestors may have used. I also sometimes think about how my grandmother probably read some of the 1922 issues of Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal that I like to look at.

    1. A hundred years ago there was a strong movement to envision the work of woman in the home as being just as challenging and fulfilling as the work of men who worked outside home.

  1. I’m smiling. This book’s author was before her time!! I’m sure that being written only 2 years after women were given the right to vote, there was pushback to the idea that women could handle the finances and running the home!

    1. It’s a fascinating to think about the social history of women in the early 1920’s- there were the suffragettes, the flappers, the home economists, and the domestic engineers.

    1. hmmm . . . interesting question. Maybe women were trying to figure out which terms best defined how they approached their roles in the home. Someone who saw herself as a domestic artist probably approached her daily activities in a very different way than a person who identified more with household engineering.

    1. It is a nice defintion. I like how it suggests that the interconnectedness of the many daily activities that are involved in caring for a home and family can transcend the individual components.

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