The Closing of the Lillian Massey Treble School of Home Economics In 1974: An Exploratory Essay
by Kenichiro Abe

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The Lillian Massey-Treble School of Household Science was established in 1904 at the Mount Allison Ladies' College in the context of the domestic science movement in the early twentieth century. (1) By the early 1970s, the School of Home Economics was temporarily closed (2) as university officials studied the possibility of replacing the Home Economics program with a Family Studies program. (3) In the end, the Mount Allison University Senate decided to discontinue the school of Home Economics in 1974. (4) This, despite the endorsement of a Family Studies program by an appointed consultant, Elizabeth Feniak (from the School of Home Economics at University of Manitoba) and the Final Report of the Committee Regarding the Implementation of the Family Studies Program.

Why was the School of Home Economics temporarily closed in 1971 in the first place? And why was the School officially terminated in 1974? Was it because the enrolment declined throughout the 1960s? Was it because the School was largely female? Was it because Home Economics came to be regarded by the university officials as a subject that would ultimately fail to attract enough students? Was it because other ‘lucrative' male-dominated, or co-educational programs were being considered at the time? This essay offers an exploration of possible reasons for the final closure of the School of Home Economics at Mount Allison University in 1974.
 
Photograph of Home Economics Department. 1 photograph : bxw. Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/177.

Photograph of Home Economics Department. 1 photograph : bxw. Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/177.

The events are best understood by first examining a rapid political and cultural shift in university-level home economics education between the 1960s and 1970s. The advent of second wave feminism and the rise of the welfare state in Canada may provide some important historical contexts for the closing of the School of Home Economics. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women report, released in 1970, held that “women should be free to choose whether or not to take employment outside their homes [and] the care of children is a responsibility to be shared by the mother, the father, and society.” (5) Such statements reflected women's grievances that resulted from the “combination of unchanged social attitudes with major changes in women's employment and education.” (6) Women's participation in the labour force had risen steadily in the 1960s, from 27.3 per cent in 1961 to 34.3 per cent in 1971. (7) Likewise, Bachelor's degrees earned by women had increased from 25.8 per cent in 1960-61 to 38.1 per cent in 1970-71. (8) However, in spite of those changes, the home economics program at Mount Allison (and perhaps elsewhere in North America in the early 1960s) continued to focus on the study of “the maternal culture surrounding the homemaker and her household of the time, with the economic well-being of the people or family of primary concern.” (9) Shaped by traditional gender ideologies, home economics graduates throughout the 1950s and 1960s were predominantly women who obtained employment as dieticians, nutritionists, high school home economics teachers, extension workers, and researchers, often in businesses (10) related to food or clothing. As home economics faculties across North America began to recognize the social needs of the 1960s such as the “conditions of life among the underprivileged, the minority groups, the undereducated, the inadequately housed and fed and those who live in the centre city and in urban areas,” (11) they acknowledged a demand for well-trained university graduates working as professionals in the expanding government agencies responsible for social welfare. Thus, home economists, specifically at Mount Allison, were attempting to transform the program, indeed the very definition of ‘Home Economics,' from a maternal focus towards ‘Family Studies,' as a professional, and sociologically based academic program. ‘Family Studies' would produce “professionally educated individuals with an understanding of the sociological factors affecting families” (12) who could contribute to the improvement of urban social conditions of the late 1960s, especially in view of the fact that single mothers were entering the paid labour force in ever increasing numbers.

The first graduates of the Family Studies program in Canada began to reach the employment market from the University of Guelph in 1972 (13) at a time when Family Studies majors were already offered in six out of seventeen universities across Canada. (14) In the meantime, Elizabeth Feniak had proposed a Family Studies program at Mount Allison with core courses comprised of sociology, psychology, chemistry, biology, mathematics. (15) Such a program would be aimed at preparing students for the following four areas of employment: childcare centres, family services, consumer consulting, and community nutrition programs. (16) Although not examined in any detail here, the expanding social welfare state of the 1960s in Canada may help to explain this overall shift in focus from Home Economics to Family Studies programs.

But why was the Lillian Massey Treble School of Home Economics not reopened as the Department of Family Studies at Mount Allison in the mid-1970s? Enrolment figures for the School of Home Economics in the 1960s were on the increase overall. In 1963, 65 students were enrolled in the B.Sc. in Home Economics at Mount Allison (17) and in 1969-70 the figure had increased to 87 students. (18) Indeed, home economics programs at most of the other Canadian universities were also experiencing significant increases in their undergraduate enrolment in the late 1960s to the early 1970s. For example, undergraduate enrolment in the Home Economics program at Guelph University saw a dramatic increase from 493 in 1969 to 753 in 1971. (19) However, placed in the context of other departments at Mount Allison in the 1960s, enrolment figures for “home economics…had increased in numerical terms but only slightly in proportional terms.” (20) By contrast, the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Education programs at Mount Allison saw much higher rates of growth in student enrolment. For example, the enrolment for a BA program increased from 473 in 1963, (21) to 535 in 1970-71, (22) while the enrolment for a BSc program (excluding home economics) increased from 231 in 1963 (23) to 317 in 1970. (24) On the other hand, some professional programs such as engineering or commerce experienced a sharp decline in enrolment. The Mount Allison Engineering program, for example, declined from 110 in 1963 (25) to 52 in 1970. (26)

Photograph of Home Economics Department. 1 photograph : bxw. Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/177.
Photograph of Home Economics Department. 1 photograph : bxw. Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/177. 

In terms of the male/female ratio, only one male student was enrolled in the Home Economics program at Mount Allison in 1962, and his enrolment did not change the “usual preponderance of women students” (27) of the School of Home Economics. Commerce, Engineering, and Secretarial Studies programs also remained single-sexed albeit male dominated rather than female dominated. The enrolment of women in Commerce at Mount Allison had only increased from one in 1963 (28) to six in 1970. (29) At this time, general arts and science programs at Mount Allison saw a steady increase in the rate of female enrolment in the 1960s: from 34 in 1963, (30) for BSc programs (31) and from 250 in 1963, (32) to 290 in 1970 (33) for BA programs. Thus, it may be summarized that the closure of the School of Home Economics at Mount Allison was not due to declining enrolment as this was clearly not the case. Is it possible then, that university priorities in program planning may have shaped the decision to close the school of Home Economics permanently, and if so, how might gender issues have played a role in such decision-making processes? If one were to choose a program that needed to be discontinued, why would one chose a single-sexed professional program, over co-ed programs, and why not select Commerce or Engineering as opposed to Home Economics? One possible reason for discontinuing Home Economics could have been that they had not been able to attract as many students as arts and science programs, yet other programs such as Engineering had experienced a decline in enrolment upwards to fifty per cent. Perhaps, single-sexed professional programs would have had experienced difficulty attracting qualified individuals willing to study in such programs at Mount Allison after the federal government made a “commitment to fund half the cost of expanding post-secondary education across the country” (34) in 1966. This made university education far more accessible to high school graduates than ever before. The minutes of the Senate meeting on December 7, 1973 indicate that one of the reasons for the discontinuation of the School of Home Economics lay in the argument that not enough students would pursue the proposed Family Studies program at Mount Allison. (35)

According to archival sources, the School of Home Economics was very vulnerable to criticism by faculty members of other departments for the following reasons: perceptions of Home Economics as a less academic subject, arguments about the incoherent nature of the program, and debates over the appropriateness of home economics within a ‘liberal arts educational institution.'

D.C. Arnold, a faculty member of the Department of Biology, states in the memo ‘RE: Preliminary Consideration of the Role of the Home Economics Department at Mount Allison University,' that the ‘least demanding' subjects taught at the School of Home Economics include traditional subjects for women's education: food and clothing. Courses in food taught the ‘art of cooking,' which could just as easily be learnt at home in his view (36) because it ‘did not incorporate specialized knowledge in chemistry, sociology, or commerce.' Since courses in clothing failed to incorporate other subjects such as chemistry, designing, drawing, or physical fitness into the classroom, (37) and only taught skills in garment manufacturing, Home Economics failed to meet liberal arts standards. As Arnold noted, “It is questionable that the majority of Home Economics courses possess an intellectual content which challenges the intelligence and interest of the students.” (38)

Secondly, the Home Economics program was regarded broadly by Mount Allison faculty members including those in Home Economics as incoherent, especially following the adoption of a major in ‘institutional management' in 1960, which was added to majors in nutrition and clothing within the program. This addition of institutional management was “aimed primarily at expanding the range of occupations for which its graduates would qualify,” (39) such as “university-trained managers in the food service industry.” (40) A second objective of this new addition was to “alter the traditionally all-female composition of the school's enrolment,” (41) however, only one male student decided to study institutional management in the 1960s.

The School of Home Economics' 1960s curriculum also encompassed courses on food, clothing, nutrition and communication and teaching methods. Unlike food and clothing preparations, courses in nutrition required a sound knowledge in university level basic chemistry and biology. (42) Therefore, the Home Economics program in the 1960s was seen as incoherent because the School offered a wide variety of courses and majors not necessarily related to one another. While some of those courses and options for majors required sound background knowledge in science-related subjects, others did not, and were therefore viewed as less intellectually demanding. The presumed incoherence of the program was further exacerbated by the introduction of institutional management in 1960 because it was aimed at seeking to attract both traditional and non-traditional students. Traditional students included those who “wished to be well-educated housewives, homemakers,” (43) and those who wanted to seek employment in traditionally female dominated occupations such as high school home economics of the fashion/textile industry. The non-traditional students sought by the School of Home Economics largely included male students for the growing food service industry.

Finally, another ‘plank' in the closure of the Home Economics program laid in the controversial long-term plan for the university entitled the “Excellence Report.” Prepared by the faculty association's committee on excellence under an initiative of the President Alex Colville in February 1962, the Excellence Report provided the rationale for discontinuing the School of Home Economics as well as some of the other professional programs. In essence, the Excellence Report suggested that Mount Allison should “be refashioned into an institution having a curriculum similar to those of liberal arts colleges in the United States in terms of the subjects taught.” (44) In order to compete with other universities across Canada, the report also suggested that the “enrolment would consist of a limited number of undergraduate students, carefully selected for their qualities of academic excellence.” (45) In other words, the report recommended that the human and financial resources of the university should be concentrated on teaching smaller numbers of selected students who were interested in arts and pure science subjects such as English, Mathematics, Foreign Languages, Physics, or Philosophy in order to compete with other universities across Canada. While the report indicated that music and fine arts had “basic aims similar to those of the liberal arts,” (46) other professional programs such as Engineering, Home Economics, Commerce, Education, and Secretarial programs should collectively be regarded as a potential threat to the aforementioned two objectives because they are “subject to the outside influence of professional groups, professional schools, and government departments.” (47) It is my argument here, that the Excellence Report of 1962 likely set the tone for the later decision to terminate the School of Home Economics. There are several reasons for reaching this conclusion. First, this Report was “the only existing plan in detail of a route towards that goal” (48) of becoming a small liberal arts and sciences institution in the early 1960s. Secondly, the Excellence Report set the year 1965 as the earliest date for the implementation of the objectives. (49) And thirdly, the report “carried more weight than any mere exploration of possibilities” (50) especially because the authors of the report repeated their belief that those objectives were not merely ideals, but rather what they considered to be ‘practical' for the future of Mount Allison University. (51) Evidently, as early as 1962, Mount Allison officials had begun to regard home economics as a subject that no longer ‘fit' into the strategy of the university to attract students. Hence the liberal arts vision of the Excellence Report, casting Home Economics as ‘less demanding' and ‘incoherent' first made the School of Home Economics a vulnerable target for criticism, and ultimately, discontinuation. A letter addressed to Dr Elizabeth Feniak from John T. Mcfarlene, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences in February 1974 hinted at further reasons for this closure and resistance to opening a Family Studies program when he noted that the Senate was concerned that “Mount Allison's resources are spread too thinly over too many fields.” (52) Yet, Mcfarlene's letter also expressed his opposition to “ivory tower opinion which many Mount Allison faculty seem to nurture that Arts and Humanities must be kept pure of any practical application.” (53) The minutes of the Senate meeting on November 15, 1973 reveal that some professors raised doubts that the proposed Family Studies program would be intensive enough, (54) and further expressed reservations about whether a Family Studies program would ‘fit' in the liberal arts education vision for Mount Allison. (55)

Examination of archival documents unearths a further factor in these events: the development of other programs may also have played a contributing role in the closing of the School of Home Economics. By 1969, four new programs were under consideration in Mount Allison Senate meetings: a Master of Arts in Teaching, (56) Canadian Studies, (57) American Studies, (58) and Geography. (59) These programs shared three common characteristics. First, none were likely to attract students of a particular sex. Second, none would require a significant expenditure in equipment and facilities (as those required in professional programs). Third, except for a Master of Arts in Teaching, all would ‘fit' in the category of social sciences as opposed to professional programs. Among these four programs, the proposal for Geography was perhaps the most significant because it was envisioned as a separate department. Four key reasons were provided in the Minutes of the Senate Meeting outlining the rationale for establishing the Department of Geography. First of all, Geography would “strengthen our offerings in social sciences.” (60) Secondly, there were no Geography Departments in other Maritime universities, (61) which meant that Mount Allison would be faced with little or no competition for students in the region as far as Geography was concerned. Thirdly, Geography was “becoming increasingly prominent in the schools, and trained teachers are not available.” (62) Finally, the cost of installing equipment necessary for Geography “did not appear to be a serious obstacle.” (63) This official rationale for establishing the Department of Geography strongly indicate that Mount Allison was moving towards a general direction espoused by the Excellence Report. Consequently, home economics was at odds with this new direction. For example, the proposed Geography Department, unlike the School of Home Economics (which was professional and female dominated) was to be a liberal arts and co-educational program. Also, unlike the Home Economics program, Geography would strengthen Mount Allison's offerings in both social sciences and pure sciences. Furthermore, Geography would not require the expensive facilities and equipments as in the case of Home Economics. Perhaps most importantly, however, unlike Home Economics programs, which were already available at Acadia, Saint Francis Xavier, Mount Saint Vincent, U.P.E.I. and Université de Moncton throughout the late 1960s, (64) Geography programs were virtually non-existent in the Atlantic region and therefore promised a significant influx of potential students in a relatively uncompetitive environment, and a shortage of geography teachers in the Atlantic region likely drove this decision. The same rationale could not be applied to Home Economics since six universities in the Maritime Provinces already had programs to produce teachers in home economics. In the end, arguable, the School of Home Economics was most likely to be replaced by other new programs such as Geography due to the fact that it would fit more nicely into the long-term objectives expressed in the Excellence Report.

In conclusion, one of several possible reasons for the temporary closure of the School of Home Economics and resistance to a Family Studies program at Mount Allison would lie in the struggle within the School to find a new path for Home Economics. External pressures such as not-so-bright prospect on student recruitment, criticisms by the faculties outside of the university who addressed the presence of less demanding subject, incoherent nature of the program and the lack of ‘fit' for Home Economics at a liberal arts educational institution, and the development of new programs which better fit in the context of the university objectives at the time, all provide specific reasons for the ultimate discontinuation of the School in 1974. However, those factors should also be considered in the broader social context of the second wave feminism, changing women's roles, and evolution of the social welfare state in Canada.

Appendix: Enrolment of Students at Mount Allison University, 1963-71

(Figures in brackets indicate the numbers of female students)

BA

1963 – 64 (65): 473 (250)
1964 – 65 (66): 490 (255)
1965 – 66 (67): 489 (278)
1966 – 67 (68): 484 (268)
1967 – 68 (69): 517 (280)
1968 – 69 (70): 501 (287)
1969 – 70 (71): 519 (292)
1970 – 71 (72): 535 (290)  

 
BSc

1963 – 64 (65): 231 (34)
1964 – 65 (66): 239 (46)
1965 – 66 (67): 263 (55)
1966 – 67 (68): 300 (69)
1967 – 68 (69): 285 (65)
1968 – 69 (70): 281 (70)
1969 – 70 (71): 291 (67)
1970 – 71 (72): 317 (95)

BEng
 
1963 – 64 (65): 110 (0)
1964 – 65 (66): 106 (1)
1965 – 66 (67): 96 (1)
1966 – 67 (68): 98 (2)
1967 – 68 (69): 90 (0)
1968 – 69 (70): 76 (1)
1969 – 70 (71): 69 (0)
1970 – 71 (72): 52 (0)

 
BComm
 
1963 – 64 (65): 131 (1)
1964 – 65 (66): 131 (4)
1965 – 66 (67): 109 (1)
1966 – 67 (68): 103 (2)
1967 – 68 (69): 111 (1)
1968 – 69 (70): 120 (8)
1969 – 70 (71): 116 (6)
1970 – 71 (72): 120 (6)

 
BFA
 
1963 – 64 (65): 42 (30)
1964 – 65 (66): 37 (24)
1965 – 66 (67): 46 (29)
1966 – 67 (68): 39 (26)
1967 – 68 (69): 48 (30)
1968 – 69 (70): 41 (22)
1969 – 70 (71): 46 (29)
1970 – 71 (72): 45 (27)

 
BA Secretarial
 
1963 – 64 (65): 63 (63)
1964 – 65 (66): 63 (63)
1965 – 66 (67): 55 (55)
1966 – 67 (68): 69 (69)
1967 – 68 (69): 91 (91)
1968 – 69 (70): 68 (68)
1969 – 70 (71): 58 (58)
1970 – 71 (72): 55 (55) 

 
BA Music
 
1963 – 64 (65): 36 (N/A)
1964 – 65 (66): 31 (N/A)
1965 – 66 (67): 37 (N/A)
1966 – 67 (68): 41 (N/A)
1967 – 68 (69): 46 (N/A)
1968 – 69 (70): 32 (18)
1969 – 70 (71): 50 (29)
1970 – 71 (72): 75 (44)
 
   
BSc Home Economics
 
1963 – 64 (65): 65 (65)
1964 – 65 (66): 72 (72)
1965 – 66 (67): 82 (82)
1966 – 67 (68): 66 (66)
1967 – 68 (69): 73 (73)
1968 – 69 (70): 75 (75)
1969 – 70 (71): 87 (87)
1970 – 71 (72): 71 (71)
 
   
BEd
 
1963 – 64 (65): 18 (9)
1964 – 65 (66): 14 (5)
1965 – 66 (67): 14 (7)
1966 – 67 (68): 25 (15)
1967 – 68 (69): 25 (12)
1968 – 69 (70): 28 (13)
1969 – 70 (71): 43 (22)
1970 – 71 (72): 40 (22)
 
   
Theology
 
1963 – 64 (65): 49 (3)
1964 – 65 (66): 45 (2)
1965 – 66 (67): 39 (4)
1966 – 67 (68): 19 (2)
1967 – 68 (69): 17 (2)
1968 – 69 (70): 15 (2)
1969 – 70 (71): 12 (1)
1970 – 71 (72): 12 (1)
 

Footnotes

1. Reid, “The Education of Women at Mount Allison, 1854-1914,” 31.

2. Mount Allison University Archives (hereafter MAA). Senate fonds, 7009. Senate Meeting Minutes. 15 February 1971.

3. Ibid., 22 February 1973.

4. Ibid., 15 November 1973.

5. Alison Prentice et al. Canadian Women: A History. 2nd ed. (Scarborough, ON: Thomson Nelson, 1996). 418.

6. Ibid., 417.

7. Ibid., 474.

8. Ibid., 477.

9. MAA. Department of Home Economics fonds, 8020/3. Report entitled “Suggestions Regarding the Future of Home Economics at Mount Allison University,” p. 2. by Anne Fultz, et al., 10 December 1970.

10. Department of Labour, Canadian Occupations: Careers in Home Economics (Ottawa: Department of Labour, Canada, 1956), 5.

11. MAA. 8020/3, “Suggestions Regarding….” 2.

12. MAA. 8020/3. A Proposal for the Restructuring of the Home Economics Curriculum at Mount Allison University, p. 32. by Elizabeth Feniak, 1972.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., 31.

15. Ibid., 39

16. Ibid., 24-28.

17. Mount Allison University. President’s Report: 1963-64, 36

18. Ibid. 1969-70, 50.

19. MAA. 8020/3. A Proposal for the Restructuring of the Home Economics Curriculum, p. 30.

20. John Reid, Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 Volume II: 1914-1963 (Toronto; Buffalo; London; University of Toronto Press, 1984), 328-9.

21. Mount Allison University. President’s Report: 1963-64, 36.

22. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

23. Ibid.: 1963-64, 36.

24. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

25. Ibid.: 1963-64, 36.

26. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

27. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 Volume II: 1914-1963, 429.

28. Mount Allison University. President’s Report: 1963-64, 36.

29. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

30. Ibid.: 1963-64, 36. to 95 in 1970

31. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

32. Ibid.: 1963-64, 36.

33. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.

34. J.L. Finlay et al., The Structure of Canadian History (Scarborough, ON: Prentice Hall, 2000), 483.

35. MAA. Senate fonds, 7009. Senate Meeting Minutes. 7 December 1973.

36. MAA, 8020/3, “Suggestions Regarding….” 6-8.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid, 12.

39. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 Volume II: 1914-1963, 303.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. MAA, 8020/3, “Suggestions Regarding….” .6-8

43. Ibid., 17.

44. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 Volume II: 1914-1963, 336.

45. Ibid., 336.

46. Ibid., 339.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid., 337.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid.

52. MAA. Department of Home Economics fonds, 8020/11. John Macfarlane to Dr. Elizabeth Feniak. 6 February 1974.

53. Ibid.

54. MAA Senate fonds, 7009, Senate Meeting Minutes. 15 November 1973.

55. Ibid.

56. Ibid., 14 March 1969.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid., 28 April 28 1969.

59. Ibid., 8 October 1969.

60. MAA, Senate fonds, 7009, Senate Meeting Minutes, 8 October 1969.

61. Ibid.

62. Ibid.

63. Ibid.

64. MAA, 8020/3, “A Proposal…”. 31.

65. Mount Allison University. President’s Report: 1963-64, 18, 36. 

66. Ibid.: 1964-65, 31, 47.

67. Ibid.: 1965-66, 41, 61.

68. Ibid.: 1966-67, 42, 60.

69. Ibid.: 1967-68, 45, 77.

70. Ibid.: 1968-69, 46.

71. Ibid.: 1969-70, 49.

72. Ibid.: 1970-71, 62.
  

Bibliography
 
Canada. Department of Labour. Canadian Occupation: Careers in Home Economics, March 1956.

Finlay, J.L. et al., The Structure of Canadian History. Scarborough, ON: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1963-64. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1964-65. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1965-66. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1966-67. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1967-68. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1968-69. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1969-70. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University. President's Report: 1970-71. Sackville, NB: Mount Allison University.

Mount Allison University Archives. Department of Home Economics fonds, 8020.

Mount Allison University Archives. Senate fonds, 7009.

Prentice, Allison. et al. Canadian Women: A History. 2nd ed. Scarborough, ON: Thomson Nelson, 1996.

Reid, John. Mount Allison University: A History, to 1963 Volume II: 1914-1963. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Reid, John. “The Education of Women at Mount Allison, 1854-1914.” Acadiensis XII no.2.