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Home Economics

International Contributions

Over the years, home economists in other countries have contributed significantly to strengthening programs aimed at women, families, and children (O'Toole and Nelson 1988), and to formally and informally educating women, increasing understanding and appreciation of other cultures, improving public health, and improving the process of introducing change (O'Toole et al. 1988). Home economists in the United States began to become involved outside their country at the start of the twentieth century when mission boards hired graduates to assist in establishing home economics Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards was the first president of the American Home Economics Association.THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS departments in schools and colleges in other countries to improve the living conditions of the people with whom the missionaries worked (O'Toole and Nelson 1988).

Several professional organizations also have facilitated international involvement. The International Federation of Home Economics, IFHE; the American Home Economics Association (now the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, AAFCS); and the American Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, AASULGC (now the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, NASULGC) have been active internationally. The IFHE is the only international nongovernmental professional organization concerned with home economics as a whole. Founded in 1908 in Friburg, Switzerland, IFHE brings together institutions, organizations, associations, and individuals from more than 110 countries worldwide to further the mission of home economics. IFHE has been involved with several United Nations Conferences on Women, including the 1995 Beijing conference. It has consultative status with UCOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council), UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund), and other United Nations and international agencies. IFHE also cooperates with other international nongovernmental organizations related to home economics to strengthen and promote home economics concerns and exchange information (Davis 1999).

The AHEA's affiliation with IFHE began in 1915 (Nelson 1984), only a few years after its own 1909 founding. More extensive involvement began in 1922 when AHEA sent delegates to the Third International Congress in Paris (Davis 1999). This European professional work influenced the early development of home economics in the United States, discouraging emphasis on mere techniques and increasing attention to the thought patterns involved in education for family life. After the 1958 IFHE Congress in Maryland, U.S. memberships, attendance at congresses, and participation on the elected IFHE Council increased (Nelson 1984).

The AHEA published a steady stream of articles in its journals and multiple nonserial publications; it has also adopted almost twenty resolutions on international topics resulting from its members' international work. The association sent teachers to China in 1915, to Europe for home economics teacher exchanges after World War I, and to Turkey in 1920 to facilitate university program development. By 1959 more than 100 home economists were serving overseas (Davis 1999). In the 1960s and 1970s, home economists worked in multilateral efforts in such United Nations agencies as FAO, WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF, ILO (International Labor Organization), and UNESCO. The AHEA was an invited member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in the 1960s and 1980s.

Work of home economists from the United States with international visitors and students here and abroad has clearly had an impact on families bilaterally. Perhaps the greatest globally has resulted from AHEA/AAFCS sponsorship, beginning in 1930, of hundreds of international students who sought to do graduate study in the United States (Nelson 1984). Recipients have come from a wide variety of countries to study in various institutions, and many returned home to take leadership positions.

Since its creation in 1976, the AHEA/AAFCS International Section has conducted many national and international workshops and international projects. It has cooperated with other association sections and divisions, producing publications, working with many other national and international organizations, and facilitating contacts for members wanting to be internationally involved (Davis 1999). For example, concern about world population growth and hunger prompted AHEA collaboration with USAID (Agency for International Development), UN agencies, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to initiate the International Family Planning Project that served thirty countries in the 1970s (Davis 1999; O'Toole and Nelson 1988). Other efforts included the Inter-American Commission on Women and foreign government collaborations. The necessity of developing U.S. global appreciation led to the AHEAUSAID Global Connections project. In it, home economists developed country profiles on daily life in thirteen countries to teach thousands of students, members, and adult education program participants more about the world. In the 1980s and 1990s the demand for professionals overseas with multi- and bilateral agencies declined, but educational institution study and research opportunities grew (Davis 1999).

As a higher education administrators' organization, AASULGC/NASULGC members encouraged their faculty and extension specialists to do international work. They sponsored conferences funded through U.S. government programs and universities. The early government aid programs influenced the education, role, and status of women in other countries and helped to create an awareness of the meaning of home economics and its value to individuals and families. The Pan American Union (renamed The Organization of American States in 1948) opened opportunities between the 1930s and 1950s for extension home economists to help rural families train local leaders (O'Toole and Nelson 1988). In the 1940s, U.S. foreign aid to Europe and developing countries provided home economists with assignments in Greece and Turkey as consultants and advisors, helping to establish home economics extension and college programs. In post-World War II Europe (1948–1950), home economists were an important part of the Marshall Plan Economic Recovery Program, working in conjunction with the U.S. government, the YWCA, YMCA, and the Fulbright exchange program. Home economists continue to participate in Fulbright programs. During the Kennedy administration home economists were involved in USAID, the Peace Corps, and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America. After 1955 a shift in U.S. foreign aid brought requests for assistance in establishing home economics in schools at all levels and extension community development programs in India and Pakistan.

The strength and vitality of home economics varies worldwide. In Asia, it is strong in higher education. Advances are being made in many Asian countries; research is being conducted, and the discipline is attracting significant numbers of young people. In Latin America there are few units in higher education institutions, but more at the intermediate level in teacher-training programs. However, both Brazil and Colombia have strong higher education programs. In Central and Eastern Europe, home economics training is growing as a result of work done by the IFHE Committee on Outreach.


Brown, M. M., and Paolucci, B. (1979). Home Economics: A Definition. Washington, DC: American Home Economics Association.

Davis, M. L. (1999). "'International' in AAFCS: A New Perspective." Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 91(5):15–19.

Green, K. B. (1990). "Our Intellectual Ecology: A Treatise on Home Economics." Journal of Home Economics 82(Fall):41–47.

Leidenfrost, N. B., ed. (1992). Families in Transition. Vienna: International Federation of Home Economics.

Nelson, L. (1984). "International Ventures." In Definitive Themes in Home Economics and Their Impact on Families 1909–1984. Washington, DC: American Home Economics Association.

Nickols, S. Y. (2001). "Keeping the Betty Lamp Burning." Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 93(3):35–44.

O'Toole, L.; Mallory, B.; and Nelson, L., eds. (1988). The International Heritage of Home Economics in the United States. Washington, DC: American Home Economics Association.

O'Toole, L., and Nelson, L. (1988). "United States Government and Private International Programs and Funding Influencing Involvement of Home Economists in International Programs." In The International Heritage of Home Economics in the United States. Washington, DC: American Home Economics Association.

Richards, V. (2000). "The Postmodern Perspective on Home Economics History." Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 92(1):8–11.

Stage, S., and Vincenti, V. B. (1997). Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsHome Economics - Scholarship And Practice, International Contributions