Coeds and t-squares: Interior design education and home economics

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Home economics, a distinctive and historically important discipline long hidden from view, deserves a place within the history of interior design education. Women educators from wide-ranging disciplines carried the mantle of approaches to the design of the home that placed humans at the center of that work. Most of this work unfolded at land-grant institutions with extension missions to assist a rapidly developing American nation in two seminal periods. At the turn of the twentieth-century, home economics (and interior design along with it) in its infancy, connected the domestic economy and professionalized, resulting in the establishment of programs in colleges and universities to teach (largely) women the basic principles of managing a home. At the mid-twentieth century, when home economics perhaps was at its zenith in the decades of the postwar period, co-eds took up their t-squares and activated the practice of design bringing their education to the dream house suburban landscape of the mid-century, where houses served as laboratories for scientific approaches to home economy and students explored social and cultural dimensions of the practice of design in greater depth. In this period, interior design education – institutionalized on more than a dozen campuses in home economics departments and colleges – became increasingly disciplined and professionalized. Theory turned to practice for some interior design programs and approaches, including the establishment of home management houses located on or near college campuses for students to experiment in the real world. Despite these important contributions to the development of both discipline and profession, design departments with home economics legacies find themselves often swept into a hidden aspect of institutional culture, underscoring the greater challenge in seeing home economics as a legitimate birthright for the disciplined places that those studying, researching, and practicing interior design find themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShaping the American Interior
Subtitle of host publicationStructures, Contexts and Practices
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315520728
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 selection and editorial matter, Paula Lupkin and Penny Sparke; individual chapters, the contributors.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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