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Ruth at Simmons

The School of Household Economics

Even when home economics students did focus on cooking, they learned physics and chemistry along the way. Their classrooms were even referred to as laboratories.1

Ruth Dorcas Gates pursued a one-year certificate in the Teaching of Domestic Art, which was a program under the School of Household Economics. The School of Household Economics itself underwent a variety of changes during the time it existed at Simmons. It was established with the founding of the college in 1902, and its earliest teaching staff came from schools of housekeeping, so the program focused largely on cooking and kitchen work. In 1912, Mary S. Woolman was appointed temporary director of the School of Household Economics and reorganized classes so that less curriculum time was spent on cooking. In 1925, the college acquired the Pilgrim House, which gave students of the School a space where they could practice marketing and bookkeeping. Over a period of different directors between 1902 and 1933, the focus of the school gradually changed. The focus of instruction began to change from food preparation to management, nutrition, and dietetics, and in the School's other main division, which had emphasized training in needlework, more attention was given to the drafting of clothing, the structure and testing of fabrics, and the application of the principles of color and design to costume and house furnishings.2 Thus, by the time Ruth was a student at Simmons, the focus had broadened beyond the School's beginnings.

Ruth's Curriculum

The Simmons Announcement of Courses for the 1922-1923 school year describes the one-year program in the Teaching of Domestic Art as directed to students who wished to teach in public or private schools, and open to students who had at least two years of satisfactory educational training subsequent to high school, which could include college or normal school together with experience in teaching. However, it was stated that candidates must have had some elementary training in plain sewing. A personal interview with the Director of the School, or letters of recommendation, and a photograph, were required before admission.3 The program consisted of three terms, and the classes were made up of the subjects clothing, design, and household economics. Common exam questions can be seen below.

Ruth lived in a similar but different world. The Design questions about what colors are best for a dark brunette with sallow skin, a black haired type with clear complexion and a great deal of color, and a red haired blend might be unthinkable in a public or private university today. The questions are symptomatic of the fixation all peoples have had on teaching proper taste.

Ruth maintained a membership in the American Home Economics Association and taught cooking after she left Simmons. A note of thanks from her students appears among the papers she kept in her scrapbook.

Gates had undeniably built a bond with her students.


1Frederick W. Kent, “Students cooking in a home economics laboratory and classroom, The University of Iowa, 1920’s.” Iowa Digital Library, Last Modified June 16, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/uiowa/8054711844/ on March 23, 2017.

2 Kenneth L. Mark, Delayed by Fire: Being the Early History of Simmons College. (Concord: Rumford Press, 1945), 112.

3 Announcement of Courses. The Simmons College Archive. Simmons College (Boston, MA).