What We Remember About Home Economics -- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

What We Remember About Home Economics -- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Girls decorating cake in home economics class, late 1950s or early 1960s. (Photo by Mark Jay Goebel/Getty Images)
Girls decorating cake in home economics class, late 1950s or early 1960s. (Photo by Mark Jay Goebel/Getty Images)

There was a time when "home economics" meant something other than the family budget. To young teens in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it meant a school class where the girls were taught to cook and sew -- life skills for being homemakers -- and the boys learned to build things. The classes were generally segregated by gender, although social pressure eventually broke down that barrier. Everyone has a "Home Ec" story, whether it be all the unhealthy foods we were taught to make (be sure and slather butter on that bread before you make grilled cheese!) or simply the silliness of making an arrow-shaped tie rack. We asked our Huff/Post50 Facebook friends and others to share some of their favorite, albeit dated, Home Ec memories.

For those of us who went to Maple Avenue Elementary School in Newark, N.J., the story was always Mrs. Steinberg, a lovely woman who taught her charges how to make Welsh Rarebit and sew aprons. This writer had her in 7th and 8th grades. Sandra Murgacz noted that she must have been in my class, because we remember all the same details. Mrs. Steinberg was missing several fingers (or at least one) -- which, without a single word spoken, motivated all the girls to be extremely careful around the sewing machine. As Murgacz noted, "We never asked about her finger(s). We were kind. She was discreet."

In cooking, Murgacz recalls, "we had to use a white candle to rub on our 3x5 (recipe) file cards to protect them." (Note to self: Candle wax still works as a protectant.) Linda Bodzin Coppleson remembers making a potato and hard boiled egg casserole with Miss Livingston at Chancellor Ave. School, also in Newark, NJ. Our schools were always rivals and we all went to Weequahic High.

Some of us took our Home Ec class more seriously than others. Joni Tucker Sherwood learned to make peanut brittle in Home Ec in 7th and 8th grade and still makes batches of it every Christmas. She writes, "I have the original ditto recipe our teacher handed out. And my jumper…I don't have it, but boy do I remember how painful it was to make it. It had facing around the neck and armholes… Awful to stitch. What memories you've conjured up!"

And Shockingly Delicious food blogger Dorothy Reinhold notes that she "Got an A damn plus in Home Ec, baby!" She said, "I made the apron, I baked the banana bread, and then I went on to make clothing for myself based on those skills, and to use what I learned in the kitchen for my whole life!"

Peggy Barrett said she still uses what she learned on a daily basis -- "mostly how to set the table correctly. Haha." Vivian Dobbins still remembers how to measure and read pattern directions carefully. She thanks Home Ec for teaching her how to take out seams and redo them when she doesn't follow those directions. "Actually I learned a lot in Home-Ec," she said.

But it was not universally loved. Louise Butler "can still remember the order of dishes in the cupboard we were required to memorize, and the correct order to wash dishes." She recalls being the only girl in the sewing class who had to wear clothes they hadn't made in the mandatory fashion show. Yeah, that bad.

A bit more cynical was Ron Morse, who noted that "Home Ec [was] where you got a degree in Domestic Engineering...haha." Perhaps for some, Ron. But writes Mimi Broihier "I learned the fine exact skill of baking brownies. They wouldn't let me take shop in junior high in the early 70s. In high school, I wanted to take auto shop and my Dad wouldn't let me. The school would also not let me be on stage crew for plays. I couldn't understand it."

Carole Nunes noted that when she was in school, "girls were Home Ec and guys were shop." Fond memories? Not exactly. "I dreaded it!!' she said. "However, I did learn a great stitch for hemming which has come in handy. I did learn to enjoy sewing though and sewed clothes for my daughters and myself. Wow. I guess I'm more domestic than I thought."

Bonnie Forward noted that when she was in school, the class was not co-ed. Home Ec was where she "learned to abhor sewing."

But times changed and Home Ec class along with it. Yvette Desmarais was able to take wood shop and still remembers the skills she learned there. Pamela Stock Newhart took both shop class AND home ec. Lori Jefferson Foster reports that they experimented with her 9th grade class. "We all had to take 9 weeks each of sewing, cooking, wood shop and drafting. Can't say I remember much but it was fun."

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