Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

March 17, 1924

The faculty recognized euthenics as a satisfactory field for sequential study (major). A Division of Euthenics was authorized to offer a multidisciplinary program focusing the techniques and disciplines of the arts, sciences and social sciences on the life experiences and relationships of women. Students in euthenics could take courses in horticulture, food chemistry, sociology and statistics, education, child study, economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology and domestic architecture and furniture. With the new division came the first major in child study at an American liberal arts college.

Ellen Swallow Richards ’1870 defined euthenics in The Cost of Shelter (1905) as both the “science of better living” and “the art of better living.” The program, stemming from Richards’s work, was primarily the creation of President MacCracken and Julia Lathrop ’70, with the support of Minnie Cumnock Blodgett ’84 and her husband, who donated $550,000 in 1925, primarily for the construction of the Euthenics Building, later called Blodgett Hall. When it opened in 1926 a stone dedication tablet in the entrance archway stated the building’s purpose: “To Encourage the Application of the Arts and Sciences to the Betterment of Human Living.”

President MacCracken subsequenty offered a further definition. “It is an endeavor to answer the criticism that women’s higher education does not have anything to do with her principal occupation, the family. We are not training cooks; we are not training welfare workers. We are giving women a liberal outlook upon the problem of the modern home in society…. ‘Euthenics’ is taken from the Greek, meaning ‘good adjustment of life…. ’ Other educators hailed the idea as a breakthrough in higher education. An article in Pictorial Review called the new program “one of the few modern attempts to differentiate women’s education from that of men without the slightest sacrifice of intellectual interest.”


But critics faulted the new program as a weakening of science and a slide into vocationalism. The influential educator and historian of education, Abraham Flexner—one of the founders of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study—attacked the program, along with other “ad hoc” innovations like intercollegiate athletics and student governments, in Universities, American, English, German (1930). “Well, what is euthenics? Euthenics is the ‘science of efficient living;’ and the ‘science’ is artificially pieced together of bits of mental hygiene, child guidance, nutrition, speech development and correction, family problems, wealth consumption, food preparation, household technology, and horticulture…. The institute is actually justified in an official publication by the profound question of a girl student who is reported as asking, ‘What is the connection of Shakespeare with having a baby?’ The Vassar Institute of Euthenics bridges this gap!”

Chemistry professor Annie Louise Macleod was appointed director of euthenics in June 1923. She was succeeded by Professor Ruth Wheeler ’99, who served from 1924 to 1944 and Professor Mary Fisher Langmuir ’20, who was director of the program from 1944 until 1951.

The Years