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SPOTLIGHT
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K-State marks milestone

Published on -5/30/2013, 8:36 AM

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"It's a great time to be at K-State."

That's what my son said on the day of his graduation, referring to the university's 150th birthday this year, topped off by Big 12 championships in three sports: football, men's basketball and baseball.

There are lots of reasons to celebrate Kansas State University. But in addition to those my son had in mind, there is another noteworthy birthday to celebrate. As a proud alumnus, I'd like to point out the KSU College of Human Ecology turns 140 this year.

In 1863, just two years after Kansas entered the Union, a little school called Bluemont College in Manhattan became Kansas State Agricultural College. It was the first land-grant institution in the United States, fulfilling the mandated mission to educate rural people in practical studies.

Ten years later, college President John Anderson organized the college into three units -- one for the students who wished to be farmers (agriculture), one for those who wanted to be "mechanics or industrialists" (engineering), and one for the "young ladies" (first known as Domestic Science, now Human Ecology.)

Anderson was ahead of his time on the American frontier. He believed a woman should be educated, despite the prevailing attitude of the day that declared education was "physically harmful" for females.

The first group of 12 women in 1873 learned sewing, dressmaking and millinery. The students even learned to assemble and disassemble the college's one sewing machine. These classes are believed to be the first in America to give academic credit for women at a land-grant college.

Nine years later, Nellie Kedzie became the first female department head at Kansas State Agricultural College. She was an influential national leader, building the K-State program and later similar programs in Illinois and Wisconsin. Kedzie Hall at KSU, completed in 1898, is believed to be the first structure built for home economics in the world. It was named for Kedize, who personally lobbied the Kansas Legislature for the $16,000 needed for the building and equipment.

By 1908, the department had grown to include courses in domestic science (home management, food instruction, home nursing, home sanitation, house building and furnishings) and domestic art (clothing design and construction). It was renamed as the Division of Home Economics in 1912. A cafeteria, opened to feed students, served as a learning laboratory for institutional management students, and a nursery school was added as part of the new child welfare program. According to documents from the College of Human Ecology, during this period Mary P. Van Zile, "taught a class in table manners to senior men for 25 cents, meal included."

During the 30-year leadership of Dean Margaret Justin, the program grew to 500 students in four departments where 24 faculty members offered 52 technical courses, including a certificate of public health and a masters degree in home economics. Justin Hall -- opened in 1959 -- was "top of the line" and included air conditioning, 28 teaching labs, 23 research labs and a lecture hall that seated 220.

In 1985, the college became Human Ecology. The name change reflected the changing times. According to Dean Barbara Stowe, "the term 'home economics' served the profession well when graduates were educated to serve the home as the center of production. But when families mostly purchased goods and services in the marketplace, graduates became professional designers of those goods and services with knowledge of the needs and desires of those being served."

From its humble beginnings on the Kansas prairie, the "women's program" grew to prominence. Kansas State University has more buildings named for women than any other public institution in the United States. Now, 140 years later, the KSU College of Human Ecology serves more than 3,000 students, both men and women. According to retiring Dean Virginia Moxley, "Human Ecology graduates are immersed into the culture and practice of the profession, they have broad learning experiences in diverse settings, and they share a concern for human significance as one of their core values."

Happy birthday, College of Human Ecology. Congratulations on 140 years of educating students to serve the needs of people and families, throughout Kansas and around the world. As the motto says, "In a world focused on things, we focus first on people."

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu

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