Human Ecology Celebrates 100 Years

They don’t call it “home ec” anymore, but the University of Manitoba’s faculty of human ecology is beginning its second century with renewed government support.

The faculty recently held its 100th anniversary celebrations, which were highlighted by the announcement of a $100,000 fund that will generate scholarships for students pursuing degrees in human ecology, science, health studies, or health sciences.

There should be plenty of worthy candidates for the scholarships, worth about $2,000 each, as there are currently about 500 undergrads in the program. About one-tenth are foreign students and 10 per cent are males.

The funding acknowledges the significant contributions the faculty has made to improving human health and expanding agricultural market opportunities over the decades, said NDP MP Erna Braun, who brought greetings on behalf of Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers.

The centennial celebration attracted about 350 former grads, who went on to do everything from researching the health benefits of canola oil to extension work among rural households.

“You brought knowledge of engineering and medicine into households, and influenced community lives,” said faculty dean, Gustaaf Sevenhuysen.

The faculty began in 1910 with a diploma program, in what was then called household sciences, at the Manitoba Agricultural College. It became a degree program in 1918, and over the years the school was variously known as the division of home economics, the school of home economics, and departments of food and nutrition and clothing and textiles. Home economics was finally granted official faculty status in 1970, becoming the present-day faculty of human ecology in 1981.

It was nearly closed in the early 1990s but was saved by a strong lobbying effort, notably by Manitoba Women’s Institute. The provincial women’s group was organized the same year as the diploma program began, and provided grassroots venues through which extension home economists delivered “household science” education to rural women.

Early studies were focused on all aspects of housekeeping, with a curriculum that included home sanitation (drainage, plumbing, heating and ventilation), household handicrafts such as wood finishing, varnishing, soldering and glazing), home nursing (first aid, caring for the sick), home furnishing, and record keeping.

Today, students study family social sciences, human nutritional sciences, textile sciences, health studies or health sciences. Then, as now, the emphasis was to teach science-based skills for improving people’s lives, said Sevenhuysen.

While today’s curriculum is vastly different, “our values have not changed in the last 100 years,” he said.

Graduates find their wide range of practical studies makes them highly employable in many fields, from public policy-making and food research to community development and international work, said Sevenhuysen.

The centennial celebration included the screening of a documentary of the faculty’s history, highlighting the work of graduates and reflections of former students. A PowerPoint display showcased 100 “star graduates” nominated by peers.

Class of ’76 graduate Lynda Richard enjoyed hearing stories of the days when students looked after a live infant in what was known as the faculty’s practice house.

Richard was one of the last “practice house babies” brought to school by her mother, who was a married student in the faculty in the early 1950s.

Being permitted to bring a baby to school was unusual for an era when women seldom pursued their studies or careers after marriage, said Richard.

“It was very forward thinking for the times,” she said. [email protected]

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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