Creating Consumers

Home Economists in Twentieth-Century America

By Carolyn M. Goldstein

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 halftones, 1 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2214-9
    Published: December 2014
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7238-3
    Published: May 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7196-1
    Published: May 2012

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Home economics emerged at the turn of the twentieth century as a movement to train women to be more efficient household managers. At the same moment, American families began to consume many more goods and services than they produced. To guide women in this transition, professional home economists had two major goals: to teach women to assume their new roles as modern consumers and to communicate homemakers' needs to manufacturers and political leaders. Carolyn M. Goldstein charts the development of the profession from its origins as an educational movement to its identity as a source of consumer expertise in the interwar period to its virtual disappearance by the 1970s.

Working for both business and government, home economists walked a fine line between educating and representing consumers while they shaped cultural expectations about consumer goods as well as the goods themselves. Goldstein looks beyond 1970s feminist scholarship that dismissed home economics for its emphasis on domesticity to reveal the movement's complexities, including the extent of its public impact and debates about home economists' relationship to the commercial marketplace.

About the Author

Carolyn M. Goldstein is Public History and Community Archives Program Manager at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is also the author of Do It Yourself: Home Improvement in Twentieth-Century America.
For more information about Carolyn M. Goldstein, visit the Author Page.


“General readers and researchers will appreciate Goldstein’s attention to detail and ability to clearly communicate this complex subject. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers.”--Choice

“Goldstein argues that home economics, and the professionals who practiced it, had a profound impact on American culture. . . . Arranged chronologically, and parallel within time periods, the book details the careers of women in this burgeoning field.”--The Annals of Iowa

“Goldstein offers a rich contribution to the fields of business, political, consumer, and women’s history (especially women and science). In this well-written chronicle, she simultaneously broadens and deepens our understanding of the intersection of home economics and women’s consumerism.”--American Historical Review

“In uncovering the pivotal role of home economists in the creation of our consumer economy, [Goldstein] adroitly draws out the philosophies that shaped the field and the goals of the leaders who envisioned a new role for women in the twentieth century.”--Technology and Culture

“A major contribution to women’s studies and the histories of consumer culture, business, and the twentieth-century state.”--Journal of Social History

"This timely book challenges the literature on consumer culture to think in more nuanced terms about the meaning of 'consumer' and 'housewife.' Goldstein combines analyses of the role of the state, corporate product development, the history of food, and gender to create a full history of the shaping of public as well as private market policy."--Susan Levine, University of Illinois at Chicago