Richards, Ellen Henrietta

Richards, Ellen Henrietta (b. Swallow)

(1842–1911) chemist, sanitation engineer, educator, home economist; born in Dunstable, Mass. She graduated from Vassar and then became the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); after graduating from there (1873) she was refused a doctorate but in 1876 she established and taught at the Woman's Laboratory at MIT. She also set up programs in the Boston public schools to prepare young women for education in the sciences. Finally admitted to the regular MIT faculty when women were admitted to regular classes, she taught sanitary chemistry there (1884–1911); after conducting a pioneer survey of Massachusetts' inland waterways (1878–90), she established the first program in sanitary engineering at MIT. In her later years she also became a leader in establishing a scientific basis for home economics, with such projects as her studies in the adulteration of groceries and the arsenic content in wallpaper and fabrics, as well as her promotion of good nutrition. She conceived and directed the Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics (1899–1908), which coined the term "home economics" and developed standards for training professionals. Although she published various works, including The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning (1882) and Food Materials and Their Adulteration (1885), her major claim to fame now rests on her having opened up scientific education and professions to women.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.