Ellen Swallow Richards


Ellen Swallow Richards


Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards was born in 1842 in Massachusetts and was an industrial and safety engineer, environmental chemist, and university faculty member. She founded the home economics movement and was the first to apply the mathematical concepts of chemistry to practical approaches to nutrition and diet.

Richards was home schooled at first and graduated from Westford Academy in 1862, then went on to Vassar college, graduating in 1870. She was then the first woman admitted into MIT, graduating in 1873, and became their first female instructor. In 1884 she became an instructor at the newly founded laboratory of sanitary chemistry at the Lawrence Experiment Station.

She performed extensive water pollution research in the state, leading Massachusetts to establish the first water-quality standards in America. In an effort to educate women in the sciences, she published a series of books intended for use in the home, including The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning, which was published in 1882. Her 1885 book Food Materials and Their Adulterations was largely responsible for the passing of the first Pure Food and Drug Act in Massachusetts. She started a privizated school lunch program in 1894 in Boston, which led to similar lunch programs in other cities. Among other notable achievements, Richards was chosen as the first president of the American Home Economics Association in 1908. She died in 1911 after suffering from angina.

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