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During fall term 2023 Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!

This post was written by Madison Stoops.

The United States’ entrance into World War II halted life on campus for many students. Oregon State College, as it was known at the time, was no different. The institution that once focused solely on the education of its students, shifted gears, and began to focus on assisting in the war effort. No school on campus was left unchanged in this new pursuit, but in the halls of history, little attention has been paid to the contributions made by the School of Home Economics. The School of Home Economics of Oregon State College helped in the war effort through its involvement in various nutrition programs that addressed the nutritional needs of a public taxed by the stresses of war.

Initially established in 1889, the School of Home Economics predates the history of Oregon State University as we know it today.[1] Seemingly, the department did not grow large enough to be considered a school until the year 1908, where I found the first mention of the shift from department to school.[2] Although the School of Home Economics currently does not exist in any official regards and has not since 2002, when it “merged with the College of Health and Human Performance, thereby forming the College of Health and Human Sciences,” traces of its legacy can still be seen throughout the Corvallis campus.[3] Notably by Milam Hall, renamed in honor of Ava Milam, the Dean of the School of Home Economics, in 1976.[4]

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Photograph of the Home Economics Building, taken in 1917. Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon State University. “Home Economics Building” Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-12-10. https://oregondigital.org/concern/images/df70cz46b

The Biennial Report for the School of Home Economics from around mid-WWII initially sparked my interest in this research topic. It provides interesting details on how the ongoing war affected the School of Home Economics at Oregon State College. Ava Milam wrote in her 1942-43 and 1943-44 Biennial Report, “Despite the effect of the war on college attendance in general, the School of Home Economics has maintained its peace-time enrollment.”[5] The only data I can locate that mentions precise information regarding student enrollment in the School of Home Economics for one year, comes from 1940 and it cites there being 700 attendees.[6] This lack of change in attendance level made the school stand out in comparison to the other Schools at Oregon State College, and it is doubly impressive when one considers the number of women who were leaving education to pursue war jobs.[7] Even though the school was unaffected in terms of enrollment, the same could not be said for their access to materials. The program found difficultly in replacing essential items needed for Home Economics courses. Particularly for the “Clothing and Textiles department,” which had to change how their materials were utilized during this time.[8] This was just one of the many changes brought upon Home Economics by the war.

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Photograph of Ava Milam, the Dean of the School of Home Economics. OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University. “Ava Milam Clark” Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-12-10. https://oregondigital.org/concern/images/df70ck20x

Arguably Ava Milam brought the most changes to Home Economics at Oregon State College. Milam joined the college in 1911 initially to serve as the “head of the Department of Domestic Science.”[9] She later became the Dean of the School of Home Economics from 1917 to 1950.[10] During Milam’s time at Oregon State College, nutrition and Home Economics became linked, no doubt in large part because of her dual positions as both the Dean of the School of Home Economics and as chairperson of the Nutrition-for-Defense program.[11] This trend continued on, and under her leadership in the 1920’s and 1930s, the focus on nutrition within home economics was greatly expanded upon, with classes offered in “nutrition of the infant and child” of note.[12] Just about a little over half a year before the US entered WWII, Milam went to “the inaugural National Nutrition Conference.”[13] Milam’s early interest in furthering the spread of nutrition education certainly would come in handy when, during the war, she would go on to lead Oregon’s nutrition program.[14] This was an impressive show of leadership under such trying times.

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Home Economics and Nutrition. OSU Special Collections & Archives Research Center, Oregon State University. “Nutrition demonstration for mothers and infants” Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-12-10. https://oregondigital.org/concern/images/df70d2596

This link between home economics and nutrition was further strengthened during the outbreak of World War II when the Nutrition for Defense program entered the forefront. In Milam’s own words, the program “gave a refresher course for Red Cross nutrition teachers and participated in the work of a state nutrition committee for coordinating all nutrition projects in furthering war mobilization.”[15] Community outreach through instruction on proper eating habits also became a prime mode of supporting the war effort. In this spirit, OSC offered public classes related to nutrition.[16] A quick glance at the Oregon State College catalog from 1944-45 also demonstrates this dedication to the community with a course called “Community Problems in Nutrition.”[17] Additionally, with the scarcity of resources during the war, the nutrition courses offered at OSC began to focus on reducing waste.[18]

Though World War II put a pause on much of campus life, it did not slow down the School of Home Economics. Under Milam’s leadership the school thrived and went above and beyond in aiding in the war effort on the home front. Noticing the lack of proper nutrition education in the community during the war, the Home Economics faculty took charge and filled the gaps present in public knowledge. They achieved this through providing accessible public courses on nutrition and by training essential professionals. It cannot be understated how much of an impact OSC’s School of Home Economics had on the war effort.

[1] “Home Economics at Oregon State,” Oregon State University, History of Home Economics at Oregon State – Home Economics at Oregon State – LibGuides at Oregon State University

[2] “Home Economics at Oregon State.”

[3] “Home Economics at Oregon State.”

[4] Milam Hall – OSU Buildings Histories in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center – LibGuides at Oregon State University.

[5] Biennial Report School of Home Economics Biennium 1942-43 and 1943-44, Special Collections and Archives Research Center (hereafter SCARC) Box 9 Folder 9, p.1.

[6] “Home Economics at Oregon State.”

[7] Taylor Jaworski, “’You’re in the Army Now:’ The Impact of World War II on Women’s Education, Work, and Family,” The Journal of Economic History 74 no.4 (2014):175-176, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24550554.

[8] Biennial Report School of Home Economics Biennium 1942-43 and 1943-44, SCARC, Box 9 Folder 9, p.1.

[9] “Oregon State University College and Department Histories: Home Economics History” Oregon Digital, https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/df71wk95q

[10] “Home Economics History.”

[11]  Oregon State University Yearbooks, Oregon State University. “The Beaver 1943” Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-12-13, https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx719t41x.

[12] Ava Milam, Sixty Years of Growth in Home Economics (Oregon State Board of Higher Education, 1950), 6-15.

[13] William G. Robbins, The People’s School: A History of Oregon State University (Corvallis: Oregon State Press, 2017), 162.

[14] Robbins, The People’s School, 161.

[15] Milam, Sixty Years of Growth in Home Economics, 7.

[16] “Nutrition Expert to Teach Subject,” Oregon State Barometer, March 31, 1942.

[17] Oregon State College, Oregon State System of Higher Education Catalogs 1944-45, 262-63.

[18] “Biennial Report of Oregon State College, 1941-1942” p.65, Oregon Digital, https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx71d395d