The whole "home economics" idea, which in my day was only for female students, was not intended to make women a slave to the kitchen but rather came about from a change in how women shopped for their family. Before the 19th century, except for the most privileged of the wealthy, women were producers of household items, including food and clothing, rather than consumers. So the early home economics classes focused on education for purchasing decisions, as well as health and hygiene in the home. What actual knowledge was imparted was often limited though, by school budgets and the quality of the teachers. I have friends of my same age group that learned nothing more than how to make things out of hamburger and cans Not in my home ec class. We learned to make things the way generations ago did.
I recognized a bit of that. Most of us were lucky in that we were raised by Mom's themselves raised in the 40's and 50's when money was tight and things were made to last. My Mom came through lean times in the Depression, her Dad killed in a logging accident, with no insurance, leaving a widow and three kids to feed. My grandma somehow got my Mom through college, unheard of in that day, wherein Mom got a job that paid enough to put her two younger brothers through, while Grandma worked full time as well. She and my grandma both then, learned to work with that same efficiency of movement, that might be considered detached would you not recognize it as simply being the beautiful efficiency of machinery.
If an item of wear, needed repair, Mom knew how to do it. I however wasn't too keen on learning.
You see, I liked to cook, because, I like to eat. I'd spend hours with my Mom, helping prepare the meal, if only to set the table while I watched her work. To me, cooking was like playing with the chemistry set, how fun to see how things are formed, how ingredients interact and take on whole other forms, and even better if you can eat the results. But I had no interest in sewing, crocheting or knitting, making decorative pillows or embroidering a tea towel. I'd rather be out in the shop with my Dad or playing with model trains or control line aircraft. To say that I discovered that if you don't FEED your Betsy Wetsy Doll, she doesn't wet, gives you some idea of my mindset with "girl stuff".
Let's just say I was not too excited about Home Ec. that first year, though I respected my teacher as I was taught to. I just kept quiet, and sewed my silly pink apron with my name embroidered on the pocket. I did buttons and hems, though I got a D in "snaps" just because I was obstinate. I learned how to darn a sock. I sort of giggled at that, as in my home you said "darn" instead of "damn". Actually "damn" would have been the more appropriate word to what I did to those socks.
But Miss Heidenreich taught us all of the basics. Unlike other classes, we weren't learning how to make casseroles with soup or 101 ways to use canned Crescent Rolls. The cooking was not anything out of a can, and there were some things we learned to make that were not very popular with us. What 8th grader wants to make and eat stewed prunes or unseasoned boiled chicken for meat and broth. What about brownies and pizza? But later, many years later, caring for the elderly, such things came in useful. I could cook for restricted diets, I could make bread, I could make a white sauce instead of an expensive can of cream soup. I could make a variety of economical dishes with just a bit of meat or eggs or beans for protein. I could make a cake missing key ingredients, butter, milk or eggs. (but not all three, that is known as a hockey puck).
She frowned on idleness and those girls that wore jeans to school, instead of neat slacks or dresses. She dressed plainly, her dresses unadorned but for a bit of lace or a small necklace of pearls, the fabric starched into submission. But she was not unkind, not even batting an eye when one jean-clad girl came in with green hair from a "let's add some ash blond highlights at home" disaster, only offering her extra praise for her strudel to keep her from crying. Based on Miss Heidenreich's age, I only understood as an adult, what hardships she may have seen as a young woman, Depression-era families sometimes starving, only the strong, resourceful and skilled surviving and thriving. It made me think differently of her home economics class, and what I came away from it with.
She was my teacher just that first year, retired and replaced by Mrs. Potter, of whom I have no real memory but for a friendly smile and the "Dante's Nine Circles of Hems". By Ninth Grade, I'd learned enough, I thought and put in a bid to take Auto Shop instead of Home Ec. That was met with a resounding slam of a car door.
I made my case, I knew how to make dinner, I needed to know how to change my oil and pack a wheel bearing. I was told I needed to take the "girl" classes. Shop class was only for boys. I was told I was stubborn, I believe the term "as a mule" was heard (to which I pointed out to the administrators that unlike a horse, a mule is too intelligent to break its leg for glory running in a brief, pointless circle). I was shot down, though there was one female friend and classmate, now an engineer, like her father, who won out and got to attend the agriculture class where she castrated a calf in a moment which gave me hope for the next generation.
My days of home ec were over. At the time I was happy for that, yet now, I wish I'd paid more attention, as more skills of prepping and preparing as well as knowledge and the economies of the kitchen would have served me well as I entered my 20's and 30's.
This Sunday morning, I'll be lighting the fire of a 70-year-old stove that's DIY maintenance and upkeep. The house will be cold, extra blankets used at night instead of bumping up the heat. As the stove puts heat into the back of the house, activity picks up as if propelled by the increasing warmth. After reflection, prayer and thanks, there will be a plumbing project to finish, bread to be baked, and somewhere, a sock or two that needs damning. Outside, branches scrape and rasp against the house, the frost on the window a portent to how cold it can be for the unprepared, as winter light lay upon the ground like a pale scrap of starched grey cloth.