The School of Human Ecology originated as the Department of Home Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1903. For more than a century the school has worked to make life better for children, families, and communities in Wisconsin and around the world. We welcome you to take a look back at our rich history of alumni, students, scholars and leaders.
In 1900, Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Club voted to petition the state legislature to establish a chair of domestic science and art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Two years later, the Wisconsin Legislature allocated $7,500 to the Board of Regents to launch the department of Domestic Science.
Sarah Sutherland graduated with the department’s first Bachelors of Science degree in 1911. That same year, the department moved from South Hall to Agricultural Hall and acquired the Practice Cottage. By 1913, students had the option of three majors; general course, foods, or textiles. During an influenza epidemic, members of the recently founded Omicron Nu cared for UW women who contracted the disease, because at this time there was a nursing program at the school.
During this era, the Department of Home Economics established its first teaching lab, a cafeteria, and tearoom to provide practical training in institutional management. At this time the Department divides into three “departments”, Administration and Foods, Clothing and Textiles, and Applied Arts.
The department’s first Ph.D. is granted to Julia Frank Nofsker and, in 1939, Frances Zuill succeeds Abby Marlatt as Director of Home Economics.
The Home Management House is finished and is used for practical live-in training.
UW Regents voted to reorganize the School of Home Economics into four-departments. The west wing of the Home Economics building is added. Ever expanding, the school adds a fifth department in 1955, Home Economics Education and Extension. The Preschool Laboratory is built in 1957 between College of Agriculture Hall and the Home Management House.
The School of Home Economics changed its name to School of Family Resources and Consumer Science and adopts four new program areas; Home Economics Education and Extension, Home Management and Family Living, Related Art, and Textiles and Clothing. Helen Allen bequeathed her expansive collection of textiles to the university.
The Home Management House closed. Once again, the school is reorganized into new departments; Child and Family Studies, Consumer Science, Environment, Textiles and Design, Home Economics Education, and Home Economics Communications. New dean Elizabeth Simpson takes over in 1974.
When Dean Simpson’s tenure was completed in 1985, Dr. Hamilton McCubbin was appointed Dean of the School. The Center for Retailing Studies is established.
The Gallery of Design opened. Reflecting the shifting curriculum, Child and Family Studies changed its name to the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Robin Douthitt is named interim dean.
Robin A. Douthitt is named permanent dean, the school celebrates its centennial and breaks ground on what will become Nancy Nicholas Hall.
The new Nancy Nicholas Hall is completed in 2012, featuring modern studios and classrooms, exhibition and textile collection space, a café, and an in-house child development laboratory. Soyeon Shim from the University of Arizona is named dean.