Domestic Science

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In 2003, the movie Cheaper By the Dozen with Steve Martin was released. Steve Martin starred as the hapless dad of 12 wild children, hijinks ensued, everyone hugged in the end. Though I was already in my late teens at the time, I watched the movie in hopes that it would bear some resemblance to the book I loved growing up, the biographical novel, Cheaper by the Dozen, written by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, about growing up in the early 20th century in a family of 12 children and parents who were pioneers in motion-study and efficiency. Even in the book, the focus is on the father, Frank, but further research into the life of the mother, Lillian, captivated me. In between having and raising 12 children, she earned her PhD in 1915 from Brown University and is counted among the first American female engineers. One of my favorite favorite facts is that she studied women in the kitchen for efficiency in movement, and is still largely responsible for modern kitchen layouts.

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I recently acquired this book, Homemaker’s Guide to Creative Decorating free from a local library’s purge, and it appeals to me on so many levels. Aesthetically, it’s lovely, and I think that books are one of the best ways to fill and decorate a space. Published in 1952, it’s a time capsule of design, with statements such as, “Wallpaper is a favorite means of wall treatment, more popular today than it has been for a number of years. Any wall can be wallpapered,” and, “The ultra violet lamp will doubtless in time be combined with conventional artifical illumination.” But more of the advice is sound and timeless, such as these fantastic opening sentences in the Furniture Arrangement section (with original emphasis intact), “The next step in planning furniture arrangement takes you from the field of draftmanship into the realm of psychology! Furniture arrangements are functional.”

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Like Lillian Galbreth, the author of this book, Hazel Kory Rockow, has a doctorate– a PhD in Home Economy, to be precise. And I love that. Home decor is not just a decorative craft, but a science of aesthetics, function, and psychology, like knitting is the science of textiles and applied mathematics, branching into agriculture and biology. Anything can be studied, broken down into its science, and I just love these women pioneers who studied these fields.

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