Richards, Ellen H. (Ellen Henrietta), 1842-1911

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1842-12-03
Death 1911-03-30

Biographical notes:

Vassar College Class of 1870. Richards, first woman to graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was a chemist who pioneered in sanitation, food chemistry, public health, and home economics. She was also a founder of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (now the American Association of University Women).

From the description of Ellen Swallow Richards papers, 1868-1934. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 51576627

From the description of Papers, 1868-1934. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 155519614

Ellen Swallow Richards gathering the scum on Jamaca Pond, Boston, Ma., 1901

Ellen Swallow was born 3 December 1842 in Dunstable, Massachusetts. She received a B.S. from Vassar College in 1870. She earned another B.S. from M.I.T. in 1873 and, in the same year, an M.A. from Vassar. She studied for a doctorate at M.I.T., but never received it, reportedly because "the heads of the department did not wish a woman to receive the first D.S. in chemistry." In 1875 she married M.I.T. chemistry professor, Robert H. Richards, and devoted the next ten years to advocating for scientific education for women. Richards was the first woman elected to the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers and in 1882 she helped found the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women). She was also a leader in the effort to improve physical education in colleges. She wrote three books: The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning (1882 and 1887), Food Materials and Their Adulteration (1885), and The Cost of Food, a Study in Dietaries (1901). In 1884, M.I.T. set up a chemical laboratory for the study of sanitation, the first of its kind, with William Nichols in charge and Ellen Richards as his assistant. During this time, Richards devised the first water purity tests and, beginning in 1887, she was put in charge of the laboratory; she ran it during the groundbreaking study of water pollution in Massachusetts that modernized sewage treatment ("The Great Sanitary Survey"), commissioned by the State Board of Health. After teaching gratis in the women's laboratory at M.I.T for eight years, when women were admitted to M.I.T. on an equal footing with men Richards was appointed to the faculty as instructor in sanitary chemistry. She also taught analysis of water, sewerage, and air in the department of sanitary engineering, established in 1890. From about 1890, she increasingly concentrated on what came to be known as the "home economics movement." Among her many accomplishments, she introduced the idea of nutritious lunches in schools; worked for public support for systematic domestic science instruction; and carried on important work for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, founded in 1873 to "help women who needed guidance and encouragement in acquiring knowledge which they could not go to school to get." Ellen Swallow Richards died in Boston on 30 March 1911.

From the guide to the Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards Papers MS 130., 1882 - 1910, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Chemist; Professor.

Born Ellen Swallow, Dunstable, Mass., 1842; received B.S. Vassar College, 1870; B.S. from M.I.T., 1873; M.A. Vassar, 1973; studied for a doctorate at M.I.T., but never received it. Married Professor Robert H. Richards. First woman elected to American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers; helped found the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women) in 1882; leader in effort to improve physical education in colleges; published The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning (1882) and Food Materials and Their Adulteration (1885); ran M.I.T.'s chemical laboratory for study of sanitation; received appointment to faculty as instructor in sanitary chemistry. Also taught analysis of water, sewerage, and air, and devised the first water purity tests, conducting the "Great Sanitary Survey" which modernized sewage treatment. Increasingly involved in home economics movement, 1890s on, introducing ideas of nutritious lunches in schools and systematic domestic science instruction.

From the description of Papers, 1882-1910. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 49336593

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Subjects:

  • Women chemists--History--Sources
  • Nutrition--Study and teaching--United States--History--Sources
  • Food--Analysis
  • Women--Education
  • Women chemists--United States--History--Sources
  • Women in science
  • Water--Purification--History--Sources
  • Women's colleges
  • Ecology
  • Public health
  • Water--Purification--Massachusetts--History--Sources
  • Nutrition--Study and teaching--History--Sources
  • Ecology--Massachusetts--Jamaica Pond
  • Sanitary chemistry--Study and teaching--History--Sources
  • Kitchens
  • Home economics
  • Home economics--Study and teaching--History--Sources
  • Women scientists--History--Sources
  • Sanitation
  • Women scientists--United States--History--Sources

Occupations:

  • Women chemists

Places:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (as recorded)
  • Massachusetts (as recorded)
  • New England (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--Poughkeepsie (as recorded)
  • Massachusetts--Jamaica Pond (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--Poughkeepsie (as recorded)