The New England Kitchen, Pleasant Street, Boston
A scientific experiment in an area of knowledge never before explored was going on in Massachusetts. This experiment was the famous New England Kitchen of Boston, and the ‘unexplored territory’ was the willingness of the poor to be scientifically fed. Through a combination of circumstances, the New England Kitchen was opened at 142 Pleasant Street, Boston, on January 1, 1890. From the beginning an attempt was made to serve cooked food for home consumption and to give the largest possible amount of nourishment for a given amount of money. The New England Kitchen had been founded for the purpose of helping the poor working immigrants; it was the first attempt to demonstrate by simple methods to the people in general public the meaning of the terms, proteins, carbohydrates, calories, and the fact that there are scientific principles underlying nutrition. The experiment would spawn dietary programs and create jobs for a number of public institutions, hospitals, insane asylums, and schools.1
Ellen Richards is considered to be the founder of the profession of Home Economics. She spent thirty years developing the concept of domestic science and teaching women in the sciences. She saw the home and child-rearing as complex and important work and believed that the women, who did it, should be educated. Ellen Richards was largely responsible for establishing the new discipline on a broad base firmly related to economics and sociology. This combination of disciplines would eventually lead to her establishing and financing the Journal of Home Economics. She set up a correspondence school for home-bound women and she wrote its science curriculum. She set up the New England Kitchen, where working class people could learn about nutrition. 2
This is a story that connects two scientific humanitarians and their work to contemporary issues of diet, nutrition and food labeling. Learn more about Ellen Richards, Count Rumford and Science of Nutrition origins by accessing resources linked below.
The Life of Ellen Richards
As a memorial to celebrate her life, this book grew out of a collaboration by many people whom she had touched throughout her life. Ellen Richards left the world a legacy of published books and one of her truest legacies was captured in her biography, The Life of Ellen Richards: 1842-1911 by Caroline Hunt.3
Who is Count Rumford?
Count Rumford was a turn of the nineteenth-century pioneer that scientifically solved the problem of cooking cheap, nourishing food for the poor. He began the study of food as Count Rumford and his contribution to humanity would be called the “Science of Nutrition.” 4
The Rumford Kitchen at the Columbian Exposition
Count Rumford’s work would not be recognized for its benefit to mankind until Ellen Richards made him the “patron saint of the Rumford Kitchen.” Ellen’s first choice for the name of the experimental kitchen was the Rumford Food Laboratory; however, it would come to be called The New England Kitchen. 5
The Rumford Kitchen Leaflets
The Rumford leaflets were very popular handouts at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Richards published the collection of twenty leaflets in a book called Plain Words about Food – the Rumford Kitchen Leaflets in 1899. The Rumford Kitchen exhibit exemplifies her scientific work as a chemist and humanitarian to educate the public about nutrition, kitchen practices and sanitation processes.
Links for Educators
- USDA Choose-My-Plate nutritional education
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History (HEARTH)
Archived Collections for Ellen Richards
- MIT Library Institute – Archives and Special Collections: MC659
- Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College: MS130
- Vassar College Archives and Special Collections: Richards
- Health Care Professionals
- Students in Science
Photo of the New England Kitchen was borrowed from the book, The Life of Ellen Richards, p.218.
1 Hunt, Caroline. The Life of Ellen Richards: 1842-1911. Boston: Whitcomb and Barrows, 1912. p. 215, 218-219, 226.
2 James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, Paul S. Boyer, eds. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary 1607-1950. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. 1971. Vol.3. p.146.
3 Richards, Ellen H. ed. Plain Words About Food – The Rumford Kitchen Leaflets. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press.1899. p. 24.
4 Levenstein, Harvey. “The New England Kitchen and the Origins of Modern American Eating Habits Source” (American Quarterly Vol. 32 No. 4 Autumn 1980), p. 373.
5 Richards, p29.