Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman professional chemist in the nation, and played a major role in opening scientific education and the scientific professions to women. Applying scientific principles to domestic life, she pioneered the new study and profession of home economics, a major opportunity at the time for higher education and employment for American women.
The first woman to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richards developed MIT’s Women’s Laboratory. Her innovative studies of air, water and food led to the creation of national public health standards and the new disciplines of sanitary engineering and nutrition. The interaction between people and their environment led this visionary to predict future environmental crises and to advance the concept of ecology as an environmental science – an idea not widely accepted until almost a century passed.
Richards was central to the founding of the American Home Economics Association and served as the group’s first president. She was one of the founders of what is today the American Association of University Women.