By Mary Atwell, Archivist/Collection Development Services Manager
It might be surprising to find out that the sciences were an integral part of the Hood College curriculum from the institution’s very beginning. Today we equate education in the sciences directly with preparation for careers, but society in the mid-1800s viewed women’s higher education as a pursuit of intellectual learning rather than preparation for a commercial position or undertaking. So why were sciences so prevalent in the College’s early curriculum?
When the College was founded in 1893, social reforms were in full swing. Progressive reformers worked to cure the ills created by rapid industrialization and expansion in the U.S. after it gained its independence from Britain. Living and working conditions of the poor were being exposed rather than ignored, and there grew a new emphasis on the unique needs of children, who were no longer viewed as miniature adults.
Women played an integral part in these social changes, and education in the sciences was emphasized for women because their societal roles gave them great influence over health and hygiene practices. The Woman’s College of Frederick offered botany, chemistry, astronomy and physics, and by the time the College changed its name, multiple courses in biology were also offered. Even one of our earliest “view books,” circa 1900, noted the importance of choosing a college with scientific laboratories with the equipment for doing “thorough work along modern lines.” Home economics as a discipline evolved alongside social reforms of the Progressive Era and, by the late 1930s, Hood offered a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics. Students were able to concentrate in a sciences track to earn this degree, choosing amongst zoology, botany, bacteriology, psychology, chemistry and physics. Home economics was a major course of study at Hood for decades.