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Dean Matthews an early progressive

Mary Matthews was adopted by Virginia Meredith when still a toddler, so everywhere Virginia went, Mary went:

In 1904, Mary Matthews earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota, and that same year came to Lafayette to teach in the Lafayette Industrial School. In 1910, she joined Purdue as an extension home economics instructor.

In 1912, Matthews became head of the Department of Household Economics in the School of Science and in 1926 was founding dean of the School of Home Economics.

Under Matthews' leadership, the School of Home Economics grew from four courses in 1926 to more than 150, with the second-largest enrollment of home economics schools in the nation, at the time of her retirement in 1952. Matthews applied the lessons learned from Meredith to the teaching of home economics - or domestic science as Meredith called it years earlier - as a Purdue faculty member and dean.

Matthews believed in the equality of women and men, in the importance of a woman not living in a man's shadow - lessons learned from Virginia Meredith. Her views are preserved in textbooks she authored in the 1920s. The advice she offers for women studying home economics was progressive for an era when women had just recently secured the right to vote:

"... In families where the housekeeper does the housework herself, this unpaid labor of hers is always equal in money value to the income contributed by those employed outside the home, a fact often not taken into consideration. The husband and wife should therefore consider the maintaining of a home as a partnership business which each should share equally.

"... When the man and woman marry, they assume that they can trust each other, yet after marriage many a husband assumes that he cannot trust his wife's judgment in money matters. The intelligent woman should be given joint management of the account. ...

"The woman of the twentieth century has opportunities in education, in wage-earning, in civic and social affairs, never before open to women. ...

"All women, after they become home-makers, need to continue their education through reading, attending lectures and study classes, and belonging to women's clubs or similar organizations; they should read the newspapers and magazines and be intelligent about the affairs of the day." Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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