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Standards for a New Womanhood: Gender, Race, & Expertise

December 07, 2020 — February 26, 2021

Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection — Level T, Human Ecology Building, Cornell University

In her 1981 essay, “The Legacies of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood,” Angela Y. Davis explained that the nineteenth century cults of true womanhood and domesticity expressed an ideal of femininity that did not extend to Black women and enshrined whiteness. Pioneering the scientific analysis of domestic labor at the turn of the twentieth century, the new discipline of home economics actively reformed these late-nineteenth century Victorian values. However, home economics also extended prior notions of bodily comportment, social propriety, and racial identity. This exhibit asks how gender, race, and expertise intersect in the new profession of home economics by focusing on the numerous ways this discipline re-fashioned women’s bodies around the year 1916.

Curated by Athanasiou Geolas (Ph.D. Candidate, Cornell HAUD), this exhibition drew upon ongoing research for his dissertation tentatively titled “The Architect and the Home Economist: Gender, Race, and Expertise in the History of Professional Practice.” The exhibition featured facsimiles from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (@rarecornell), and extant garments from the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection (@cornellfashioncollection). The physical exhibit was displayed on Level T of the Human Ecology Building, December 7, 2020 – February 26, 2021.

Land Acknowledgement: Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogoho:no (the Cayuga Nation). The Gayogoho:no are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America.

The Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection and the curator of this exhibition acknowledge the painful history of Gayogoho:no dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters. Furthermore, we acknowledge that Cornell University obtained 977,909 acres of expropriated Indigenous land through the Morrill Act of 1862. Please refer to the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program's Indigenous Dispossession Project Blog to learn more.

Photo Credit: Frank and Lillian Gilbreth time motion study, c. 1916. Smithsonian National Museum of American History, collection # NMAH.AC.0803