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Hilton, Helen LeBaron

Published onJul 30, 2021
Hilton, Helen LeBaron

(February 28, 1910 - August 10, 1993)

Quick Facts

During her 23-year tenure, Helen Hilton held a threefold position as Dean of Home Economics, Assistant Director of the statewide Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, and Director of the Home Economics Research Institute.

Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton, College of Home Economics, 1952-1975, 1999 by Brenda Jones (American, born 1950). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by and gift of the Family and Consumer Sciences Development Fund. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U99.6

Helen Renwick LeBaron was born in 1910 in Morrisville, Vermont, the only child of W.I. and Ida (Norton) LeBaron. She earned her BS degree from the University of Vermont in 1932; MS from Cornell University in 1938; and PhD from the University of Chicago in 1946. For three years she taught high school home economics in Vermont then served as assistant supervisor in home economics education in the Vermont State Department of Education. From 1946 to 1952 she was professor and assistant dean of the College of Home Economics at Pennsylvania State University. The University of Vermont conferred upon her an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1964 and the distinguished alumni award in 1967. In 1968 Cornell University honored her as a distinguished alumna.

In 1952 LeBaron was named Dean of Home Economics at Iowa State. During her 23-year tenure, she held a threefold position as College Dean, Assistant Director of the statewide Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, and Director of the Home Economics Research Institute. In 1957 the Iowa Agricultural Experimentation Station became the first experiment station in the US to include home economics education as was reflected in the name change to the Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. LeBaron established the Home Economics Research Institute to receive and administer research grants.

Helen LeBaron Hilton, Dean, College of Home Economics, 1952-1975, 2011by Mary Muller (American, b. 1934). Oil on canvas. Commission and gift of the College of Home Economics Alumni, Class of 1960. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2011.281

Location: Iowa State University, LeBaron / MacKay Hall

From 1954 to 1968 Hilton was college editor of home economics books for Harper and Rowe. She authored publications that appeared in the Journal of Home Economics, Journal of the American Dietetics Association, Bulletin of the National Association of Nursery Education, Canadian Home Economics Journal, Bulletin of National Association of Secondary School Principals, and Journal of International Federation of Home Economics.

As the College of Home Economics Dean, LeBaron fostered numerous innovations later adopted by other segments of Iowa State University: 1958-the college honors program; 1958- annual high school guidance counselor full-day orientation visits; 1962- the cooperative program with Morningside and Central Colleges that enabled home economics students to study two years in these liberal arts colleges and transfer to Iowa State without loss of credits; 1965- new student summer orientation using student assistants, a program that was expanded to the university orientation with Cyclone Aides; 1965-Mature Women Studies program that enabled women to complete Home Economics degrees started years prior, eventually leading to the university programs for adult students; 1968- appointment of six, half-time faculty advisors to be readily available for new students; and 1968- the Cooperative Urban Teacher Education Program that gave student teachers an intensive inner-city experience. The college Peace Corps Intern Project, also initiated in 1968, was the first intern project nationally for home economics BS and MS graduates. Students learned language skills for the assigned country, had summer experience in that country, and were guaranteed overseas service that would use their technical knowledge.

From 1960 to 1970 LeBaron led the Ford Foundation program wherein the Iowa State College of Home Economics helped University of Baroda, India, develop graduate programs to conduct research about Indian families in order to meet the growing need for effective home economics teaching, especially in child development, food and nutrition, home economics education, textiles and clothing, and home management. LeBaron also used the Baroda experience to increase the effectiveness of Iowa State’s College of Home Economics as an international center for training home economists.

LeBaron’s 23-year tenure as dean, 1952-1975, spanned an era of changing times reflected in the college’s academic curricula innovations and evolution. The discipline itself was renamed in the 1990s from Home Economics, i.e. the use of resources within the home, to Family and Consumer Sciences. This new name placed greater emphasis on the family unit, the individuals therein, and the wellbeing of children while also noting the evolution from household production skills to the consumption decision-making process.

LeBaron’s leadership skills were evidenced at local and state levels as well as nationally. She is recognized as a visionary leader in the profession, a strong advocate who advanced the status of women and the wellbeing of children. She challenged women to use the new opportunities becoming available to them. Known as a soft-spoken woman with firm convictions, her opinions were respected as she served as an inspiring role model.

Her contributions in community and civic affairs were numerous. She was the first woman to either run for or be elected to the Ames City Council, 1966-1970. She helped organize and was president of the Ames Visiting Nurse Service; served on the Story County Health Planning Assembly as well as the Mary Greeley Hospital Advisory Board, Chairperson 1970 through 1973. She chaired the Ames/Gilbert United Way 1977 Campaign. She also served on the boards of the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association, the Octagon Center for the Arts, and was a founding member and chair of the Heartland Senior Services foundation. In 1993 five months before her death, LeBaron’s political and social impact was recognized when she was named the first recipient of the Carrie Chapman Catt Award sponsored by the Ames League of Women Voters.

At the state level LeBaron was a member of the Governor's Commission on Children and Youth in the 1960s; a member of the Governor's Commission of the Status of Women, 1971; and a board member of the Iowa Children's and Family Service. She chaired the Grants-in-Aid Committee of Altrusa International and was consultant to the Home Life Department of the Iowa Federation of Women's Clubs, 1953-1975. In 1983, she was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

LeBaron was nationally recognized for her work with advocacy programs for children and families. She was the first chairperson of the Association of Home Economics Administrators of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; active in the American Home Economics Association and allied organizations, making major contributions through her committee and board work focused on developing future policies. She was one of the first members of the American Home Economics Association Foundation Board of Trustees that was established to raise and administer funds to advance home economics. She served a three-year term on the advisory board of the American Dietetic Association, an association for which she was well qualified having done her undergraduate dietetic internship at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston.

LeBaron’s strong conviction that, “Home Economics must influence public policies and programs that affect families.” led her to accept multiple national appointments. President Eisenhower invited her to serve on the National Committee for the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth. During President Kennedy’s administration, she served on a panel of vocational education consultants for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. This led to the 1963 passage of the Vocational Education Act, providing funds for home economics research and educational programs. Secretary of State Dean Rusk named her to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

She was the first woman member of two corporate boards of directors: Jewel Companies, Inc., 1971-1980, and S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1973-1980.

In 1958, Iowa State University named the new south wing of the home economics building after her, LeBaron Hall. True to her frugal Vermont heritage, LeBaron had declined the use of college and/or university funds for a traditional college dean portrait.  As their 50th anniversary gift, the class of 1960 honored her legacy by commissioning the posthumous oil-on-canvas portrait that now hangs in the LeBaron / MacKay Hall foyer.  

After her retirement in June, 1975 she was named dean emeritus. She founded the Iowa State University Retirement Advising Program and served several years as its volunteer director. In 1993 she supported the inauguration of the College for Seniors (now OLLI Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), serving as chair of the Policies and Procedures Committee.

LeBaron was a loyal ISU supporter and an ISU Foundation Governor. She was named the first honorary alumna by the College of Home Economics. In 1993 LeBaron Hilton bequeathed $1.4 million to the college, establishing the Helen LeBaron Hilton Chair, the largest fully endowed faculty chair fund at Iowa State University at the time.

In 1970 she married Dr. James Harold Hilton, tenth president of Iowa State University, who had retired in 1965. Dr. Hilton, the only ISU president who was an alumnus, died in Ames in 1982. Dr. Helen LeBaron Hilton died in Ames in 1993. Both are interred at the Iowa State University Cemetery, Ames, Iowa.

Selected Sources

Helen LeBaron Hilton’s papers are housed in the Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library, Ames.

Much on her college leadership is documented in the book, A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University, by Ercel Eppright and Elizabeth Ferguson, published by The Iowa State University Press, 1971.

The online Vermont Historical Society, Vermont Women’s History Project, details significant impacts of Dr. Lebaron Hilton’s career.

Julia Faltinson Anderson, Associate Dean, College of Home Economics, 1953-1982, documents innovations in the ISU College of Home Economics under Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton’s leadership: Reflections on the era of Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton. Online at - Leaders and Role Models

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