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McLean, Beth Bailey

Published onOct 01, 2021
McLean, Beth Bailey

(April 15, 1892 – September 20, 1976)

Quick Facts

Nationally known for her meal planning and table service instruction, perhaps her most memorable contribution to Iowa State was the VEISHEA cherry pies.

Beth Bailey was born in Superior, Wisconsin on April 15, 1892. Beth completed her early education in Menominee, Wisconsin and from there she began teaching home economics at various nearby schools. She channeled her passion for home economics into furthering her education and in 1918 Beth obtained her Bachelors of Science in home economics from the Stout Institute, which is now the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Shortly after graduating, Beth was hired by Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in 1919 as an Associate professor in the Household Sciences department, where she quickly set to work doing her best to provide her students with the most innovative approaches and techniques in meal planning and service. Schools across the country had each developed their own method of executing table service; upon arriving at Iowa State, Beth studied these differing methods and modified them into an ideal method of her own. She refined this method in her Household Science 335: Meal Planning course, which acted as an experimental laboratory for techniques in table service. It was this experimental course that inspired her first textbook, Meal Planning and Table Service in the American Home, which was used in college courses across the country until it’s sixth and final edition ran in 1964. In addition to Meal Planning and Table Service in the American Home, Beth also published several other books, including Good Manners in 1934 and The Young Woman in Business in 1953.

While Beth’s Meal Planning course was quite innovative, perhaps her most memorable contribution to Iowa State was the VEISHEA cherry pies. Prior to VEISHEA, each division on campus hosted their own celebration, with the Home Economics celebration called HEc Day. In 1921, the department hosted two thousand visitors in a tour of their laboratories and classrooms and treated their guests to lunch, which included small cherry pies. The pies were such a success that the next year in 1922, Beth suggested selling the small cherry pies as a fundraiser for the department. The department set to work baking two thousand cherry pies, which raised five hundred dollars to provide scholarships for the department, finance the Home Economics departmental publication, The Iowa Homemaker, and provided a donation to a girls’ school in Constantinople.

A few years into her time at Iowa State, Beth met John McLean, a drug store owner from Hood River, Oregon. In 1923, Beth married John and moved with him to Hood River where they had two children, Jack and Janet, and Beth spent her days managing the lunch counter in John’s drug store. Sadly, John passed away in 1932 and in order to continue to support her family, Beth moved back to Ames to pursue her masters’ degree, which she completed in 1933.

After leaving Iowa State College, Beth spent four years working as the head of the Home Economics Department for Southern Rice Industry in New Orleans from 1933 to 1937. In 1937, Beth left Southern Rice Industry for a position as the Head of the Home Economics Department with Swift and Company, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Working under the corporate moniker, Martha Logan, Beth oversaw thirty-five home economists and collaborated with the Swift and Company Research Department in the development, testing, and promotion of various new products.

In addition to her product development responsibilities, Beth also spent some time on the road traveling to various universities and high schools where she not only promoted new Swift and Company products, but provided advice and insight to young female students on various career paths for the professional home economist and ways in which young women could prepare themselves for a career in the business world. She expanded on this advice in her 1953 book, The Young Woman in Business which provided both practical advice for getting settled in a new city, such as “get folders and maps from the Chamber of Commerce on the sights of the city in which you will live,” while also encouraging women to maintain their intellectual pursuits, arguing they were “as important as physical health and social enjoyment.”

Beth clearly loved her chosen field of home economics, writing into The Iowa Homemaker in 1946 to say, “How fortunate, lucky or wise the woman is who chooses home economics for her college training. Of course she wants a home of her own and she finds training for every phase of homemaking in this college course. But the modern woman also wants to test her ability to earn a living. She wants to prove to herself, her family and her friends that she is worth a real pay check.” With that in mind, she also warned young women that in order to succeed in the professional world they must be willing to change, “When she gets a position in business, she will find that business is a competitive field where no one can be static and succeed. So the home economist in business must be alert to change. She must be willing and eager to try new methods, to sense new trends. She must think of her college courses as foundation stones on which to build, but she must be willing to replace even these foundation stones when scientific discoveries prove better ones are available.”

Throughout her twenty year career with Swift and Company, Beth maintained close ties with her alma mater, hiring twenty seven Iowa State graduates to be a part of her Martha Logan team. Beth retired from Swift and Company in 1957 and made her way back to Oregon, where she joined that faculty at Oregon State University. In 1958, Iowa State awarded Beth the Alumni Recognition Medal along with an honorary doctorate. Beth Bailey McLean died on September 20, 1976 at the age of eighty four.

Selected Sources

Bailey-McLean, B. “Careful College Preparation Aids The Home Economist in Business,” The Iowa Homemaker 26.6 (1946).

Bailey-McLean, B. “Live While You Work” The Iowa Homemaker 33.2 (1953).

Digital Exhibit. Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State: Beth Bailey McLean. September 2005. Accessed January 22, 2017.

Iowa State University College of Family and Consumer Sciences Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management Biographical Files, RS 12/9/2, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

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