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Fisher, Genevieve

Published onJul 30, 2021
Fisher, Genevieve

(August 24, 1879 - November 4th, 1974)

Quick Facts

Genevieve Fisher was the Dean of the Home Economics Division at Iowa State University and was later the Federal Agent for Home Economics Education in Washington, D.C.


Fisher was born in Lovington, Illinois in 1879 and attended school in Springfield, IL. Her early education involved attending the City Training School for Teachers in Springfield, IL, graduating in 1899 and obtaining a job teaching fifth and sixth grades at the Eastern Illinois State Normal School in Charleston, IL. She then continued her education at the School of Education at the University of Chicago. Fisher moved to New York to attend Columbia University and finished her degree receiving her BS in Education in the Teacher of Household Arts program in 1914. During her time at Columbia, Fisher had been active in a national movement lobbying for the passage of the Smith-Lever Act.

The Progressive Era gave rise to considerable concern about the impact of industrialization on both agriculture society and the development of a skilled workforce. By 1906 a broad coalition of organizations came together to form the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE) with the goal of winning federally funded vocational education. The NSPIE was made up of the a complex mix of business, education, political, farmers and women’s organizations. By 1912 after a decade of legislative wrangling the Page-Wilson Bill was introduced to set up cooperative extension services as well as vocational education. But there was more political support for cooperative extension services and the two issues were separated. The Smith-Lever Act which passed in 1914 established federal funded for cooperative extension programs, but vocational education was delayed. As a concession, the Commission on National Aid for Vocational Education was established.

When Fisher graduated from Columbia she moved to Iowa to work for Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) as the supervisor of teacher training for the Ames Schools system. While Fisher was in Iowa, political pressure continued to grow for vocational training and in 1917 a Federal Board for Vocational Education was established that held hearings and issued a series of recommendations. Fisher was hired as a special agent of the Federal Board for Vocational Education and held that position for three years contributing to a series of reports making recommendations to Congress. Fisher’s next professional move was to direct the home economics program at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. From there she moved back to Iowa State College in 1927 to become the Dean of the Home Economics Division that was housed within the College of Family and Consumer Science and she held that position until 1944.

The Home Economics Division at Iowa State had a nationally acclaimed reputation. In 1871 ISC was the first land-grant institution to introduce courses in domestic science thus making the institution more accessible to women since the majority of women attending land-grant institutions prior to 1915 were enrolled in home economics courses. The dean prior to Fisher, Anna Richardson, also had a master’s degree from Columbia’s Teachers College and had worked for the Federal Bureau of Vocational Education as head of home economics. She was part of a generation of educational experts dedicated to strengthening the tie between home economics and agriculture as advocated by the movement for the Smith-Lever Act. While at ISC Richardson worked to broaden the scope of home economics to include child care and child management. Fisher continued Richardson’s work by expanding the Home Economics Division three years after she took over as dean. She broke the Department of Household Administration into three separate departments: Home Management, Child Development and Household Equipment. This was an innovative step; Iowa State was the first college or university to introduce a course in household equipment. By the mid-1940’s Iowa State had the largest home economics program in the nation and 64.5% of the women graduates majored in home economics. By the mid 1950s, Iowa State had the largest graduate program in home economics in the country. Even with this high degree of professionalization and success, Iowa State’s home economics program could not escape the national decline during the late 1960s. Nonetheless, Fisher’s contributions helped expand ISU’s program during the formative moment in the field.

After retiring from Iowa State in 1944, Fisher moved to North Carolina and spent her time running a small hotel and volunteering with occupational therapists at a local Veteran’s hospital.

Genevieve Fisher died November 4, 1974.

Selected Sources

Catalogue of Officers and Graduates of Columbia University. The University, 1916.

Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Columbia College. The University, 1914-1915.

Ercel Sherman Eppright and Elizabeth Storm Ferguson, A Century of Home Economics at Iowa State University: A Proud Past, a Lively Present, a Future Promise (Ames: Iowa State University Home Economics Alumni Association, 1971).

Fisher, Genevieve. 1921. The home project: its use in home-making education. Washington, D.C.: Federal Board for Vocational Education.

Fisher, Genevieve. 1928. Trends in four-year teacher-training curricula in home economics.

Hillison, J., & Moore, G. (1993). The Federal Board for Vocational Education: Its Composition, Controversies, and Contributions. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education10(1), 21-29.

Holt, W. S. (1922). The Federal board for vocational education: Its history, activities and organization (Vol. 6). D. Appleton.

Hyslop-Margison, Emery J. "An Assessment of the Historical Arguments in Vocational Education Reform." (1999).

Illinois Department of Public Instruction, Educational Press Bulletin, July, 1911,

Stage, S., & Vincenti, V. B. (Eds.). (1997). Rethinking home economics: Women and the history of a profession. Cornell University Press.

The Iowa Homemaker vol. 13 no. 2, p. 10:

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