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Guide to the Ellen Swallow Richards Papers, 1868-1934

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Collection Summary

Repository: Archives and Special Collections Library, Vassar College Libraries
Creator: Richards, Ellen H. (Ellen Henrietta), 1842-1911
Title: Ellen Swallow Richards Papers
Dates: 1868-1934
Quantity: 0.3 cubic ft (1 box with ca. 102 letters and one typescript)
Abstract: Correspondence , manuscripts, clippings, photographs, and other material relating to Richards' personal life, her education, and her work at MIT and Vassar College, the home economics movement, and womens education.
Forms of Materials: Correspondence , maunscripts, clippings, and photographs.

Biographical Note

Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards (1842-1911), chemist and leader in applied and domestic science, was born in Dunstable, Mass., in 1842. She was a member of the Vassar College Class of 1870 and the first woman to graduate from MIT (1873). Because of her mother's ill health, overwork, and financial frustrations, she did not enter Vassar until she was twenty-five. At Vassar she became interested in astronomy and chemistry, the latter becoming the subject of her life's work. In 1875, she married Robert Hallowell Richards, a metallurgist and mining engineer, who was equally devoted to science. She was the first woman member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.

Ellen Richards' letters to her classmate (Mary) Anna Mineah reflect her amazingly busy and productive next thirty-five years. Dedicated to the scientific education of women, she was a pioneer in the study of sanitation, "sanitary chemistry," food chemistry, public health, and home economics, as well as one of the founders of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, which was later to become the American Association of University Women. After 1880, home economics claimed most of her attention, and she must be considered the creator of this new field of study in which she was a leader until her death in 1911. For the profession of home economics she has been called "its prophet, its interpreter..., its inspirer," and, in her own words, its "engineer."

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Scope and Content Note

These papers include seventy-six letters from Richards to her Vassar classmate (Mary) Anna Mineah concerning Vassar College, women at MIT, education, research, travel, the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, and the home economics movement, 1876-1910; seven letters to Miss Bogg concerning the organization of the home economics movement, 1909-1910; other letters concerning Vassar College, 1869-1903; typescript of an article on "Manpower," ca. 1906, and manuscript on Vassar College, "Alma Mater Bless Her;" excerpts from her letters to her mother written while at Vassar College, 1868-1870; ten letters from her husband, Robert H. Richards, and others about Richards, 1892-1934; and miscellaneous clippings, photographs, and biographical materials.

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Access and Use


This collection is open for research according to the regulations of the Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Library without any additional restrictions.

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Related Material

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Subject Headings


  • Mineah, Anna.
  • Richards, Robert H.


  • Association of Collegiate Alumnae (U.S.).
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Vassar College--Alumnae.
  • Vassar College--Students.


  • Food analysis.
  • Home economics.
  • Public health.
  • Sanitation.
  • Women chemists.
  • Women in science.
  • Women's colleges--New York (State)--Poughkeepsie.
  • Women--Education.

Document Types:

  • Photoprints.

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Encoding Information

Encoded by Elizabeth Clarke, April 2007.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Ellen Swallow Richards Papers, Archives and Special Collections Library, Vassar College Libraries.

Processing Information

Original processing date unknown.

Acquisition Information

Gift of (Mary) Anna Mineah, VC 1870, and Annie L. MacLeod, Vassar College, Chemistry Department, 1914-1928.

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Container List

Folder 1 Letters to (Mary) Anna Mineah, concerning Vassar College, women at M.I.T., education, research, travels, Association of Collegiate Alumnae, home economics movement, 1876-1910 (76 letters)
Folder 2 Letters to Miss Boggs, concerning organization of the home economics movement, 1909-1910 (7 letters)
Folder 3 Letters to miscellaneous correspondents, relating to Vassar College, 1869-1903 (9 letters)
Folder 4 Letters from Robert H. Richards, and others, concerning Ellen Swallow Richards, 1892-1934 (10 letters)
Folder 5 Typescript of "Manpower," ca. 1906
Folder 6 Extracts from her letters to her mother from Vassar, 1868-1870
Folder 6 Manuscript of "Alma Mater Bless Her"
Folder 6 Miscellaneous manuscripts and notes

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