Gendered Spaces: Howard Terrace and Human Ecology

As part of CAP’s ongoing project of understanding gendered spaces on campus, I thought it would be interesting to look at a building that was built with gendered space in mind. The Human Ecology building, which today houses departments like Human Development and Family Studies, was originally constructed for the goal of teaching women their role in society. The history of the current Human Ecology building and the apartments before it help to tell many stories, including the sometimes forgotten tale of women at MSU.

In 1888, a faculty apartment building was built, the tenth building on Faculty Row.  It had eight suites for faculty and their small families.  It was later named Howard Terrace, after Sanford Howard, the fourth Secretory of the Board of Agriculture.

Howard Terrace, 1904. Courtesy MSU Archives
Howard Terrace, 1904. Courtesy MSU Archives

The college first began admitting women in 1870, but didn’t have any dorms for them.  They mostly had to live in Lansing and go to the college by stagecoach, which is quite a far cry from today, where young female students can sometimes take a five minute walk to their classes in their pajamas!  Morrill Hall was built in 1900 for use as a women’s dorm, which saved plenty of hassle.  It was not enough, however.  Howard Terrace began housing female students as early as 1898, and became exclusively a women’s dorm in 1914.

For the first twenty or so years of women being at the college, they took the same classes as the men.  In 1896, a “women’s course,” or Home Economics (a term coined in 1902), was added thanks to the advocacy of Mary Mayo.  MAC was one of the first in the country to implement such a program.  It began housed in Abbot Hall and then Morrill Hall, but as the program grew, it needed to move.  Howard Terrace was demolished at some point in the early 1920s to make room for a new Home Economics building.  The Home Economics program had a broader scope than one usually thinks of a Home Economics program.  Dean Jean Krueger said in 1926 that “We are not concerned now so much with the actual machinery of living, the perfection of the skills involved in the sewing of a ‘fine seam,’ or the making of a delicious pie, as we are in the psychological, sociological and economic adjustments of family groups to present day and future needs.”

Women's sewing class, 1909. Courtesy MSU Archives
Women’s sewing class, 1909. Courtesy MSU Archives

In 1970, the college was renamed as the College of Human Ecology and drastically changed in focus.  The more drastic change, however, happened in 2005, over 100 years after the creation of the program.  The program was eliminated.

The building, of course, still stands.  The beautiful brick Collegiate Gothic structure next to the MSU Union reminds us of how far women have come at MSU.  From a farm boy college without a lady in sight, to a college where women could learn about how to fill their domestic role in society, to a globally recognized university where women can major in anything a man can, and choose to spend their summers digging holes and doing research instead of cooking and cleaning.

Beauty Demolished, But Never Forgotten


Author: Caroline Dunham

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