Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Home Economics

Major Advisor

Micki McElya

Associate Advisor

Christopher Clark

Associate Advisor

Peter Baldwin

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


In 1936, Flemmie P. Kittrell (1904-1980) became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Home Economics. Across her career, Kittrell taught Home Economics at a range of historically black institutions and traveled internationally on behalf of several Cold War agencies to develop programs abroad. Kittrell’s flexible use of rhetoric about the home and the family made her an adept administrator stateside and an “effective” ambassador abroad. In charting her contributions, this dissertation challenges the assumption that African American women in the field were trained exclusively for service and the idea that the field was “homeward bound” throughout the 20th century. By bringing Kittrell’s story to the fore, this dissertation also illuminates how women transformed a career in Home Economics into a means of entering into networks of higher education and state-based politics.

Heretofore, most histories of Home Economics have been divided along a color line and focused only on the United States. A key scholarly intervention of this dissertation is its foregrounding of connections traceable across a range of sources from women at land-grant colleges, historically black colleges, and foreign institutions. Following Kittrell’s archival trail, a more diverse and internationally minded cohort of leaders within the field emerges. Rather than simply “recover” Kittrell’s story, this project reevaluates the role of the home economist and considers why the traditions of outreach and internationalism exemplified by Kittrell have been forgotten. This project therefore challenges historiographical gaps that have made Kittrell not only unknown, but in various ways, unthinkable. Ultimately, this dissertation challenges the oft-invoked binary of being “at home or abroad,” contributing to a new understanding of women's activism, gendered politics, and the meaning of what some in the field called the art of living.