Originally published in the winter 2015 issue of VISIONS
Written by Carole Gieseke. Photographs from Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library
Baby Ned came to the home management house as so many had come before him: as an infant from a Des Moines orphanage.
He was just six weeks old when he arrived at the Ellen Richards House on the Iowa State College campus on Sept. 20, 1938. Ned’s unwed birth mother was 16, and he had become a ward of the court.
Ned spent his first year in the home management house. He was cared for by six or seven college students at a time – female home economics majors who lived in the house as part of their senior curriculum.
The students lovingly chronicled that first year in a scrapbook filled with small black-and-white photos of “King Ned” and his caregivers, with hand-written notes, many of then written in rhyming couplets. One early entry reads, “We think his brown hair is going to be curly, and with his big blue eyes and wellshaped head he should be a very handsome fellow.”
The scrapbook thoroughly documents his milestones: his size, the food he eats, play time, his first words, rolling over, and crawling. At one stage, the students were feeding Ned “formula, orange juice, prunes, peas, and pablum.”
As each group of students finished its stay at the house, the young women left notes about his care for the next group:
“Make sure you love him
As much as we did.
He’ll turn out to be
A wonderful kid.”
During his first year, Ned experienced his first haircut, got his first tooth, exercised in a “Johnny jumpup,” and learned to hold his own cup. He liked to cuddle and take his daily sunbath. Ned’s first words were “Mama,” “Daddy,” and “duck.”
By June 1939, he weighed 21 pounds and could crawl, sit up, and pull himself to a standing position. (“The getting down is kinda difficult,” writes one caregiver, in Ned’s voice. “But if I yell loud enough someone usually helps me down.”)
On Aug. 6, 1939, Ned celebrated his first birthday. Gifts included a little red wagon, a rattle, a rubber car, and a Mickey Mouse toy.
A week later, Baby Ned went to live with his adoptive family.
Hazel and Emerson Reichard had adopted a baby girl a year and a half earlier. When the Des Moines couple adopted Ned, they named him John.
John Reichard always knew he was adopted.
“I’ve known for as long as I can remember,” he said recently. “My mom always used to show me the [“Baby Ned”] book. I knew right up front that I was adopted.”
As a youngster, John lived in Des Moines. His dad was a newspaper man, and his mother stayed home to raise John and his sister, Mary Ann. When he was 6 years old, his family moved to Long Beach, Calif.
John grew up in California. He joined the Naval Air in 1957. He got married. He lived in Utah, California, Arizona, and Colorado. He worked in the newspaper business for 53 years. He and his wife, Jan, had three children: Michael, Gregory, and Laurel.
In 1991, John returned to the Iowa State campus where he had spent his first year of life in very special circumstances. He was a baby boy who was well loved by 24 college women.
“I thought it was pretty cool that I wasn’t in your normal orphanage,” John said.
After his campus visit, John said he began thinking about donating his “Baby Ned” scrapbook to Iowa State.
“I felt it was important that the college had it,” he said. “I copied it into my computer and made a scan for each of the kids.” One day last summer he dropped the book off at the ISU Alumni Center. Today it resides in University Archives at Parks Library with a dozen or so similar scrapbooks.
John celebrated his 76th birthday in August. He is retired and lives in Avondale, Ariz.
THE HOME MANAGEMENT COURSE
For more than half of the 20th century, female home economics students at Iowa State were required to take a course in home management and live in “practice houses” – later called home management houses.
Home management houses grew out of a 1916 proposal by Catherine J. MacKay, then home economics dean, that stressed that students needed to experience the “real problems of a homemaker.” Her proposal was backed up by the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1917 that promoted hands-on training.
In the first practice house – the Hiestand House at 1208 Kellogg Ave. – six students lived with a home director. Students remained in residence for approximately two weeks, for which the girls paid a living fee of $8. College authorities of that time required the house to be financially self-sustaining.
Locations of the houses changed over the years, and as the program expanded the number of home management houses grew to as many as six during peak enrollments. Houses were named for pioneers in home economics with special significance to Iowa State College – such as Mary B. Welch and Helen H. Richards.
The academic program in home management included child development, household equipment, personal and family health, textiles, economics, food science, and organization of household work. In the houses, labor was divided into areas such as housekeeping, meal preparation, and – starting in 1924 – caring for an infant.
According to The History of Home Management at Iowa State College located in University Archives: “The desire to provide an opportunity for seniors in home economics to have direct contact with a young child under conditions approaching that of a home and to apply principles in child care and training led to the request in 1923-24 that the division be permitted to secure physically fit children of preschool age from child welfare agencies of the state and that one becomes a resident of each of the houses for such a period of time as might be considered feasible.”
However, the history document goes on to report that then-president Raymond Pearson and the board of education “needed to be convinced that this innovation in a course in home management was more than a fad and not one that would play havoc with the well-being of the children or be unfair to college seniors.”
The “fad” lasted more than 50 years, and it became a benefit both to the home management program and to the state of Iowa, which needed homes for wards of the state.
Soon students were living in home management houses with six or seven other girls, an adviser, and a baby for half of one quarter, or about six weeks.
“I lived in Sloss House [in 1947-48]. It was a wonderful experience for a girl who had little contact with a baby or running a household,” Ruth Hartwell Rossow (L) (’49 dietetics) wrote in an email.
As a student in 1951, Mary Kay Pitzer Bidlack (A)(’52 home ec journ) was editor of the Iowa Homemaker, the only home economics magazine in the country published at that time by college home economics students.
“Housekeeping and laundering didn’t worry me,” she wrote in the November 1951 issue. “I thought I could handle that, and I even looked forward to caring for the baby. But the cooking! How could I ever satisfy nine hungry people who depended on me for three meals a day?” Indeed, many of the women who lived in the home management houses remember exactly how much they had to spend for meal preparation.
“It was budget, budget, budget!” said Gwen Mayer Wells (’52 home ec ed). “We had 67 cents per person per day for meals.”
“Each house had a six-week total food budget that rotated weekly among three USDA food cost plans: low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal,” said Beverly Schlacks Madden (L)(’60 home ec ed, MS ’70). “These plans, based on the current dietary standards for nutrient content and costs for food purchased and prepared at home, are still available.”
Iowa State’s home economics core curriculum provided students skills in a variety of key areas; the half-quarter spent in the home management house served as a senior capstone course – a valued part of the student learning experience.
“Economics is the use of resources; thus, home economics is the use of family resources in household production of food and clothing, child development, family relations, family finance, household equipment, etc. in the home,” said Madden, who spent a year as a graduate resident instructor for one of the home management houses. “The economic unit in this case was the family. Successful family units or households effectively managed those resources.”
Etha Schipull Hutchcroft (L)(’47 dietetics, MS ’70) was a student at Iowa State in 1947. “Gender roles were pretty well defined” back then, she said. But Helen LeBaron Hilton, dean of the College of Home Economics from 1952 to 1975, had strong ideas about women’s roles.
“[She said that] women needed to have a credit card,” Hutchcroft remembers. “Her emphasis was on women becoming professionals. They were expected to be leaders in the community.”
In 1952, three new campus duplexes were designed specifically to serve the teaching needs of the course. By fall of 1958, babies were no longer included in the home management house experience, primarily because laws and attitudes concerning child care and adoption had changed. But home economics students would continue to experience life in the home management houses for several more years.