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It was voted to confirm the recommendation of the committee on the School of Industrial Science that Miss Ellen H. Swallow be admitted as a Special Student in Chemistry - it being understood that her admission did not establish a precedent for the general admission of females.
December 14, 1870; Excerpts from records of the meetings of the MIT Corporation.

Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her degree in 1873 after submitting a thesis entitled Notes on Some Sulpharsenites and Sulpantimonites from Colorado. She was later distinguised by being chosen as the most prominent female American chemist of the nineteenth century.

Ellen Swallow was born on December 3, 1842 in Dunstable, Massachusetts. Her elementary education was what we'd call "home schooling" and it continued in that fashion until the family moved to Westford, Ma. in 1859, at which time she attended Westford Academy. In 1863, another move took the family to Littleton, Ma.,where at the age of 21, Swallow began to teach elementary school as well as help her father in the family run store.

By 1868, Ellen had saved enough money ($300), to enter Vassar College from which she graduated two years later with a B.S. degree in chemistry. Unable to find employment as a chemist, but taking the advice of one, Ellen applied to and was accepted at MIT. After earning a B.S. there, she returned to Vassar and earned a master's degree, defending a thesis on the chemical analysis of iron ore. She then returned to MIT with hopes of earning a doctorate, but MIT wouldn't give out such degrees for another fifteen years.

In 1875, Ellen married the Chairman of the Mining Engineering Department at MIT, Robert Hallowell Richards and shortly thereafter began to teach at MIT, without pay. But in 1883, Mrs. Richards began to instruct, with pay, in the newly opened laboratory of sanitary chemistry, the first of its kind in the nation. In 1887, this lab began an unprecedented survey of the quality of the inland bodies of water in Massachusetts, which in turn led to the first modern municipal sewage treatment plant, in Lowell, Massachusetts. For the next ten years, Richards was the official water analyst for the State Board of Health.

In 1890, under the guidance of Mrs. Richards, "working-class" families were offered low-cost , nutritious food at what came to be known as the New England Kitchen. In 1893, at the World's Coumbian Exposition in Chicago, Richards created another opportunity for people to receive inexpensive and nutritious meals as well as classes on cooking and nutrition. She pushed for certification in the field of home economics, formed the American Home Economics Association and started the Journal of Home Economics in 1910. Deservedly so, Richards was elected president of the Home Economics Association and was presented with an honorary Ph.D. from Smith College.

Ellen Swallows Richards died on march 30, 1911 in Boston.

Ellen Richards published an unusually large number of articles in numerous journals and magazines and twelve books. Among them are:

  • Minerals (1882)
  • The Chemistry of Cooking (1882)
  • Home Sanitation: A manual for Housekeepers (1887)
  • The Science of Nutition (1897)
  • Good Luncheons for Rural Schools without a Kitchen (1906)
  • Laboratory Notes on Industrial Water Analysis: A survey Course for Engineers (1908)
  • Euthenics: The Science of Controllable Environment (1912)


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