Educating Consumers, Representing Consumers
In the late nineteenth century, as the economic function of American homes shifted toward the buying of goods and the rendering of services, a group of middle-class women - and a few men - launched an educational reform movement to guide homemakers in this transition. This chapter examines the efforts of a small group of about 50 home economists working inside the United States government to use scientific expertise to reform the marketplace for consumer goods during the interwar period. For bureau home economists, reforming the marketplace for consumer goods was an investigative and educational project that promised to bring about social, economic, and cultural change. Conducted on behalf of the public interest, the bureau's user-oriented research elevated the significance of women's roles as consumers to the level of public policy and provided an institutional means to address their needs.