Collection on Ellen Swallow Richards
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Scope and Contents of the Collection
This collection is assembled from various documents and publications donated or located in the MIT Libraries and in the Department of Distinctive Collections. It includes both material by Ellen H. Swallow Richards and material about her, including many memorials and tributes after her death in 1911. The location of a larger set of Ellen H. Richards correspondence and papers is unknown, although there is documentation of her student years and service to Vassar in the Vassar College Archives. Information about the Woman's Laboratory at MIT, 1876-1883, can be found in collection AC-0298 in the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections. Descriptions of mining summer field work with her husband, Robert Richards, can be found in the MIT Catalog, in the 1870s and 1880s, and in a collection of his papers, MC-0116. Laboratory notes for the course Industrial Water Analysis were published in 1908 and 1910 and are cataloged as part of the book collection. The journal of Louisa Hewins in box 4 includes several photographs of Ellen Richards apparently taken by her husband Robert Richards. Louisa Hewins and the Richards were neighbors in Jamaica Plain (Boston), Massachusetts, and often traveled on day trips in New England accompanied by others including Richards cousins and Louisa Hewins's brother.
- Creation: 1873 - 1945
This collection is open.
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Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards, 1842-1911, attended Vassar College, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1870. Subsequently she applied for admission to MIT and in January 1871 became the first female student to attend MIT, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1873 in chemistry. Also in 1873, she earned the degree of Master of Arts from Vassar College. In 1910, Smith College conferred the honorary degree Doctor of Science on Ellen Swallow Richards.
In 1875 she appealed to the Women’s Education Association of Boston for help in establishing a laboratory at MIT for the instruction of women in chemistry. The Women’s Laboratory opened in 1876 with Professor John M. Ordway in charge, assisted by Richards. She was Instructor in Chemistry and Mineralogy in the Women’s Laboratory until it was closed in 1883 and instruction integrated fully into MIT laboratory work. Richards was then appointed (1883/1884 MIT course catalog) Instructor in Chemistry and Mineralogy, her title changing the next year (1884/1885 MIT course catalog) to Instructor in Sanitary Chemistry, a position she held for the next twenty-seven years. From the 1910 MIT course catalog listings for the Department of Chemistry, she (at varied times) taught course 560, Technical Analysis; course 563 and 566, Water Analysis; course 567 Industrial Water Analysis; course 568 Water Supply and Wastes Disposal (chemistry of); course 569 Air Supply (chemistry of); and course 570 Air Examination.
The text of Ellen Swallow's 1873 MIT thesis "Notes on some sulpharsenites and sulphantimonites from Colorado" can be found at: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/29221
The following obituary and tribute published in 1911 in the MIT alumni magazine,Technology Review, provides further details about her life and achievements.
"Ellen Henrietta Richards, A.M., Sc.D.: A biographical sketch of her life—Her remarkable career and her many public activities
The death of Mrs. Ellen H. Richards, on the thirtieth of March, occasioned a sense of personal loss to an unusually large number of friends, acquaintances and co-laborers in widely different walks of life. For nearly forty years a participant in the work of the Institute of Technology, she had become a prominent and most active figure among its corps of instructors; her scientific work had gained for her a wide acquaintance among various scientific organizations, local and national; her social service and interest in all that pertained to the higher education of women and to the betterment of living conditions for all had made her a leader whom thousands had learned to respect and were glad to follow.
Mrs. Richards was born at Dunstable, Mass., in 1842, the daughter of Peter and Fanny G. Swallow. She entered Vassar College in due course and was graduated in 1870, having devoted much time to astronomy as a pupil of Prof. Maria Mitchell. She soon afterward connected herself with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, turned her attention to chemistry, and was graduated from that course in 1873, with the degree of Bachelor of Science. While the reasons for the selection of chemistry as a field for her later work are not accurately known, a memorandum which was apparently made by her indicates that it was because she felt that greater opportunities for effective service to her fellow beings were open in that than in other fields and this probably represented the first, and possibly unconscious, leaning toward public service which later manifested itself in so large a measure.
The marriage of Miss Ellen Swallow to Prof. Robert H. Richards, in 1875, marks the beginning of that mutually sympathetic and hospitable home life which has been generously shared with hundreds of Institute students and other friends for more than a quarter of a century.
During the period from 1873 to 1884, Mrs. Richards was active in various fields. A part of her time was given to teaching, but much of it was devoted to the assistance of Profs. John M. Ordway and William Ripley Nichols. The former maintained an active practice as consulting expert in technical chemistry, while the latter had gained an enviable reputation as an authority in matters of water supplies. It was also during this period that the Women’s Laboratory was established to afford better opportunities for the scientific education of women. It was housed in a portion of a one-story structure located between the present sites of the Rogers and Walker Buildings, and later removed when the Walker Building was erected. This laboratory was established largely through the instrumentality of Mrs. Richards in enlisting the financial support necessary for it, hers was the guiding hand in its management, and hers the leading spirit in this, as in other subsequent movements of similar import.
Her association with Professor Ordway laid the foundation for her later service (1884-1894) as chemist to the Manufacturers Mutual Fire Insurance Co., in which she did much interesting work bearing upon the danger from spontaneous combustion of various oils in commercial use. It also gave her an appreciation of technical problems which added much to her efficiency as a teacher. Her work in sanitary chemistry with Professor Nichols was destined to be of still more significance, for, in 1887, the State Board of Health of Massachusetts began a comprehensive survey of the water supplies of the State which involved a series of problems for the solution of which she was especially well prepared. This work was under the immediate supervision of Dr. Thomas M. Drown, but the success of the undertaking, now a classic of its kind, was in no small measure due to the enthusiasm, energy, experience and insight with which Mrs. Richards threw herself into the work of devising methods, recording results and organizing assistance. Over twenty thousand samples of water were examined under her supervision, a record never approximated before that time, the results of which made possible generalizations of lasting value, not only to this community, but to the world. Mrs. Richards was chemist to the Board of Health from 1872 to 1875 and water analyst from 1887 to 1897.
Mrs. Richards also found time to take an intelligent and helpful interest in the professional work of Professor Richards and some of her earliest published work associated itself with the mineral industries. She was elected to membership in the American Institute of Mining Engineers, a distinction conferred upon only one other woman. She received the degree of Master of Arts from Vassar College in 1873, and her large circle of friends was greatly pleased by the deserved recognition on the part of Smith College in the conferring upon her of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, in 1910. She was also for many years a member of the Board of Trustees of Vassar College.
In 1884 Mrs. Richards was appointed instructor in Sanitary Chemistry at the Institute of Technology, a position which she held at the time of her death. For many years she directed the entire instruction in the chemistry of air, water and foods, for chemists, biologists and sanitary engineers, and only relinquished the chemistry of food supplies when the pressure of other affairs made this necessary. Her service as an instructor was helpful and inspiring, and the extent of her personal and financial sacrifice for her pupils and for the increase of the effectiveness of her laboratory will probably never be adequately known or appreciated. She also maintained an extensive private practice in sanitary chemistry for many years and acted in an advisory capacity for a very large number of public and private institutions. Her publications relating to sanitation have been numerous and varied, and she maintained active membership in, and participated in the meetings of local and national societies dealing with water supplies and public health problems.
All of this would seem a sufficient achievement for even a busy life, but there still remains what may possibly be regarded as the most important aspects of Mrs. Richards’ life work, namely, her leadership in matters pertaining to home economics and to the education of women. Preeminently a successful organizer, she gave more and more time and attention in recent years to problems relating to the conservation of human life and energies and the uplift of her fellow beings. With extraordinary energy and tireless activity, she traveled from one end of the country to the other, lecturing, teaching and, when necessary, pleading in behalf of the causes which were so dear to her. In this work she was highly successful, not only in the attainment of immediate benefits, but in the inspiration of others to foster and continue the enterprises which she inaugurated. It is gratifying to note that plans are already on foot to bring together a memorial fund to be known as the Ellen H. Richards Research Fund, the proceeds to be used for the promotion of advanced work in Sanitary Chemistry, in recognition of her labor and self-sacrifice. Her writings upon household economics and kindred topics include numerous books of recognized value, a large number of papers read before gatherings of the most varied character, and many magazine articles.
Her death occurred at her home at Jamaica Plain, after a brief illness. She literally spent the last remnants of her strength in public service, never fully recovering from the strain of her last public speech in behalf of better standards of living.
A powerful leader, a wise teacher, a tireless worker, of sane and kindly judgment, Mrs. Richards has taught and inspired thousands to carry forward the movements which she has inaugurated. Her associates and co-laborers necessarily mourn their loss and miss her leadership, but they will best express their appreciation of her life and its far-reaching influence by increased activity in behalf of those phases of human progress and betterment for which she sacrificed herself so freely."
H. P. TALBOT, ‘85.
Technology Review 13, pp. 365-373.
24.6 Megabytes (250 files in 33 folders)
1 Cubic Feet (2 manuscript boxes, 1 folder)
Language of Materials
Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards, 1842-1911, attended Vassar College, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1870. Subsequently she applied for admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and in January 1871 became the first female student to attend, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1873 in chemistry. Also in 1873, she earned the degree of Master of Arts from Vassar College. In 1910, Smith College conferred the honorary degree Doctor of Science on Ellen Swallow Richards. This collection is assembled from various documents and publications donated or located in the MIT Libraries and in the Institute Archives. It includes both material by Ellen H. Swallow Richards and material about her, and her long-term association with MIT. She was first appointed as Instructor in Chemistry and Mineralogy in the Woman's Laboratory. After the Laboratory was closed in 1883 and instruction integrated fully into MIT laboratory work, Richards was appointed (1883/1884 MIT course catalog) Instructor in Chemistry and Mineralogy, her title changing the next year (1884/1885 MIT course catalog) to Instructor in Sanitary Chemistry, a position she held for the next twenty-seven years.
Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.
The journal of Louisa Hewins was donated to the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by the Thompson-Ames Historical Society, Gilford, NH, in 2010.
Existence and Location of Copies
Several of the Presentations and Publications by and about Ellen Swallow Richards were digitized in 2004 for a project with the goal of Web access to the jpg image files. The digitization is of low quality but robust enough to give research access copies through single document PDFs. Master files are JPGs of individual pages.
Publications by Ellen H. Richards
- "Analysis of Samarskite from a New Locality." Reprinted from Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, vol. 17, 1874-75.
- First lessons in minerals, by Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Press of Rockwell & Churchill, 1882.
- The chemistry of cooking and cleaning: a manual for housekeepers, by Ellen H. Richards. [1st ed.] Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1882.
- Food materials and their adulterations, by Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1886.
- "University Laboratories in Relation to the Investigation of Public Health Problems and to Commercial Work." Reprinted from Transactions of the American Public Health Association, vol. 25. Columbus, Ohio, 1890.
- The science of nutrition, in three parts, by Edward Atkinson with Ellen H. Richards, Treatise upon the Science of Nutrition. Springfield, Mass.: Clark W. Bryan and Company, 1891.
- Report on the Rumford Kitchen Exhibit, by Ellen H. Richards in the Report of the Massachusetts Board of World's Fair Managers, Boston, 1894.
- Laboratory notes: sanitary chemistry and water analysis, by Ellen H. Richards. c1896.
- The chemistry of cooking and cleaning: a manual for housekeepers, by Ellen H. Richards. 2nd ed. rev. and rewritten. Boston: Home Science Publishing Co., c1897.
- Home sanitation: a manual for housekeepers, by Ellen H. Richards. rev. ed. Boston: Home Science Publishing Co., 1898.
- Food materials and their adulterations, by Ellen H. Richards. New and cor. ed. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1898.
- Plain words about food: the Rumford kitchen leaflets, by Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Home Science Publishing Co., c1899.
- The cost of living as modified by sanitary science, by Ellen H. Richards. 2nd ed., enl. New York: Wiley, 1900.
- Air, water, and food from a sanitary standpoint, by Ellen H. Richards. New York: Wiley, c1900.
- The cost of food: a study in dietaries, by Ellen H. Richards. 1st ed. New York: Wiley, c1901.
- The cost of living as modified by sanitary science, by Ellen H. Richards. 2nd ed., enl. New York: Wiley, 1901.
- Isabel F. Hyams and Ellen H. Richards, "Contributions from the Laboratory of Sanitary Chemistry: IV. Notes on Oscillaria Prolifica. First Paper, Life History," Technology Quarterly, vol. 14 (1901), p. 302; "Contributions from the Laboratory of Sanitary Chemistry: V. Notes on Oscillaria Prolifica (Greville). Second Paper, Chemical Composition," Technology Quarterly, vol. 15 (1902), p. 308; "Contributions from the Laboratory of Sanitary Chemistry: Notes on Oscillaria Prolifica (Greville). Third Paper: Coloring Matters," Technology Quarterly, vol. 17 (1904), p. 270.
- The dietary computer. Explanatory pamphlet; the pamphlet containing tables of food composition, lists of prices, weights, and measures, selected recipes for the slips, directions for using the same. 1st ed. New York: Wiley, 1902.
- First lessons in food and diet, by Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, c1904.
- The art of right living, by Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, c1904.
- Air, water, and food from a sanitary standpoint, by Ellen H. Richards. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. New York: Wiley, c1904.
- Lily Miller Kendall and Ellen H. Richards, "Contributions from the Laboratory of Sanitary Chemistry: Permanent Standards in Water Analysis." Technology Quarterly, vol. 17 (1904), p. 277.
- The Cost of Shelter, by Ellen H. Richards. 1st ed. New York: Wiley, c1905.
- The cost of living as modified by sanitary science, by Ellen H. Richards. 3d ed., enl. New York: Wiley, 1905.
- Food materials and their adulterations, by Ellen H. Richards. 3d ed., Whitcomb & Barrows, 1906.
- E. H. Richards, et al., "Contributions from the Laboratory of Sanitary Chemistry: Methods of Testing the Efficiency of Ventilation. Technology Quarterly, vol. 21 (1908), p. 32.
- Laboratory notes on industrial water analysis: a survey course for engineers.1st ed. New York: Wiley, c1908.
- Laboratory notes on industrial water analysis: a survey course for engineers, by Ellen H. Richards. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley, c1910.
- Euthenics, the science of controllable environment: a plea for better living conditions as a first step toward higher human efficiency, by Ellen H. Richards.[1st ed.] Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, c1910.
- The cost of cleanness, by Ellen H. Richards. 1st ed. New York: Wiley, 1911.
- Conservation by sanitation; air and water supply; disposal of waste (including a laboratory guide for sanitary engineers), by Ellen H. Richards. New York: Wiley, 1911.
- Euthenics, the science of controllable environment: a plea for better living conditions as a first step toward higher human efficiency, by Ellen H. Richards.2nd ed. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1912.
- The chemistry of cooking and cleaning: a manual for housekeepers. 3rd ed. rev. and enl. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1912.
- The cost of living as modified by sanitary science, by Ellen H. Richards. 3rd ed., enl. New York: Wiley, 1913.
- The cost of food: a study in dietaries. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley, 1913.
- Air, water, and food from a sanitary standpoint, by Ellen H. Richards, With revisions by Alpheus G. Woodman. 4th ed., rev. and rewritten. Boston: Wiley, c1914.
- The cost of food: a study in dietaries. 3rd ed., rev. New York: Wiley, c1917.
Publications about Ellen H. Richards
- The Ellen H. Richards Memorial Home Economics Calendar 1913. American Home Economics Association, Baltimore.
- Technology Review 13 (1911). Notes and Memorials, pages 230, 333, 365-373.
- Hunt, Caroline L. "Women of the Hour." La Follette's Weekly Magazine 2, no. 51 (December 1910).
- Hunt, Caroline L. The Life of Ellen H. Richards. Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1912.
- Stratton, Julius A., and Lorretta H. Mannix. Mind and Hand: The Birth of MIT. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005, chapter 19, pp. 464-469.
- Richards, Robert H. Robert Hallowell Richards: His Mark. Boston: Little, Brown, 1936.
- Bryant, Alice G. "Values for Which Mrs. Ellen H. Richards Stood." Medical and Professional Woman's Journal, August 1933.
Processing Information note
Correspondence and microfilm scrapbook of proposed Harvard-MIT alliance originally designated as MSC 84.
- Guide to the Collection on Ellen Swallow Richards
- Elizabeth Andrews
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for uncoded script
- 2021 July 21: Edited by Lana Mason for compliance with DACS single-level optimum requirements.
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