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BU woman professor was pioneer in home economics when Bradley started in 1897

A photo of Nellie Kedzie taken around 1901.
Courtesy of the Virginius H. Chase Special Collections Center at Bradley University
A photo of Nellie Kedzie taken around 1901.

She was only at Bradley for four years, the early years—from 1897 to 1901—but she brought new ideas and national prominence with her.

Cited as one of “the unsung heroines of the home economics program,” Nellie Kedzie Jones “had tremendous influence and perhaps should be considered one of the many founders of home economics,” noted Nina Collins in her book on the history of home economics at Bradley University. Collins, a BU faculty member for 43 years, died in 2015.

Jones came to Bradley just as Lydia Moss Bradley was getting Bradley Polytechnic Institute off the ground, stated Libby Tronnes, director of Bradley’s special collections.

Having established one of the first domestic science departments in the nation at Kansas State Agricultural College, Jones immediately contributed to Bradley’s reputation, especially as it pertained to women's education.

At a time when women were only beginning to break through on the college level, Jones was among the highest-paid faculty members at Bradley when it opened in 1897.

In Bradley's early years, famed educator William Rainey Harper oversaw operations at Bradley while president of the University of Chicago. In a letter to Harper, Edward Sisson, Bradley’s director at the time, expressed his concern that the University of Illinois might hire Jones away. “We cannot afford to lose her,” wrote Sisson.

Jones helped develop the so-called industrial model of domestic science, as it was known then. She was determined that her students develop skills like sewing and cooling but balanced it with lectures on nutrition, budgeting, table service, manners, and the production and marketing of food. Chemistry was also a requirement, said Tronnes.

“While sewing and cooking are important matters in the life of a schoolgirl, the ability to think is the most desirable of any attainment,” noted Collins in the book she published in 1994.

Jones believed in equality which wasn’t always encouraged at the time. Her admonitions included “Never shame a girl for romping or scuffling with the boys” and “Give the girls a chance at some of the outside work and make the boys do some of the inside work.”

Tronnes noted that even after Jones married and left Bradley, joining her husband to teach at Berea College in Kentucky for two years, she maintained a presence in Illinois serving as director of the School of Domestic Science at the Illinois State Fair from 1905 to 1917.

After Jones and her husband moved to Wisconsin in 1911, she became a champion for rural women homemakers in that state, said Tronnes.

Jones helped organize homemaking clubs throughout Wisconsin and conducted radio programs on homemaking subjects. She also shared some of the principles acquired from teaching home economics in columns for The Country Gentleman magazine (under the title, “The Country Gentlewoman”), Tronnes noted.

Jones, who lived to be 97, died in 1956. She remained active throughout her life, giving lectures at age 90 on how to grow old gracefully.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.