Women of USU: Then and Now, Home Economics, Abby L. Marlatt and Katie Brown

Since its earliest days, women at Utah State University have had a huge impact on the cultural, scientific, economic, and social fabric of the institution. The Year of the Woman shares these critical voices simply because their stories matter.

Abby L. Marlatt made a name for herself in the professional world of home economics. A graduate of Kansas State Agricultural College (1888 BS, 1890 MS in Chemistry), she was on the first faculty of the Utah Agricultural College (UAC) and fostered study of the Domestic Sciences in a single, barely equipped room in the basement of the Main Building—as it was called then. She brought a strong scientific and academic base to the study of Home Economics. Marlatt saw the first graduate, Martha Hoyt, complete the BS degree in Domestic Arts in 1894. Then Marlatt was off to other appointments, including Dean of Home Economics at the University of Wisconsin, a program that she was invited to create. At the 50th anniversary of the founding of the university in 1938, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate and delivered an address on “Problems in Family Relations.”

The legacy of a strong program in the Domestic Sciences continued at Utah State University (USU). In 1935, the Dean of the college wrote in the Alumni Association’s Utah State Quarterly: “The world of the late nineteenth century was rapidly becoming a woman’s world as well as a man’s. Sensible women realized that they had traded long enough on their charm, and that the idea that a little sound learning would ruin a woman’s prospects for marriage was a fallacy. More and more, young women entered the colleges where practical courses in home-making and the crafts designed to better the home and subsequently the community, superseded instruction in the ‘lady-like accomplishments’ of music, dancing, and etiquette. Recognizing the inevitableness of this ‘Feminist’ movement, a degree course in Domestic Science was in the first curriculum offered at the Utah State Agricultural College.”

In addition to boasting a new building in 1935, Home Economics asked this question: “How is your College benefitting society?” Profiles of successful alumni provided the evidence. Dr. Ethelyn Oliver Greaves (1920) was the co-author of the textbook General Bacteriology and an “extremely popular lecturer whose services in this field are in constant demand.” Dr. Harriet Morgan (1926) was undertaking research in Child Development on behalf of the US government and the Rockefeller Foundation. Elizabeth McKay Hill (1909) served has head of the Department of Foods and Dietetics at Weber College. Dr. Rose Homer Widtsoe (1900) served as food administrator for Salt Lake City during World War I before becoming head of the Department of Home Economics at the University of Utah. Donetta Cox (1928) was head dietitian at the US Veterans Hospital in Salt Lake City, following similar appointments in California and Oklahoma.

The tradition of stellar programs and excellent research in the domestic sciences continues today. One such department is Nutrition, Dietetics, & Food Sciences (NDFS).  Students learn of the engineering, biology and physical science of food through the Food Science major, become well-versed in clinical and community nutrition as well as food service management in the Dietetics degree while the degree in Nutrition explores the molecular and cellular levels of food and its utilization within the body. The department is particularly adept at hands-on learning experiences with faculty dedicated to helping teach the next generation.

Katie Brown, who joined the faculty of the department in 2019, was a beneficiary of the strong emphasis on undergraduate research in the program. She entered USU as a Presidential Scholar and Undergraduate Research Fellow in 2005. Just a year later, she was named one of four Governor’s Scholars for the university. As a dietetics major from Ogden, UT, she studied iron deficiency in college-aged females and the effects of blood donation with faculty mentor Heidi Wengreen. While still an undergraduate, she influenced first-year students to pursue more healthy eating choices. She had finished assisting Dr. Wengreen in a research study on the “freshman 15,” the weight that some students purportedly gain during their first year of college. “If only we could reach students early in their first year and give them the information they need to know in order to avoid that weight gain,” she mused to a faculty member. “Why not?” The faculty member asked Katie what she would do if she could speak to the freshman class. The result was “Healthy Eating 101,” a program about nutrition and healthy food choices delivered to Connections, the orientation class attended by the majority of new students. Brown also excelled as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow, winning an award in 2008. Encouraged to pursue graduate work, Brown completed her PhD in 2013. Her dissertation included four research studies and was titled "Nutrition Education to Minimize Health Risk: Approaches for Teaching College Students and Female High School Athletes." 

“The research I have done at USU has changed my mindset and opened up the way I look at problems,” said Brown of her experience as a researcher at USU. After six years on the faculty of the University of Idaho, Dr. Brown returns home to Utah State University to continue the legacy, contribute research, and influence students. 


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