Standards for a New Womanhood: Gender, Race, & Expertise

  • Dates: 25 – 25 Feb, 2021
  • Location: Ithaca, New York, United States
  • Contact: Athanasiou Geolas
  • Email:

In her 1981 essay, “The Legacies of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood,” Angela Y. Davis explained that the nineteenth century cults of true womanhood and domesticity expressed an ideal of femininity that did not extend to Black women and enshrined whiteness. Pioneering the scientific analysis of domestic labor at the turn of the twentieth century, the new discipline of home economics actively reformed these late-nineteenth century Victorian values. However, home economics also extended prior notions of bodily comportment, social propriety, and racial identity.

Curated by Athanasiou Geolas (Ph.D. Candidate, Cornell HAUD), “Standards for a New Womanhood” asks how gender, race, and expertise intersect in the re-fashioning of women's bodies c.1916. Focusing on the material and intellectual standardization of dress design through the development of rural extension services in home economics, each case reveals how 19th century values, social hierarchies, and cultural norms came to be expressed as neutral, rational, or technical principles and methods of design. The exhibition explores what it took for home economists to be recognized as professionals in the early twentieth century, and how this recognition relates to the fact that professionalism is state-sanctioned White Supremacy.

Combining artifacts from the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection (@cornellfashioncollection) and facsimiles from the NYS College of Home Economics records held in Cornell's Rare and Manuscript Collections (@rarecornell), the five scenes of this exhibition offer an opportunity to interpret the social and material history of professionalism in the U.S.

A closing reception will take place on Thursday, February 25th from 4:30 – 5:30 pm via Zoom (register here to receive Zoom details) with remarks and a tour of the exhibition by curator at 4:45 pm. The event is free of charge, but registration is required.


Date: Thursday, February 25th from 4:30 – 5:30 pm


Registration Link:


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610