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Mount Saint Vincent University Archives

Mount Saint Vincent University

  • Corporate body
  • 1873 -

Mount Saint Vincent University had its origins as an academy for young girls established by the Sisters of Charity in Rockingham (present day Halifax) in 1873. The original purpose of the academy was to train novices and young sisters as teachers, but the Sisters also recognised a need to educate other young women and therefore opened the academy to young women who lived in the city of Halifax. In 1925 the Nova Scotia Legislature passed a bill granting a charter to Mount Saint Vincent College empowering it to grant its own degrees. With that, Mount Saint Vincent College became the only independent women’s college in the British Commonwealth. It offered degrees in Education, Nursing and Arts.

The College continued to grow until 1966, when a new government charter was granted and the College became Mount Saint Vincent University, a co-educational institution. The Mount is a primarily undergraduate public university that offer programs in Arts, Education, Science, and Professional Studies.

Mount Saint Vincent University. Department of Home Economics. (Halifax, N.S.)

  • Corporate body
  • 1930-2000, predominant 1958-1999

Home Economics at Mount Saint Vincent University began as a Diploma in 1925, and later became a four year Household Science degree in 1928. An exhaustive study of Textiles and courses in Nutritional Physiology, Bacteriology, Organic Chemistry, Child Care, and Sociology, as applied to the home, all formed a part of the course which led to the degree of Bachelor of Household Science. The degree also offered a following two year certificate program which allowed students to pursue careers as teachers of Domestic Science in elementary schools; or, after six months of hospital training, as a hospital dietitian. At this time, domestic science was being taught in many elementary schools and teachers of Domestic Science were needed all over Canada.

Plans for the Household Science program began in 1927 when Sister Mary Evaristus Moran requested that Sister Irene Marie Keegan develop plans for a home economics department and program at the Mount. Soon plans for a spacious foods laboratory and clothing room were under way. The laboratory, designed to accommodate 16 students, consisted of four laboratory tables, three gas stoves, one electric stove, one refrigerator, two large sinks, one small hand sink, two supply tables, and a portable blackboard. Sister Keegan was the director and teacher of all the courses except for clothing, which was taught by Sister Elizabeth Clare. The first year of the program saw one student enrol, and the next year saw three students enroll. Enrolment in the program increased dramatically in the 1970's, with a peak enrolment of 212 students in 1975; the highest enrolment in any undergraduate home economics program east of Guelph, Ontario. The degree later became known as the Bachelor of Science Home Economics prior to 1945. The name change was influenced by a previous conference in New York in 1902, where leading figures in the field determined that home economics was better suited to describe the discipline which was so closely associated with women's work.

In 1938, Sister Keegan was transferred to the Halifax Infirmary as head dietitian. By the time she returned to the Home Economics Department at the Mount in 1949, Sister Keegan had obtained a Masters degree in nutrition from Simmons College in Boston and had also chaired the student training committee of the Canadian Dietetic Association. Founded in 1935, the CDA (now Dietitians of Canada) was the governing body of professional competence in dietetics as it was determined and warranted by certification and registration by nationally affiliated provincial associations. In 1950, thanks to Sister Keegan's efforts to adapt the best in all the hospitals and schools she had visited over the past years to suit the Mount's Home Economics program, the Mount was admitted as a member into the Canadian Dietetic Association. Later that year, in April, the Maritime Home Economics Association annual meeting was hosted by Mount Saint Vincent College, thus introducing the College as a provincial member of the home economics field.
In 1951 a devastating fire destroyed the entire Mount Saint Vincent Mother-house, which housed most of the classrooms and residences for the Academy, College, and Novitiate. Thankfully, not one student or faculty was injured and plans for a new home economics department were under way as part of a new building development which had already begun construction in 1949. Completed in 1952, the new College building, Evaristus Hall, enabled the home economics department to expand and accommodate more than 100 students. In the same year, Dr. Alleyne Murphy joined the Home Economics Department at MSVC as the first non-Catholic, or lay, faculty member. Dr. Alleyne Murphy was an active member of the CDA, as well as other influential organisations like the Canadian Home Economics Association and the Nova Scotia Dietetics Association. Her considerable involvement in these organisations was invaluable to the Mount's success in the Home Economic and Dietetic fields.

In 1969, two years after receiving a University charter, the Mount established a graduate program in home economics to offer their students an improved professional program more suited to their career paths. In the same year, Dr. Mary Morley joined the home economics department and conducted an intensive three year study of all home economics programs at Canadian and American universities. The study led to the development of new programs in family and consumer studies and home economics education. As a result, in 1972 the Senate of MSVU was asked to approve alterations to the foods and nutrition major to include specialisation in the areas of nutrition, nutrition and administration, and food services administration. Advances in nutrition and medical science meant that students pursuing dietetics required a greater understanding of biochemistry, physiology, cellular and clinical nutrition. At the same time, the Senate was also asked to give approval of the Bachelor of Home Economics degree with specialisation in clothing and textiles, consumer studies, family studies, and home economics education, thus making the distinction between home economics education and scientific food study.
The 1980’s saw an increase in international projects for MSVU with the establishment of the Canadian International Development Association and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. The first international project for the Home Economics department at MSVC was a nutrition and rehabilitation project in the Dominican Republic, which was followed by an outreach to populations in the Canadian North. Mount Saint Vincent followed these projects under the direction of Dr. Marilyn McDowell who joined the Mount Home Economics faculty in the 1979-1980 academic year, with links to the Universities of Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in Africa, as well as with Universities and Home Economics departments in Malaysia and Pakistan. The Mount assisted these Universities with the establishment of home economics departments and faculty training.
In January 1989, Dr. Alleyne Murphy, Chair of the Home Economics Department, wrote a proposal to students of the Mount suggesting a name change from Home Economics to Human Ecology. The impetus for this name change stemmed from several studies which indicated that Home Economics students tended to be stereotyped with outdated images of the profession, and had also been a topic of debate for many years within the department. In the academic calendar year of 1991-1992, the Mount officially changed the name to Human Ecology and made changes to the program. Prominent changes included the removal of specialisation in Housing and Facility Management and Consumer Studies and the transition of the Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology to Nutrition & Dietetics from Foods & Nutrition. While some of the same courses were still offered under the new name, most of the courses originally taught under the HOM (Home Economics discipline) were removed or merged into other areas of study such as family studies and institutional management.

In 1996, the Bachelor of Science Human Ecology program received accreditation from the Dietitians of Canada (formerly CDA), thus increasing internship opportunities for graduates of the Nutrition and Dietetics program.

In January of 1998, faculty members aligned with the Nutrition and Dietetics program submitted a proposal to the Dean to establish a Department of Applied Human Nutrition. In September of 1998, the Departments of Gerontology and Human Ecology submitted a proposal to establish a Bachelor of Applied Arts within a new Department of Gerontology and Family Studies at the Mount. These decisions were made based on a number of factors such as: diminished enrolment for Human Ecology programs; a historical, but informal, relationship between the Departments of Gerontology and Human Ecology; the impetus within the University to merge small departments into larger units where it is philosophically and academically logical to do so; and many Human Ecology programs in North America had realigned with such programs as Gerontology. In the fall of 1999, the Human Ecology Department was absorbed into the Gerontology and Family Studies Department, while other faculty from the Nutrition and Dietetics program were merged into the Department of Applied Human Nutrition.