Hildegarde Kneeland was born on July 10, 1889 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, Lawrence and Louise A. (Wenzel) Kneeland, had four children—three girls and one boy.
She completed high school at the Packer Collegiate Institute, in Brooklyn Heights, and then enrolled in Vassar College where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1911. She pursued graduate studies in nutrition and household administration at Teachers College, and was a nutrition instructor at the University of Missouri in 1914. After three years, she resumed graduate studies in sociology, statistics, and the economics of consumption, now under Hazel Kyrk at the University of Chicago. Later, she returned to Columbia to work for a Ph.D. in sociology, and she also taught sociology and statistics there.
Kneeland later served on the faculties of several colleges, including Vassar, University of Missouri, Barnard College, and Kansas State Agricultural College.
Hildegarde was in the forefront of human rights. In 1917, the University of Missouri published her paper,
The Feeding of Children, where she stated,
Food of the proper kind given in the proper way is the right of every child.
The Bureau of Home Economics, established in 1923 under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), was tasked with conducting investigations into three areas: Food and Nutrition, Textile and Clothing, and Economics of the Home. It was a pioneering unit, as it was the first major unit to have been headed by a woman, Louise Stanley, Ph.D., and the first to focus on areas considered to be of import to women (sewing, kitchen functionality, food preparation and preservation).
Lastly, it took a then novel approach to its work: it strove to first understand what its primary audience needed within its broad mandate and then shaped its specific programs around those needs.
Hildegarde Kneeland was appointed head of the Economics of the Home branch of the Bureau. She led several research projects. The most prominent was an initiative called the
USDA Time-Use Studies, which aimed to determine how much time rural and urban homemakers spent on various household tasks including cooking, washing, and child care.
Time Use research involved the study of people’s daily activities by having participants self-diarize their actions, and then organizing and analyzing the data generated. Hildegarde analyzed the daily records of 2,000 homemakers—including women on farms, in towns, in villages and in cities—from 1924 to 1931. This research revealed that the average housewife worked more than 51 hours a week. (At that time, union workers averaged 48 hours per week, as standardized by the unions.) One-third of the women surveyed, largely farm women, worked from 51 to 63 hours a week. Only 10% of city women spent less than 35 hours a week on housework.
Prior to the McCarthy hearings, Republicans attempted to initiate an investigation of the Roosevelt administration’s alleged ties to communism, triggered by a pamphlet written and distributed by Dr. William Wirt, a Gary, Indiana professor. Wirt’s screed included support for getting the U.S. off the gold standard, but it also included 12 pages claiming that members of Roosevelt’s
brain trust (a group of economists FDR had gathered around himself to provide guidance on climbing out of the Depression) had said they were using FDR to
take over everything. In this scenario, the brain trust would stall on providing FDR with advice on rebuilding the economy until the country was soft enough for Stalin to take over.
The investigating committee consisted of 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans, and the Democrats, mindful of the potential to use the investigation as a campaign issue, were not inclined to give much play to Wirt’s accusations. Wirt named Lawrence Todd, correspondent for the Soviet Tass News Agency, as the person who referred to President Roosevelt as
only the Kerensky of this revolution. (Kerensky and his moderate socialist Trudovik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party actually overthrew the Russian Czar Nicholas II; they were then overthrown by the more radical Bolshevists.) Six minor members of the administration were present at the time of the comment and two, Mary Taylor and Hildegard,
acquiesced to Todd’s suggestion. It turned out that there were no members of the
Brain Trust at the dinner party where Wirt claimed to have heard this conversation. Since the investigation was narrowly focused on the accusation of
Brain Trust members being involved, it was quickly terminated.
Economist Milton Friedman worked in a group led by Hildegarde early in his career and they drafted plans for a Works Project Administration project: Plans for a Study of the Consumption of Goods and Services by American Families. The premise was there was a recognized need for an investigation into the manner in which American families spend their incomes.
By the 1960’s, Hildegard had moved to Santa Clara where she continued her activism. She and others wrote a public petition to President John F. Kennedy, published in The Stanford Daily on April 28, 1961, decrying the failed Bay of Pigs action in Cuba, stating,
we are appalled, dismayed and ashamed by our country’s role in the invasion of Cuba. (Ira and Merle Sandperl were also signatories of the petition.)
In 1966, on the occasion of Herbert Aptheker’s 50th birthday, a group of friends sponsored the Herbert Aptheker Testimonial Dinner. Among the sponsors were Hildegard and Isobel Cerney.
Hildegard, ever the teacher, offered a course at the Free University of Palo Alto, the precursor to the Midpeninsula Free U. Her course was titled,
The U.S. Economy and the Impact of Automation, a course that would fit in well today
She briefly was a neighbor of Douglas Hofstadter, who now is a professor of cognitive science and a Pullitzer Prize-winning author known for Hofstadter’s Law, which states that,
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law. He grew up on the Stanford campus, where his father, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter, taught. In a book published in 1985, Douglas wrote:
My upstairs neighbor that year was a most remarkable woman in her 90’s, named Hildegard Kneeland. An economist by profession, Hildegard taught many of today’s most influential economists. Even today, she is passionately concerned about the fate of humanity. Hildegard touched off the fire in me concerning nuclear madness.
Even in her 90s, she was still creating waves.
Hildegarde Kneeland, The Vassarion (1911), Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY; posted in the Yearbook section, Family History Photo Store (www.familyhistoryphotostore.com). Link
Family Expenditures in the United States. Statistical Tables and Appendixes, by Hildegarde Kneeland, Selma Evelyn Fine, United States National Resources Committee, 1941; reproduced by Ulan Press, October 31, 2012. Link
Consumer Expenditures in the United States; Estimates for 1935-36, by Hildegarde Kneeland, United States National Resources Committee; reproduced by Nabu Press, October 17, 2013. Link
Consumer Incomes in the United States, by Hildegarde Kneeland, United States National Resources Committee, September 5, 2015; reproduced by Palala Press, March 2, 2018. Link
The Feeding of Children, by Hildegarde Kneeland, The University of Missouri Bulletin, Vol 18, Number 8, Extension Series 23, April 6, 1917 Link
Reports of Committee on Fellowships, The Journal of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, Volume XII, No. 3, April, 1919, pp. 134–5; digitized by Google Books, books.google.com. Link
Contemporary Notes, Vassar Quarterly, Volume IV, Number 3, May, 1919, p. 232 Link
Women on Farms Average Sixty-Three Hours Work Weekly in Survey of Seven Hundred Homes, by Hildegarde Kneeland, in US Department of Agriculture, Yearbook of Agriculture, 1928; Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929, pp.620–622, on p. 621.
Labor Survey Show Women Work at Home, by Maxine Davis, The Pittsburgh Press, April 7, 1929. Link
Woman's Economic Contribution in the Home, by Hildegarde Kneeland, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 143, Women in the Modern World (May, 1929), pp. 33-40. Link
The Economics of Consumption as a Field for Research in Agricultural Economics, by Warren C. Waite, Hildegarde Kneeland, Hazel Kyrk; American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Volume 11, Issue 4, 1 October 1929, Pages 565–577. Link
Plan Quick End to Investigation of Wirt Charge, The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana, 31 March 1934, posted on newspapers.com. Link
May Investigate Wirt’s Charges for Pelley Link, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) (www.jta.org), April 11, 1934. Link
Plans for a Study of the Consumption of Goods and Services by American Families, by Hildegarde Kneeland, Erika H. Schoenberg, and Milton Friedman, Journal of the American Statistical Association, Volume 31, Issue 193, pp.135–140, 1936; published at Taylor & Francis Online. Link
Creating Consumers: Home Economics in Twentieth-Century America, by Carolyn M. Goldstein, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2012, Chapter 2:
Creating a Science of Consumption at the Bureau of Home Economics, 1920–1940. pp. 62-97. Link
Petition on Our Policy Toward Cuba, published in The Stanford Daily, 28 April 1961. Link
The U.S Economy and the Impact of Automation, course offering by Hildegarde Kneeland, Free University of Palo Alto, Winter, 1966. Link
Herbert Aptheker Testimonial Dinner, April 28, 1966
Metamagical Themas: Questing for The Essence of Mind and Pattern, by Douglas Hofstadter, Basic Books, 1985. Link
A Transnational Conference Romance: Elsie Andrews, Hildegard Kneeland, and the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association, by Alison J. Laurie, J. of Lesbian Studies, Volume 13, 2009, Issue 4: A History of ‘Lesbian History. Link
Apron Strings and Kitchen Sinks: The USDA Bureau of Home Economics, A National Agricultural Library Digital Exhibit (www.nal.usda.gov), National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD. Link
Introducing Time Use Research, by Kimberly Fisher, Centre for Time Use Research, University of Oxford, UK. Link
Hildegarde Kneeland, Prabook (prabook.com). Link
Douglas Hofstadter, Wikipedia. Link