Christine Frederick

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Christine Isobel McGaffey Frederick
Born (1883-02-06)February 6, 1883
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died April 6, 1970(1970-04-06) (aged 87)
Occupation home economist, author
Nationality American
Spouse J. George Frederick (businessman)

Christine Isobel McGaffey Frederick (February 6, 1883 – April 6, 1970) was an American home economist and early 20th century exponent of Taylorism as applied to the domestic sphere. She conducted experiments aimed at improving household efficiency, as well as arguing for women's vital role as consumers in a mass-production economy. She wrote books on these subjects, the best-known of which is probably Selling Mrs. Consumer, which offers an early justification for planned obsolescence as a necessary feature of the industrial economy.

Early years[edit]

Christine Frederick was born in 1887 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Mimi (Scott) and William R. Campbell, who separated shortly afterwards. In 1894 Frederick's mother married a lawyer, Wyatt MacGaffey, who adopted the girl.[1]

In 1906, Christine McGaffey (as she preferred to spell her maiden name) graduated from Northwestern University and became a teacher. A year later, she married J. (Justus) George Frederick, a business executive interested in the theories of scientific management put forward by Frederick W. Taylor and others. The Fredericks had four children, David Mansfield, Jean, Phyllis, and Carol.

Efficiency expert[edit]

After moving to New York, Christine and J. George Frederick helped to found a club called the Advertising Women of New York in 1912 because women were refused admission to the men's advertising club. Becoming interested in Taylorism as applied to the domestic sphere, Frederick and founded and directed a laboratory for conducting Taylorist experiments at her home in Greenlawn, New York. She was especially interested in making kitchens more efficient for women and is credited with bringing about standardization of the height of kitchen counters and work surfaces.[2] At the Applecroft Home Experiment Station, Frederick investigated some 1,800 different products from household appliances to food, looking for labor-saving methods of preparation and use.[3]

In 1912, Frederick began a series of articles under the title 'New Housekeeping' in the Ladies' Home Journal (for which she served as consulting household editor) to explain Taylorism to middle-class women. These articles were subsequently published as a book, The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management. Frederick's second chapter, on applying motion studies to household tasks, shows the clear parallel between her research and Taylor's well-known studies in the industrial sphere. She followed this up in 1915 with a correspondence course called 'Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home'. In 1917, she did some lecturing on the Chautauqua circuit.

Over the course of some thirty years, Frederick served as an editor for a number of other publications. She was home economics editor of Butterick Publishing Company's magazine The Designer, as well as a consulting editor for Shrine and the American Weekly. She also earned money (as well as gaining publicity) by promoting specific products under the banner of home efficiency.

Frederick sometimes worked with her husband, who was president of a company called Business Bourse that specialized in publishing business-related research and data. In the 1920s, the Fredericks broadened their views to embrace the idea of planned product obsolescence as a form of large-scale efficiency. Rejecting the traditional idea that products should be made to last, they argued instead for obsolescence as a kind of ‘creative waste’ that kept the industrial economy running smoothly. In this view, well-made, long-lasting objects are a problem because they saturate the market, creating resistance to the efficiencies of mass production. In Advertising the American Dream, Roland Marchand calls the Fredericks 'evangelists of the new ideology' of planned obsolescence.[4]

In 1929, Frederick published a book setting forth these and related ideas, Selling Mrs. Consumer. Among other things, Frederick argues for advertising as a means to keep women informed of changes that will improve their lives, and for credit as a keystone of the consumer economy. Dedicated to Herbert Hoover, the book offers a view into a key moment in the transformation of women into modern consumers who must be trained and encouraged to buy ever more goods. Selling Mrs. Consumer was published by J. George Frederick's company, Business Bourse.

Christine Frederick died of heart disease in 1970 at the age of 87. Her papers are held in the Radcliffe Institute's Schlesinger Library.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green (eds.). Notable American Women, The Modern Period. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980
  • Rutherford, Janice Williams. Selling Mrs. Consumer: Christine Frederick & the Rise of Household Efficiency. University of Georgia Press, 2003.
  • Scanlon, Jennifer. Inarticulate Longings: 'The Ladies' Home Journal', Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture. Routledge, 1995.