May Louise Cowles

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May Louise Cowles
May Louise Cowles
Born (1892-09-25)September 25, 1892
Sibley, Kansas, U.S.
Died January 11, 1978(1978-01-11) (aged 85)
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Institution University of Wisconsin–Madison
Field Home Economics
Alma mater University of Chicago
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Kansas State University

May Louise Cowles (September 25, 1892 – January 11, 1978) was an American economist, researcher, author, and advocate of Home Economics.[1] She was a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1915–1958.[2] She had many submissions published in the Journal of Home Economics, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Rural Sociology. She also produced several widely read pamphlets, including Meeting Housing Needs of Older People in Rural Areas (1957), and spoke at a string of national seminars to encourage the addition of family economics to home economics instruction across the United States.

Cowles "created some of the first family economics courses in the nation" at the collegiate level.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Cowles was born on September 25, 1892 in Sibley, Kansas. She attended Kansas State Agricultural College where she earned a B.S. in home economics in 1912 and entered the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1915 to earn her master's degree in home economics.

Rise to prominence[edit]

From 1926 to 1929, Cowles studied for her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago. Her Ph.D. dissertation investigated the economics of clothing consumption and whether consumer behavior could be classified according to "laws." One of her studies reported that during the time period, husbands spend more on clothing than their wives by 10%[4]—a finding that was met with some ridicule in the press at the time.[5] She also completed significant work in the study of home economics and its impact on rural families in the United States.[6]

Kansas State University recognized her contributions to home economics and her participation in the field by awarding her the Distinguished Service Award for "outstanding achievement in home economics" in 1959.[3]


  1. ^ "May Louise Cowles". School of Human Ecology. University of Wisconsin System. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Coleman, Joyce E. "May Louise Cowles, rural sociologist (1892-1978)". From home economics to human ecology: A one-hundred-year history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. University of Wisconsin System. Archived from the original on August 16, 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Traditions of Research / May Louise Cowles, 1940: Professional Activities". University of Wisconsin System. Retrieved 16 May 2016. 
  4. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune "Clothes Found More Expensive for Husbands" March 6, 1930
  5. ^ Herald-Journal "Written by a Woman, of course" March 19, 1930
  6. ^ Apple, Rima D. (2003). The challenge of constantly changing times : from Home Economics to Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, 1903-2003. Madison, Wis.: Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin--Madison Libraries. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781893311398.