In 1852 Louisa Hope and others created the Scottish Ladies Association for Promoting Female Industrial Education. The intention was to ensure that females would learn sewing and in time other domestic subjects in separate gender based education. The Church of Scotland had decided in 1849 that it wanted female "schools of industry". Women were seen as centres of moral and religious values for families and upper class ladies in the new association saw it as their role to provide it.
In 1853 Hope published, The Female Teacher: Ideas Suggestive of Her Qualifications and Duties where she notes that women should be "keepers at home" and men should see to his "labour and his work until the evening". Education of females would elevate the "lower classes" and this was the "aim of the Scottish Ladies Association for Promoting Female Industrial Education".
Hope organised a petition of 130 signatures of "principal ladies of Scotland" demanding improved sewing lesson for girls in Scottish schools. The petition was supported by letters sent to newspapers and this was of underestimated influence. By 1861 grants were available to support this objective and in 1870 70% of schools were including sewing in their curriculum according to inspectors.
The first book on home economics was Mrs. Welch's Cookbook, published in 1884 at Iowa State by Mary Beaumont Welch. Welch's classes on domestic economy were the first in the nation to give college credit on the subject.
In the late 19th century, the Lake Placid Conferences took place. The conferences consisted of a group of educators working together to elevate the discipline to a legitimate profession. Originally, they wanted to call this profession "oekology", the science of right living. However, "home economics" was ultimately chosen as the official term in 1899.
Family and consumer sciences were previously known in the United States as home economics, often abbreviated as "home ec" or "HE". In 1994, various organizations, including the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, adopted the new term "Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)" to reflect the fact that the field covers aspects outside of home life and wellness. FCS is taught worldwide, as an elective or a required course in secondary education, and in many tertiary and continuing education institutions. Sometimes it is also taught in primary education. International cooperation in the field is coordinated by the International Federation for Home Economics, established in 1908.
Pioneers of the field included numerous female figures, such as Ellen Swallow Richards, who had profound impacts on the home economics profession. In 1909, Richards founded the American Home Economics Association (now called the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences). From 1900 to 1917, more than thirty bills discussed in Congress dealt with issues of American vocational education and, by association, home economics. Americans wanted more opportunities for their young people to learn vocational skills and to learn valuable home and life skills. However, home economics was still dominated by women and women had little access to other vocational trainings. As stated by the National Education Association (NEA) on the distribution of males and females in vocations, “one-third of our menfolk are in agriculture, and one-third in non-agricultural productive areas; while two-thirds of our women are in the vocation of homemaking”.
There was a great need across the United States to continue improving the vocational and homemaking education systems because demand for work was apparent after World War I and II. Therefore, in 1914 and 1917, women's groups, political parties, and labor coalitions worked together in order to pass the Smith-Lever Act and the Smith-Hughes Act. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 and the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 created federal funds for "vocational education agriculture, trades and industry, and homemaking" and created the Office of Home Economics. With this funding, the United States was able to create more homemaking educational courses all across the country.
Practice homes were added to American universities in the early 1900s in order to model a living situation, with the first facility built for home management practice constructed in the early 1920s at North Dakota Agricultural College. The all-women ‘team’ model used for students was different from prevailing expectations of housewives. For example, women were graded on collaboration, while households at the time assumed that women would be working independently. Nevertheless, the practice homes were valued. These practicum courses took place in a variety of environments including single-family homes, apartments, and student dorm-style blocks. For a duration of a number of weeks, students lived together while taking on different roles and responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, interior decoration, hosting, and budgeting. Some classes also involved caring for young infants, temporarily adopted from orphanages. Children's service organizations helped supply the babies who were awaiting adoption. At Cornell University, the first practice baby was called Dicky Domecon, named after the phrase “domestic economy”. Dicky was borrowed by Cornell in 1920 when he was three weeks old. Practice babies belonged to the students and to the department and were considered central to the proper training and development of home economics students. Many fields of high acuity use simulation to enhance training in complicated situations. Childcare practicums were often included at the same time as other classwork, requiring students to configure their intellectual and home lives as compatible with one another. Home economics programs were using practice babies nationwide, however by 1959 less than one percent of programs still ran full-time operations. The practice was discontinued altogether by the early 1970s. According to Megan Elias, "in the ideal, domestic work was as important as work done outside the home and it was performed by teams of equals who rotated roles. Each member of the team was able to live a life outside the home as well as inside the home, ideally, one that both informed her domestic work and was informed by it. This balance between home and the wider world was basic to the movement."
In South Korea, the field is most commonly known as "consumer science" (소비자학, sobija-hak). The field began in schools taught by Western missionaries in the late 19th century. The first college-level department of family science was established at Ewha Womans University in Seoul in 1929.
In 1945, just days before the Liberation of World War II, Ada Gobetti stated, "The most difficult problem will be that of the housewife. It will be one of the most difficult to resolve if one wants to create a new society." She wanted women, family, work, and society to form a new relationship through education and organization of the housewives. Although people were not taught formal classes of home economics, during the 1950s and 1960s home economics manuals had been fully published. These manuals were compulsory for children to read in school. These manuals focused heavily on how to be a good housewife during a new era of transformation and how to adapt to new behaviors and habits.
Present day, the prevalence of FCS and CTE courses help prepare students for careers rather than traditional courses that prepare one for university rather than life skills. Also, homemaking and home economics courses have developed a negative connotation because of the negative gender bias associated with home economics courses. Despite this, homemaking is now socially acceptable for both men and women to partake in. In the United States, both men and women are expected to take care of the home, the children, and the finances. More women are pursuing higher education rather than homemaking. In 2016, 56.4% of college students were female as opposed to 34.5% in 1956. Some schools are starting to incorporate life skill courses back into their curriculum, but as a whole, home economics courses have been in major decline in the past century.
Starting from the Gentile reform, home economics was taught in the lower middle school and in the new unified middle school established in 1963. The name changed to Technical Applications, differentiated into male and female, which was taught until 1977 when it changed to the title of Technical Education, which no longer differed in relation to the sex of the pupils.
Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, home economics courses became more inclusive. In 1963, Congress passed the Vocational Education Act, which granted funds to vocational education job training. Home economics courses started being taught across the nation to both boys and girls by way of the rise of second-wave feminism. This movement pushed for gender equality, leading to equality in education. In 1970, the course became required for both men and women. Starting in 1994, home economics courses in the United States began being referred to as "family and consumer sciences" in order to make the class appear more inclusive. With desegregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, men and women of all backgrounds could equally learn how to sew, cook, and balance a checkbook.
Home economics was taught to girls in the junior cycle of secondary school in the 20th century. It was added to the senior cycle Leaving Certificate in 1971, at a time when elimination of school fees was increasing participation. In subsequent decades new co-educational community schools saw more boys studying the subject. Increased third-level education participation from the 1990s saw a decline in practical subjects not favoured for third-level entry requirements, including home economics.
Home economics are known in Indonesia as Family Training and Welfare (Indonesian: Pembinaan dan Kesejahteraan Keluarga, PKK). It is rooted on a 1957 conference on home economics held in Bogor; it became state policy in 1972.
Despite many secondary education establishments still referring to these enrichment classes as "home economics", the name was officially changed in 1994 by the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences to "family and consumer sciences" to more accurately represent the profession and field as a whole. As society changed over time, so did the needs of students in these classes. Topics such as nutrition, family finance, and other social justice issues have been added to family and consumer sciences classes, most frequently taught in high schools and colleges.
In 2012 there were only 3.5 million students enrolled in FCS secondary programs, a decrease of 38 percent over a decade. In 2020 the AAFCS estimates that there are 5 million students enrolled in FCS programs, a significant increase from past years that is still growing.
Finland has a 110 year history in home economics teacher education. Household economics and nutrition have been taught at university level since the 1940s. Finland has made home economics a required course for boys and girls. When at university, home economics courses fall under categories of the culture and education of nutrition and food, consumer education, environmental education, and family education. The Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education in 2014 also states to reach sustainable development, home economics must be one of the key elements throughout curriculum.