Ellen H. Swallow Richards #WHM19 #WomensHistoryMonth #WomenInSTEM
Today for Women’s History Month we are taking a look at Ellen H. Swallow Richards. Richards was a prominent figure in American chemistry and helped shape modern water treatment. Her work highlighted manufacturing waste in the water supply and led to the development of water treatment standards.
Richards was very interested in using chemistry and science to optimize everyday processes.
When MIT opened the nation’s first laboratory of sanitary chemistry in 1883, Richards was appointed assistant chemist. Within that time, she participated in sewage treatment research, analyzing as many as 40,000 samples. Her work is distinguished in the final report: “The accuracy of the work and the no less important accuracy of the records were mainly due to Mrs. Richards’s great zeal and vigilance.”
From 1887 to 1897, Richards served as official water analyst for the State Board of Health. She continued as an instructor at MIT until her death in 1911. She and her colleague, A. G. Woodman, also wrote a classic text in the field of sanitary engineering: Air, Water, and Food from a Sanitary Standpoint (1900). Richards is the author of more than 15 books, numerous articles, and reports in environmental science and engineering.
From her days at the Women’s Laboratory, Richards was very concerned about applying scientific principles to domestic topics—good nutrition, pure foods, proper clothing, physical fitness, sanitation, and efficient practices that would allow women more time for pursuits other than cooking and cleaning. In 1882 she published The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for Housekeepers.
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