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Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00130

Scope and Contents

The Ellen Swallow Richards papers are primarily related to her work as an advocate of higher education for women and as an expert in water chemistry. The collection contains photographs; correspondence; notes and writings; and printed matter, including scientific writings and selected tests, diagrams, drawings, and reprints. Of particular interest are writings and photographs related to water testing and pollution of Jamaica Pond in Boston (1900-07). There are articles written for the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA) on the education of women, as well as Richards' books on home economics. The papers also contain correspondence and printed material related to the founding of the ACA (1882) and to the Society to Encourage Studies at Home (1873). The papers of Robert Hallowell Richards are located in the Archives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Researchers may also wish to contact the M.I.T. Archives for information about the records of the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Civil and Sanitary Engineering.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1882 - 1974


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Ellen Swallow was born 3 December 1842 in Dunstable, Massachusetts. She received a B.S. from Vassar College in 1870. She earned another B.S. from M.I.T. in 1873 and, in the same year, an M.A. from Vassar. She studied for a doctorate at M.I.T., but never received it, reportedly because "the heads of the department did not wish a woman to receive the first D.S. in chemistry." In 1875 she married M.I.T. chemistry professor, Robert H. Richards, and devoted the next ten years to advocating for scientific education for women. Richards was the first woman elected to the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers and in 1882 she helped found the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women). She was also a leader in the effort to improve physical education in colleges. She wrote three books: The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning (1882 and 1887), Food Materials and Their Adulteration (1885), and The Cost of Food, a Study in Dietaries (1901). In 1884, M.I.T. set up a chemical laboratory for the study of sanitation, the first of its kind, with William Nichols in charge and Ellen Richards as his assistant. During this time, Richards devised the first water purity tests and, beginning in 1887, she was put in charge of the laboratory; she ran it during the groundbreaking study of water pollution in Massachusetts that modernized sewage treatment ("The Great Sanitary Survey"), commissioned by the State Board of Health. After teaching gratis in the women's laboratory at M.I.T for eight years, when women were admitted to M.I.T. on an equal footing with men Richards was appointed to the faculty as instructor in sanitary chemistry. She also taught analysis of water, sewerage, and air in the department of sanitary engineering, established in 1890. From about 1890, she increasingly concentrated on what came to be known as the "home economics movement." Among her many accomplishments, she introduced the idea of nutritious lunches in schools; worked for public support for systematic domestic science instruction; and carried on important work for the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, founded in 1873 to "help women who needed guidance and encouragement in acquiring knowledge which they could not go to school to get." Ellen Swallow Richards died in Boston on 30 March 1911.


0.668 linear feet (3 containers)

Language of Materials



Ellen Richards was a chemist and professor. She taught analysis of water, sewage, and air, and devised the first water purity tests. Involved in home economics movement, Richards introduced ideas of nutritious lunches in schools and systematic domestic science instruction. Materials include photographs, correspondence, notes and writings.


This collection is organized into three series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Writings

Immediate Source of Acquisition

According to a letter written in 1960 by Margaret Storrs Grierson, Nina Browne, Grierson's predecessor as Smith College Archivist and a friend of Ellen Swallow Richards', persuaded Richards to place her papers in the Sophia Smith Collection; no other details are known.

Finding aid to the Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Burd Schlessinger
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss59 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:23-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-04-02: Made FA pencil edit changes and updated finding aid.
  • 2022-03-02: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063