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Flemmie Pansy Kittrell: Hero in the history of home economics


Flemmie Pansy Kittrell in front of a map with strings going to dozens of locations
Flemmie Pansy Kittrell

During Black History Month, I would like to highlight a leader in the field of home economics, Flemmie Pansy Kittrell, Ph.D. She is one of so many, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,  who have made contributions advocating for racial equality and health equity.

As the first African American woman to receive her doctorate in nutrition, Kittrell used her foundation to transform the field of home economics. 

Starting her work in the United States, she expanded home economics programs to include child development and a focus on low-income, underrepresented families in small towns and rural areas. Dr. Kittrell had a big picture of her work - a theory of change - to facilitate change and drive outcomes. But not just locally or nationally but globally, Kittrell pushed for international work to be a "moral imperative" for the United States.

"If we could ever have enough food and if people are properly fed, we can prevent wars."

Her expertise expanded into international work - not observing - but digging in and researching families' diets in Western Africa and India, among many other countries. Through her work, she coined the term "hidden hunger," a type of malnutrition where a body can feel full but is not receiving the necessary nutrients.

Taking her learning back home, she continued strengthening and improving families' lives with community outreach. Through her research at a nursery school she founded at Howard University, Kittrell's work was credited as helping lead to the founding of Head Start.

It was said of her, "She further maintained that home economics educators are involved in teaching how to think rather than what to think through goal setting and decision making practices in homes."

I learned about Dr. Flemmie Pansy Kittrell while I participated in a book study in January, sponsored by the National Extension Association of Family & Consumer Science-MN Affiliate and the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development. Many colleagues and Extension partners read "The Secret History of Home Economics."

By sharing about a home economics hero, Flemmie Pansy Kittrell, I hope the legacy of her work encourages you to reflect on those in the past who continue to impact, influence and inspire the present.

Trish Olson, University of Minnesota Extension associate dean for family development

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