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George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

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Ellen Henrietta Swallow, raised in a rural community, was the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first American woman to earn a degree in chemistry. In 1875, she married Robert H. Richards, chairman of the Mine Engineering Department at MIT. In 1884, she started working as MIT's first female professor in the new laboratory of sanitation chemistry. She introduced biology to MIT's curriculum and helped to establish a new oceanographic institute, known as Woods Hole. In addition, she tested home furnishings and foods for toxic contaminants, investigated water pollution, and designed safe sewage systems. Ellen H. Richards published more than a dozen books and many articles, including The Chemistry of Cooking (1882) and Food Materials and their Adulterations (1885), which had great influence over the passage of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Acts. Today she's considered the founder of the field of home economics.
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