Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




During the late nineteenth century as tens of thousands of immigrants flooded American cities, public debate among reformers--who tended to be middle-class, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants--began to center on the best ways to assimilate these foreigners into American society. Although some Americanization groups stressed language and citizenship training, two major reform movements focused on foodways as an important tool of assimilation.

This dissertation examines how both the home economics and settlement house movements attempted to Americanize ethnic food practices. It describes why reformers saw foodways as a viable and meaningful avenue for reform, as well as the varied responses that reformers got from their intended audience. Through an analysis of different Chicago home economics and settlement house programs, this study investigates the motivations of reformers and reveals their attitudes towards assimilation and social conformity. Moreover, this work examines the ways that attitudes towards actual foodways practices became a contested terrain between reformers and immigrants. This study also explores the gendered messages implicit in foodways reforms, as almost all reformers and immigrants involved in the programs were women. By changing immigrant foodways, reformers hoped to make foreign girls and women conform to a traditional American domestic ideal.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access