99.9% Communist (Home Economics and the Cold War)

Last summer I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks at Cornell University, exploring their huge collection of material on the history of home economics. I am finishing an article on colonial and post-colonial food policy in Ghana, and remembered one of the reasons I applied to work at Cornell: a 1960s project to start American-style Home Ec courses in Ghana.

kwame_nkrumahThe project (which I’ll write about in more detail later) fell victim to Cold War politics, as Kwame Nkrumah’s regime became increasingly radical and was eventually overthrown in 1966. In 1965, a Mrs. Hector wrote to Cornell’s Home Economics faculty to complain about their work in Ghana. Mrs. Hector accused Nkrumah of “waging his on-again, off again campaign of hatred” against the US.  His goal is “to eradicate Western influence and promote the revolutionary rise of Marxist regimes in Africa.” Her source of information? “All of the above came from the Readers Digest article.”


Mrs. Hector  called her local reference librarian for more information: “She then gave me the conservative estimate of communist influence in Ghana. In 1958 it was between 80 – 100%. In late 1964 it was between 90 – 100%. For all we know, it could be 99.9% today. This influence is transmitted via labor unions, government officials, political parties, propaganda, direct, visible and undercover agents, all working together.”

The Cornell archives contain a stack of letters from Mrs Hector and other women, many of them Cornell graduates, who had been asked to raise funds for training Ghanaian teachers. “This is a lot of support for a system we Americans abhor,” complained Mrs. Hector. She urges a recall of faculty from Ghana, “with full apologies to those Ghanians [sic] friendly to us.”

This was a typical Cold War-era reaction to uncomfortable news from abroad. Other New York women took a more strategic view, however: Mrs. Wood told her county Home Economics organization, “if we withdraw, the vacuum we leave will be filled by others.” [ie communists] To their credit, the Cornell faculty kept working in Ghana until 1967, when the project term expired.

The Home Economics department at the University of Education, Winneba, is still operating today.


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