Floy Eugenia Whitehead, leader in the field of nutrition research, dietetics, and education, had a rich and varied career. Born in Athens, Georgia on February 10, 1913, she was one of eight children of James Fred Whitehead and Floy Eugenia Landrum Whitehead. She graduated from the Athens public school system and enrolled at the University of Georgia in 1930. After a two-year hiatus while she worked to contribute to her family´s income during the Great Depression, she returned to school in the fall of 1933. A friend suggested that she pursue a B.S. in Home Economics. The study of nutrition - particularly nutrition education - quickly became Whitehead´s passion. She graduated with a B.S. in 1936; she subsequently received her M.S. from the University of Georgia in 1942.
As a high school teacher in Moultrie, Georgia, Whitehead learned firsthand about the practical difficulties involved in changing adolescents´ dietary habits. Later, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as Assistant Professor of Home Economics at West Georgia College and Associate Educational Director of the Georgia Department of Health, she developed a holistic, community-centered approach to nutrition education. She specialized in the improvement of school lunch programs and provided field instruction for elementary and secondary educators.
In the fall of 1942, Whitehead won the prestigious General Education Board Fellowship and embarked upon her doctoral studies in nutrition at the University of Chicago. Here she worked under the direction of another pioneer in nutrition education, Dr. Lydia J. Roberts. In 1944, Whitehead seized the opportunity to design and execute a field study of nutrition education techniques and their effectiveness in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. The resulting work, spanning 1944-1948, was the first longitudinal study of a community-centered nutrition education program in the United States. Whitehead´s innovative approach to nutrition education stressed respect for a community´s economic means and food ways, whole-curriculum (rather than subject-centered) teaching applications, and ongoing community involvement in the work of public education. This study, undertaken while Whitehead was an Associate Professor of Home Economics at Louisiana State University and Associate Home Economist for that state´s Agricultural Experiment Station, became a landmark in nutrition education research. On completion of data collection, she spent the 1948-1949 school year as an Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University. She then enrolled in the School of Public Health at Harvard. Her 1951 doctoral dissertation, "Studies in Nutrition Education," summarized the Ascension Parish project and assessed the long-lasting benefits produced by her methods. A number of distinguished publications resulted from her doctoral work.
Before coming to the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in 1955 to chair the Department of Home Economics, Whitehead served as visiting lecturer at Harvard´s School of Public Health during the 1951-1952 school year. She moved to Chicago in 1952, where she took the post of director of nutrition education at the Wheat Flour Institute. From 1953 to 1955, she worked as director of nutrition education for the National Dairy Council. During these years, she also designed and executed another award-winning longitudinal research study in the public school system of Kansas City, Missouri. Again, numerous publications document her professional accomplishments during this busy time.
Whitehead presided over the University of Iowa´s Home Economics Department for sixteen years, leading it through times of turbulent social change. She insisted that Home Economics belonged at the center of a humanistic vision of the Liberal Arts and directed a five-year departmental self-study to demonstrate the validity of her claim. Moreover, she encouraged women to consider the many professional opportunities open to Home Economics graduates, citing her own satisfaction with a life spent in academic service. The burdens of administrative work and thesis direction, coupled with near-continuous speaking engagements and her commitment to professional service, slowed her research and publications in the 1960s. She stepped down as chair in 1971, retiring from the Department of Home Economics in 1978. She died in 1998.
The Floy Eugenia Whitehead papers date from 1935 to 1998 and measure 3 linear feet. The papers are arranged in eleven series: Biographical materials, Activities, Education, Personal, Professional, Publications, Research, Speeches, Unpublished Works, Photographs, and Scrapbook. Materials are arranged alphabetically. They chronicle Whitehead's professional and public achievements, but contain little information about her personal life or her sixteen-year tenure as chair of the University of Iowa Home Economics Department. A brief autobiographical piece written for the Eleusis of Chi Omega on February 19, 1962 offers an overview of her days at the University of Georgia and attributes her initial interest in Home Economics to the suggestion of a girlfriend on whom she had a "'crush'. . . in honest adolescent fashion." A 1946 feature article celebrates Whitehead as a model for the post-war career woman and gives some information about her early work as a secondary educator. Her speeches shed light on her political attitudes, spirituality, and social consciousness.
Researchers in the history of education will discover, in Whitehead's speeches, the remarks of a master educator devoted both to her subject and to an "American" style of teaching based on behavior-centered learning. She believed that classroom methodology was a home economist's central contribution to preparing students as well-educated, well-fed citizens. Her speeches frequently stress the difference between student-led "teaching" and indoctrination-style "telling." Her descriptions of a whole-curriculum approach to nutrition education, along with accompanying visuals in the 1952 filmstrip guide "Let's Teach Nutrition," provide an interesting glimpse of elementary and secondary nutrition education during the Cold War. Published summaries of the Ascension Parish and Kansas City projects also describe her teaching methods.
There are some unexpected surprises hidden within this collection. As part of her work with the Mississippi State College Extension Service's project on family and nutrition, Whitehead read, cited, and summarized reports comparing the domestic practices of African-American and white housewives during the 1940s. Whitehead's own data collection on Ascension Parish initially included African-American schools within the segregated school system, though her final project omitted an in-depth study of African-American schools. (See the 1943-1944 Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station Annual Report for mention of her initial data set.)
Those interested in the history of disability or the history of the body can find pervasive commentary on the "normal" body, particularly in discussions of obesity and the presumed characteristics of the "obese personality." The working papers of the First Public Health Institute (1958), contained in the Publications series, include a few verbatim interviews with disabled persons. A particularly rare verbatim interview conducted with a child with muscular dystrophy illuminates medical and psychological attitudes toward children with disabilities.
Finally, researchers examining gender ideology and domestic life during the Cold War should not miss the numerous trade publications contained in this collection. Copious advertising aimed at or featuring women and articles discussing, for example, anti-Communism and the school lunch worker, will be of great interest.
The Biographical Materials series (1946-1998) contains articles and press releases written about Whitehead. Hiring information, a short autobiographical piece, and her obituary round out this series.
The Activities series (1934-1994) contains information about Whitehead's membership in various professional organizations. In addition, the series documents Whitehead's college career, including her membership in the University of Georgia Girls' Glee Club and Home Economics Club. The series holds the account book that Whitehead used as a college student in the 1930s and a few of her published works of poetry from that time. Finally, the series contains materials from her trips to Washington, D.C., Nova Scotia, Maine, and the world tour she took with housemate Margaret Keyes in 1966.
The Education series (1928-1956) contains information from Whitehead's high school in Athens, Georgia and class notes from her coursework at both Harvard and the University of Georgia are included in the series.
The Personal series (1937-1992) contains a sizable amount of personal correspondence, mostly Whitehead's letters from Iowa to her family in Athens, Georgia. The series also contains articles regarding her family, including articles pertaining to her mother's reception of the State of Georgia's 1949 "Mother of the Year" award. Finally, the series contains a folder of information regarding Whitehead's engagement to John R. Bill, the widowed husband of her college friend, who died suddenly shortly before their anticipated wedding date.
The Professional series (1937-1972) includes items from Whitehead's career in Home Economics, including information from her time as a high school teacher, her involvement with various professional organizations, and correspondence. In addition, the series contains information on Whitehead's reception of the prestigious Lydia J. Roberts Award in home economics research. Finally, the series contains Whitehead's travel diary from her business trips to Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh and invitations to White House conferences on nutrition.
The Publications series (1934-1976) contains articles published in professional journals and trade publications, draft manuscripts of published materials, and correspondence concerning publications. The series also includes newsletters from Whitehead's time of leadership in the Iowa Home Economics Association and the UI Home Economics department and her work as an associate editor for the Journal of Nutrition Education. Finally, the series contains a write-up of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting that Whitehead attended in 1962 and a summary of Whitehead's work as consultant for the Department of Home Economics of Savannah State College in 1969.
The Research series (1913-1973) documents Whitehead's Ascension Parish and Kansas City school nutrition projects of the early 1950s and includes photographs and student reports from the fifth and sixth grade classrooms involved in the project.
The Speeches series (1952-1970) contains press releases, programs, correspondence and manuscript copies of speeches presented by Whitehead to various groups, including professional organizations, women's clubs, and state extension service meetings.
The Unpublished Works series (1949-1962) includes Whitehead's Ph.D. dissertation, an audience handout for one of her speeches, and a brochure on the importance of adding eggs to people's daily diets.
The Photographs series (1923-1966) contains both professional and amateur photographs documenting Whitehead's life. This series includes photos of Whitehead's family in Georgia, portraits of Whitehead for publications, photographs of Whitehead and her housemate Margaret Keyes, and photographs of classrooms from Whitehead's nutrition research.
Two Scrapbooks complete the collection. The first, dating from 1933-1934, documents Whitehead's college years in Georgia in the late 1930s with photographs and various ephemera. The second (1952-1954) contains photographs and other material concerning her family in Georgia and her years at Harvard University.