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In this paper, I examine the work of Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards who is known more commonly to some individuals as the founder of the field of home economics. Richards’ first scientific studies focused on the compositions of ore minerals and later evolved into studies of water, air, and food quality. The first woman to earn a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she achieved the position of Instructor of Sanitary Chemistry there. Throughout her lifelong career as a scientist, Richards’ work ranged so widely that it is difficult to classify her among any particular group of scientists. Herein I focus on Richards’ scientific work within both the context of the existing knowledge of her time and twenty-first-century developments in science of “the environment.” Rather than reinscribe Richards as the doyen of home economics—an antiquated field of study—I trace her evolution as a scientist and resituate Richards as a source of inspiration for present-day earth scientists who dedicate themselves to the idea that scientific work should be undertaken for the public good.

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