Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Jessica Peixotto: an original journey towards the economics of consumption

Blayac Juliette, Lyon 2

Jessica Peixotto (1864-1941) is one of the first academics who paved the way for women in economics. She was the second woman to obtain a doctorate at UC Berkeley in 1901 and the first in political economy. In 1918, she was officially appointed full professor of social economics: a pioneer again, being the first woman to reach this status. Secondary literature associates her with Hazel Kyrk (1886-1957) for her works Getting and spending at the Professional standard of living (1927) and How workers spend a living wage (1929) (Rutherford 2011, p. 47; Dorfman 1959, pp. 570-578). After writing A Theory of Consumption (1923), Hazel Kyrk joined the Department of Home Economics at the University of Chicago as a consumer economist. Home Economics was a women’s movement started by Ellen Richards in 1900’s. It claimed to improve living conditions through female education. There were several Home Economics departments in different universities around the U.S. In these departments, numerous disciplines such as nutrition, hygiene and consumption economics were taught. Although Peixotto is close to the movement, going so far as to support the creation in 1916 of a Home Economics department in Berkeley (Nerad 1999), this is not what I identify as the starting point of her interest for the economics of consumption but her support of women trade unions and their and their fight for better wages (1908). She exchanged letters with Katherine Philips Edson (1870-1933), an executive committee officer of the Industrial Welfare Commission who was in charge of negotiating and establishing decent working hours as well as establishing a minimum wage with various industries employing women. Peixotto disagreed with the amount claimed for the minimum wages, too low and miscaculated. From the 1920’s, she turned to economics of consumption andspecialized in the study of standards of living to bring realistic studies to workers'wages negotiations.


Keywords: Jessica Peixotto; Progressive Era; Consumption Economics; Home Economics.