Dietician Frances Stern connects nutrition to social welfare
"There is meager knowledge of the comparative nutritive value of various kinds of food," lamented Frances Stern in an August 23, 1914 column in the Boston Globe. The column went on to explain the importance of protein in the diet, and to compare the nutritional value of various foods, along with their cost. Stern particularly emphasized the importance of education in nutrition as a way of helping poor women make the most of their food budgets. A social worker, nutritionist, educator, and pioneering dietician, Stern was a leading exponent of the idea that adequate nutrition was crucial to social welfare.
Born in Boston on July 4, 1873, Stern, as a teenager, began working with children at The Industrial School in Boston's North End and teaching Sunday School at Temple Israel. Working with Isabel Hyams and Marion Ratshesky Ehrlich, she organized the Louisa May Alcott Club to teach nutrition and homemaking to young girls in 1895. Seeking more education, Stern took a special course of study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Ellen Richards, who went on to found the American Home Economics Association.
Stern's work developing visiting housekeeping programs for the Boston Association for the Relief and Control of Tuberculosis and the Boston Provident Association led to the publication of a book, Food for the Worker, in 1917. During World War I, Stern worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and for the American Red Cross in France. Upon her return from France, she founded the Food Clinic as part of the Boston Dispensary.
The Food Clinic dispensed practical advice on diet and nutrition to its clients and studied the ways in which health intersected with nutrition, ethnicity, and economic status. Stern tried to mold her education efforts to the needs of her clients, presenting information in multiple languages and through visual aids. She also tailored her dietary recommendations to patients' incomes and encouraged immigrant clients to prepare their own native foods.
The Clinic became widely recognized for excellence in nutrition education and became a training center for dieticians from all over the world. In 1943, the Clinic was renamed in Frances Stern's honor. Frances Stern died in Boston on December, 24, 1947, at age seventy-four. Today, the Frances Stern Nutrition Center is part of Tufts-New England Medical Center, and continues to train dieticians and educate patients, continuing Stern's holistic approach to diet and health.
To learn more about Frances Stern, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for December 23, 1947, "Death of Pioneering Nutritionist Frances Stern"; Nutrition and Social Welfare: What Would Frances Stern Do?, Jewesses with Attitude; Frances Stern in the Virtual Archive.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. pp. 1335-1336; John LoDico, "To Those Who Knew Her, Stern Was a Great Mentor," Tufts Nutrition, Fall 1999; Mary Pfaffman, editorial, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 1948; Frances Stern, "The Food Clinic Lives in Peace and War", Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July-August, 1944; the Boston Globe, August 23, 1914; nutrition.tufts.edu/1177953850925/Nutrition-Page-nl2w_1177953851896.html.