Ellen Swallow Richards, a 19th-century advocate for public sanitation and good health, is now recognized as the woman who created the fields of ecology and home economics. From 1876 until her death in 1911, Richards used this house in Jamaica Plain, a part of Boston, as a home laboratory and as an office for the Center for Right Living. Despite her eventual fame, Richard's hopes for a higher education were frustrated until, at the age of 25, she entered Vassar College and studied under Maria Mitchell. In 1873, MIT awarded a B.S. to Richards, the first woman admitted to a scientific school of any kind; nevertheless, despite later years of graduate study, she was never awarded the doctorate she earned. Immediately after receiving her B.S., she began efforts to expand the education of young girls and started an advanced class in chemistry at the Girls High School in Boston. In 1876, the Richards purchased this Italianate home and began systematically remodeling it to fit Ellen Swallow Richard's concerns as a pioneering environmental scientist as well as to serve as the laboratory for the Center for Right Living. They installed window units that opened at the top and bottom to release warm, stale air. They removed lead pipes, set up a system for indoor, oxygen-producing plants and re-routed the waste system away from the well. At the Center for Right Living, the first consumer home testing laboratory for theories of nutrition and efficiency, Richards hired MIT students to scientifically test foods, utilities and utensils to the point of calculating to the smallest unit the fuel, time and money needed for individual tasks. The result was a precise science of domestic economy that applied biological, chemical and physical principles to daily life. Richard's commitment to improving sanitary conditions and the efficiency of domestic labor helped to redefine aesthetic standards for the single family dwelling.
The Ellen H. Swallow Richards House, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 32 Eliot St. in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, MA. The property is a private residence and is not open to the public.