Cookery, Health, and Education

This page explores how dietary health and illness were woven into the teachings at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science.

In the 1920s, the GWSCDS took an increased interest in how domestic science education could be directly linked to health. On the 12th of November 1924, one item from minutes from the Cookery Sub-committee of the College reads: ‘Courses for “Sister Tutors and Dietitians Recommended’: 

The Principal explained that some inquiring from the public, who attended the Dietetic Lecture open to them and part of the Institutional Course, had been made with regard to the institution of a proper Course for Dietitians. 
      It was reported a course for “Sister Tutors” was given in Kings College and that the idea was the same and that Glasgow might be the Centre for Scotland. Syllabus was read showing that in England 3 terms at 35 guineas was required. It was agreed to be contended [sic] a two term course at £20. Subjects to include Physiology, Hygiene, Biology, Bacteriology & Cookery. It was recommended to the Governors and if approved that all hospitals and nursing houses should be circularised [sic

This item marked the beginning of discussions which centred on the links between health, food, and cooking in the GWSCDS. One of the driving forces behind the new focus on health was a woman named Mary Andross who was a graduate of the University of Glasgow. She had a background working for the Ministry of Munitions Inspectorate on Poison Gasses, and when she joined the GWSCDS in 1925, she turned her skills towards analysing the effect of cooking on the nutrients in everyday foodstuffs (Thompson and McCallum 1998: 49).

Pupils at the GWSCDC. Used with permission from the GCU Archive Centre.

This close attention to the way cooking could change the health benefits of certain foods made the case for a scientific approach to food and health within the GWSCDS. The course clearly took a couple of years to design and facilitate, and the GWSCDS sent staff members to attend the course at Kings College in order to emulate the teaching up in Glasgow. In 1926, the Sister Tutor’s and Dietetics course was launched. It was the first of its kind outside of the course in London.

The Sister Tutors and Dietetics Course

This course had health and the treatment of the sick at its core. It was open to two types of women: trained nurses who would gain qualifications that allowed them to go on to teach in nurse training schools, and women who already had a Group I diploma from the GWSCDS in a subject like cookery or housewifery.  These women would then become qualified dietitians who could work in hospitals or other institutions. There were therefore two distinct qualifications that could come out of the course – ‘Sister Tutor’ or ‘Dietitian’ – but the students studied the same syllabus. Initially, the two terms covered a number of topics including bacteriology, physiology, biology, cookery, hygiene and laundrywork. Food, including the preparation of invalid recipes, was a vital part of the course. You can read more about the course and its first pupils in Kirsty Menzies’s blog for the GCU archive centre here.

Over the next few years, the dietetics qualification grew in popularity over the sister tutor’s part of the training, leading them to become two separate diplomas in 1940. As Kirsty Menzies writes in this blog about the course, problems arose when the General Nursing Council for Scotland refused to acknowledge the GWSCDS diploma as a sufficient qualification for a sister tutor. Issues like this and the resulting loss of reputation meant the sister tutors course was discontinued in 1943. The dietetics course continued however, and was popular. Indeed, dietetics is still studied at GCU today. 

The GWSCDS was therefore the first institution in Scotland to offer courses for women that centred on the links between food, cooking, and health. These were not men-of-science or MDs, but women who were taught the practicalities of care. They would then prepare food and actively care for patients. The women who came through the GWSCDS utilised their training in both domestic and professional settings, and the things they were taught raised the perception of food and cookery both within the home and in wider society. 

Dietetics and the broader field of domestic science were not the only areas in which the GWSCDS was a pioneer in Scottish education: it also excelled in electrical training, catering, and fashion. The women who ran and taught at the school were entrepreneurial, innovative, industrious, and typically a few steps ahead of societal norms in terms of their view of women’s work. 

The collections of GCU are therefore an incredibly valuable resource for understanding the development of Scottish attitudes towards food, health, and domestic education. By shining a light on them, Dishes for the Sick Room hopes to open up to new opportunities for further research.  

This page is a work in progress, but more material addressing the development of dietetic education at the GWSCDS will be added soon.


Thompson, Willie and Carole McCallum. 1998. Glasgow Caledonian University: Its Origins and Evolution (Glasgow: Tuckwell Press)