Mary E. Sweeny was an internationally known authority on home economics and family relations. Sweeny was connected with the department of home economics at UK since she earned her postgraduate degree from Columbia University in 1912. Upon arriving at the University of Kentucky, Sweeny contributed greatly to the rapid growth of home economics and her untiring efforts were given credit for the establishment of the department of home economics to the college of home economics.
Before become Dean of the college, Sweeny was a specialist in home economics extension for five years – this was done in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture and the college of agriculture at the University of Kentucky. Sweeny contributed greatly to the betterment of general living conditions in rural areas, to the introduction of hot school lunches in rural schools, and to the addition of courses in cooking and sewing in elementary and high schools in the state of Kentucky.
Sweeny was head of the department of home economics from 1913-1916, dean of the college from 1916-1917, and again head through 1920. At that point she left to become director of the Merrill Palmer School in Detroit, Michigan where she worked for the next 25 years. Sweeny spent most of her life studying, teaching, and writing about nutrition and child growth.
During World War I, Mary and her sister, Sunshine Sweeny went overseas as canteen workers with the American Army in France and the Army of Occupation in Germany.
In 1946, Sweeny went to India where she was a visiting lecturer and adviser to all women’s group in bettering child conditions. The trip was arranged by Agriculture Mission, Inc. and Sweeny was invited by the All-Indian Women’s Conference. Sweeny had previously spent three months in India during 1939 when she became interested in Indian customs, government and opportunities. She spent a total of 15 months and did extensive research. After her work in India, Sweeny went to China where she spent five months with schools that provided training for Child Welfare Workers or had home economics departments.
In 1958, the UK Home Management House was named for Mary Sweeny. The Mary E. Sweeny house at 644 Maxwelton Court was opened for senior students in the Home Economics School. Students lived in each of the houses for a period of six weeks, and then rotated. Gas or electric appliances were used in the kitchens to enable them to become acquainted with the different types of cooking facilities. The houses were meant to represent what was typically being done in houses of the day.
Sweeny was a past president of the American Home Economics Association and an honorary vice president of the Biochemistry Society. She was a native of Fayette County and the daughter of Dr. W. O. Sweeny and Margaret Prewitt Sweeny. Mary Sweeny passed away in 1968.