"However pleasant specialization might be, the world will not wait for it.  The social changes that are now so rapidly taking place in the world arise from an integration of causes and it is only by an integration of knowledge that we can interpret and direct them."

Elizabeth Hoyt, "Challenge from Guatemala: Obstacles to Point Four" (1950)


Elizabeth Ellis Hoyt  (1893-1980) was a Professor of Economics (1915-1970) at Iowa State. She is best known for her association with early efforts that led to the creation of the Consumer Price Index, which is  now used to gauge inflation and the cost of living.  She was also an internationally known economist, with a special interest in developing countries.

Elizabeth was born in Augusta, Maine, and received her A.B. (1913) from Boston College; M.A. (1924) and Ph.D (1925)from Radcliffe College.  She was an Instructor (1921-1923) at Wellesley College; an Associate Professor (1925-1928) and Professor (1928-1970) at Iowa State College (University).  As a researcher with the National Industrial Conference Board (1917-1921), she compiled an index of cost-of-living factors, the forerunner of today's Consumer Price Index.

Dr. Hoyt received a Fulbright Scholarship to study cultural change affecting the economy in East Africa  (1950-1951), and a Ford Foundation grant to study
workers' reactions to employers' policies in Central America and the Caribbean (1957-1958).  She was especially active in supplying library materials to English-using areas south of the Sahara, and in 1970, a library in Paradise View, South Africa was named in her honor.  She was the author of several books  (Primitive Trade; Income in Our Society; Consumption of Wealth; Consumption in our Society; Choice and Destiny of Nations), received a Faculty Citation (1969) from Iowa State and a Distinguished Service Award (1964) from Radcliffe.  

A Reminiscence by Dr. Hoyt

"In 1928, I took the fall quarter off and made a trip around the world, crossing the Pacific in a small ship to Japan, visiting Japan and Korea; and most important, spending a month in Peking at the time of famine.  In the street were peasants seeking food.  But there was no food to be given.  Every night carts collected the dead bodies.  I returned by the Trans-Siberian Railroad and ship from Bremen.  I had lost 20 pounds and had tuberculosis, which was soon cured in Ames.  I regard this experience as the most important of my life."

The Consumer Price Index

According to an interview with Dr. Hoyt in a 1980 Iowa Stater interview:

The government didn't seem disposed to do anything, so the person for whom I worked said, "We'll publish an index.  You start it."

And that she did, starting from scratch by studying the boldface listings in major metropolitan telephone directories.  Then she would call major manufacturers and ask about prices three months before and how much the items had gone up in cost...We did indexes for clothing, rent, and transportation."  Hoyt traveled to various cities and also visited labor unions, supplying the unions with the information she had gathered.  From her diary in 1917:

"There were about fifteen men and four girls at the Union meeting tonight...

/ List / ISU HistoryResources / Bibliography

Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State University
Comments: archives@iastate.edu
URL: http://historicexhibits.lib.iastate.edu/20thWomen/revisedSept2005/20thcenturywomen.html