The Ellen H. Richards Memorial Fund was established through a gift from the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) in memory of Ellen Swallow Richards '70. Dr. Richards, a chemist and leader in the home economics movement, was dedicated to broadening the field of science for women. In 1873—having been admitted as a special student, as a test case—she was the first woman to receive the B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

The founder of the National Home Economics Association, Richards was, at the time of her death in 1912, head of the Department of Social Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.