The University was founded in 1875, as The Edinburgh School of Cookery and Domestic Economy, by Christian Guthrie Wright and Louisa Stevenson, both members of the Edinburgh Ladies' Educational Association. The School was founded as a women-only institution, with twin aims of improving women's access to higher education and improving the diets of working class families. Teaching was initially delivered via lectures at the Royal Museum, supplemented by a programme of public lectures and demonstrations delivered nationwide, but in 1877 the School established a base at Shandwick Place, in Haymarket.
The school moved in 1891 to Atholl Crescent, expanding its courses and offering residential places to students. In 1909, the School was designated a Central Institution and brought under the public control of the Scottish Education Department. The first Principal appointed was Ethel De la Cour. De la Cour retired in 1930, and in the same year the School became the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science.