American Sociological Association

Rhoades History Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Separate and Independent

At 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, December 27, 1905, some forty to fifty "specialists in sociology" from twenty-one educational institutions and a dozen organizations engaged in practical sociological work gathered in McCoy Hall at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

They had responded to an initiative begun that summer by C.W.A. Veditz, George Washington University, to determine "the desirability and feasibility of forming some sort of an organization of sociologists."

Veditz began his exploration of that possibility by writing to "a number of the well-known sociologists of the United States" including Albion W. Small, University of Chicago; E.A. Ross, University of Nebraska; Lester F. Ward, Washington, D.C.; Simon N. Patten and Samuel M. Lindsay, University of Pennsylvania, and Thomas N. Carver, Harvard University.

Responses were favorable to the establishment of an organization, but divided on whether the organization should be "separate and independent" or part of an existing organization such as the American Economics Association or the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Initial Responses

Small wrote, "The formation of a sociological association has been suggested by a number of sociologically inclined people in this region, and I should certainly be glad to cooperate most heartily in any plan which may seem feasible. The main thing is getting together for free threshing out of ideas of common interest."

He continued, "Whether we should throw logic to the winds and organize a section of the Economic Association, simply for the practical reason that most of us are members of that body, and in general would prefer concentration of interests rather than division; or whether we should organize a parallel society like the Historical or the Political Science Association; or whether we should disregard the older societies altogether-these questions of detail about which I should be ready to acquiesce in the view of the majority."

Ross responded, "For three or four years I have thought the time was ripe for American sociologists to come together and thresh out their differences... I should thereafter heartily welcome the project for some sort of national association and believe that such an association could do a great deal to clarify our minds, acquaint us with one another's opinions, and exalt the dignity of sociology in the public eye.

"Sociology has grown up through one-idea thinkers, each of whom has worked his idea for all that it is worth clear across the field. Now, however, there is a get-together spirit abroad, and a continuance of the isolation of the past cannot but prove a damage to the development of our science."

At Small's suggestion, Veditz contacted the program committee of the Economic Association to see if time could be allotted for a conference of sociologists during the upcoming meeting. The request was granted.

Consequently, on December 2 a letter was sent to "about three hundred persons throughout the country supposed to be interested in sociology" inviting them to attend the conference.

In part the letter said, "Sociologists have been so largely accustomed to working along divergent lines, and so frequently hold radically different views, that there seems to be peculiar justification for some sort of an organization which shall bring together at regular intervals those interested in the same group of problems, and permit of that interchange of ideas and comparisons of projects which in other fields of knowledge has so frequently contributed to the advancement of science."

The letter continued, "Several European nations already possess sociological associations for this purpose, although nowhere, perhaps, is there a greater, more widespread, or more truly scientific interest in the science of society than in the United States."

Those persons unable to attend the meeting were requested to "send an expression of opinion" on the following questions:

1. Is there need for an organization of sociologists?

2. Should it be formed now?

3. If needed and formed now, what should be its scope?

4. Ought it to be a separate, independent organization, or should it, at least for the present, form a part or division of some existing association?

Some sixty sociologists replied to the letter, which in addition to the sociologists already mentioned, bore the names of Franklin H. Giddings, Columbia University; William G. Sumner, Yale University; and Veditz.

The stage was then set for the first meeting in McCoy Hall at Johns Hopkins University.

First Meeting

William Davenport, Hamilton College, chaired the meeting. Veditz reported that written replies to the letter of invitation unanimously favored the immediate creation of an organization while a considerable majority favored a separate and independent organization with a scope sufficiently wide to include among its members not only those interested in sociology from a purely theoretical and academic point of view, but also those who are engaged in practical sociological work.

Small wrote, "I should urge that the sociologists keep the machinery of the society as simple and inexpensive as possible, so that dues will not be a serious additional burden to anybody; and that we attempt to recognize in our fellowship and in our program all the different divisions of sociological interest. That is, the few general sociologists should not say to the social technologist of any type, 'We have no need of thee,' or vice versa."

A practical sociologist, Anna Garlin Spencer, New York School of Philanthropy, expressed "keen interest in any effort to consolidate and make more effective the labors of those who are trying to solve social problems and initiate social movements by the light of science. I am very desirous that there shall be a'clearing-house' in the field of sociology, especially that which has focused into practical effort."

C.R. Henderson, University of Chicago, advised "that a very modest beginning be made"; Charles A. Ellwood, University of Missouri, favored "making membership in this association open to all who have any interest in sociological problems"; and Frank W. Blackmar, University of Kansas, supported "a separate and independent organization" because "to make it a part of one of the associations named would give it a subordinate position, and, what is worse, would seem to indicate that sociology is a branch of either history, political science, economics, or anthropology."

Upon completion of Veditz's report, conference participants spoke out on the questions raised. Giddings pointed out that no other country in the world exhibits as much interest in problems of sociology as does the United States; that many colleges and universities offer courses in sociology; that Professor Sumner, of Yale, was giving courses in sociology, using Herbert Spencer's Sociology as a textbook before many persons attending the meeting had entered college; that American sociology was receiving recognition abroad, and yet, no distinctively scientific national organization of sociologists existed in this country.

Clinton R. Woodruff, of Philadelphia, raised the question whether those interested in practical reform work would be allowed to become members. This question was not specifically answered. However, the ensuing discussion indicated that practical sociologists should be allowed to join the organization because "one of the best results of the new organization would be achieved by bringing into close and regular contact the 'theoretical' and the `practical' sociologists; each has much to learn from the other."

The question of whether the new organization should be separate and independent was addressed by Ward; Giddings; Carver; Veditz; Lindsay; David C. Wells, Dartmouth College; W.F. Willcox, Cornell University; David Kinley, University of Illinois; and Edward C. Hayes, Miami University.

The discussion concluded that if the organization was to join an existing organization there was no easy way to determine which organization it should join. In addition, if the organization became part of another organization, one could become a member only by joining the parent organization. Finally, such a move would imply that sociology is either subservient to or part of that field. The participants also believed that the parent organization would not provide sociologists with a sufficient portion of the annual meeting

Carver thought the multiplication of organizations was undesirable. He also believed that there would be too few persons interested in sociology to warrant the creation of an independent society for some time. Willcox suggested that the new organization might unite with the American Social Science Association, an organization that had an honorable history, but was in a state of decline. Some hope was expressed by others that a federation of societies engaged in the study of the social sciences would ultimately be formed.

A motion by Ward to immediately form a separate and independent organization was passed with only two dissenting votes. A motion by Woodruff authorized the appointment of a five-person Committee on Organization. Davenport appointed the following persons to that committee: Charles H. Cooley, University of Michigan; Veditz; Willcox; Wells; and Lindsay.

Second Meeting

At 3:30 p.m., Thursday, December 28, 1905, Veditz presented the conference with the Constitution drawn up by the Committee on Organization. The society was to be known as the American Sociological Society. Its purpose was "the encouragement of sociological research and discussion, and the promotion of intercourse between persons engaged in the scientific study of society."

Membership was open to any person upon payment of $3 per year. Officers designated were President, two Vice Presidents, a Secretary, a Treasurer-the last two positions could be held by a single person-and an Executive Committee consisting of the officers ex officio, together with six elected members serving three-year terms. Officers were to be nominated by a committee appointed by the Executive Committee and elected by a majority vote at the annual meeting. Resolutions were to be submitted to the Executive Committee for its approval before submission to the vote of the society. Amendments were to be proposed by the Executive Committee and adopted by a majority of the members present at any regular or special meeting of the society.

Each Article of the Constitution was put to a vote. Only two generated discussion. Carl Kelsey, University of Pennsylvania, wondered whether the "purpose" of the society, could be interpreted to exclude those interested mainly in practical sociological work. Lucille Eaves of New York and Henry M. Leipziger, New York Bureau of Education, asked that it be made clear that practical sociologists could be included in the membership of the society. Giddings and Wells believed the original wording was ample enough to include everybody interested in "sociological discussion and research."

Discussion on the "resolution" article sought a specific provision that would prevent the society from passing "any resolution approving or disapproving specific sociological doctrines or specific schemes for social betterment." It was decided that the article was "sufficient to prevent the submission and consideration of undesirable motions." Each article and the Constitution as a whole was passed unanimously.

Davenport, then, appointed a Nominating Committee composed of Wells, Kelsey, and J. Elbert Cutler of Wellesley. While the committee was considering a slate, a motion was made and carried to appoint a Committee on Membership as soon as possible "for the purpose of making known the existence and objects of the society and enrolling members."

In reply to the question whether the new organization would issue publications, the Committee on Organization decided to leave the creation of a Publication Committee to the Executive Committee because publications required funding which depended on membership.

The following slate of candidates produced by the Nominating Committee was approved unanimously by the conference: Ward, President; Sumner, First Vice President; Giddings, Second Vice President; Veditz, Secretary-Treasurer; and the following members of the Executive Committee-for three years: Ross and Willcox; for two years: Small and Lindsay; for one year: Wells and Davenport.

When the first Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Society was held December 27-29,1906 in Providence, R.I., membership stood at 115. Fourteen of these charter members were eventually to serve as Presidents of the American Sociological Society.


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