American Sociological Association

Rhoades History Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Building Social Science Institutions

In 1907, Albion Small predicted that "more will be said, and more definitely, and with more confident emphasis, from and about the sociological point of view" because a "corporate form" had been organized for sociology.

Small made his prediction in an editorial published in the first volume of Papers and Proceedings of the Annual Meeting and the first 25 years of the American Sociological Society validated his prophecy.

In those early years, the Society played a central role in promoting the development of the social sciences and to some extent the humanities in this country by pioneering or cooperating in the creation of what are now considered "institutions" in 'those communities.

These accomplishments of the Society were achieved in collaboration with other associations and societies, not only out of necessity, but also because the founding of the Society heralded "the faith that all the social sciences are unscientific in the degree in which they attempt to hold themselves separate from each other, and to constitute closed systems of abstractions."

Small continued, "It (the Society) demands correlation of the social sciences, to the end that real knowledge of human life as it is may increase; that insight into the quality of life as it is capable of becoming may expand; and that effort to realize the possibilities of life may grow more concerted and more intelligent."

Perhaps the four most significant accomplishments were (1) the creation of the Social Science Research Council, (2) the establishment of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, (3) the development of the American Council of Learned Societies devoted to Humanistic Studies, and (4) the redefinition of the status of the social sciences in the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools.

Other accomplishments included (1) the founding of the journal, Social Science Abstracts; (2) the development of the Dictionary of American Biography; (3) the creation of a national social science fraternity-Alpha Pi Zeta; (4) the challenging of the classification of scientific positions in economics, sociology, and statistics made by the Federal Personnel Classification Board, and (5) the sponsorship of the American Yearbook.


The involvement of the Society in the creation of the Social Science Research Council began in 1922 when James P. Lichtenberger, current President, presented a proposal to organize a Social Science Council aimed at the problem of coordinating research activities that involved cooperation with other organizations. The move to create SSRC was initiated by the American Political Science Association's Committee on Research headed by Charles E. Merriam of the University of Chicago.

Small made a motion that "The Society approve the consideration of the establishment of a Social Science Council for the consideration of study and research in the various social sciences and the more effective and complete organization and development of social research, and authorize the President to appoint a committee to meet with representatives of the other social science associations." The committee was composed of F. Stuart Chapin and John L. Gillin.

A preliminary meeting was held, February 24, 1923 in Chicago to consider the organization of the Council. A second meeting, May 17, 1923 in Chicago, attended by representatives from sociology, economics and political science completed the formal organization of SSRC. The critical stimulus for creating the organization appears to have been a request from the National Research Council for social science representation in a study of human migration. It was the first time NRC had looked to the social sciences "for advice and suggestions."

It was through its participation in SSRC that the Society was able to achieve a goal it had been pursuing since 1920-an adequate abstracting service for the social sciences. The Committee on Social Abstracts, chaired by Chapin, had been prevented from achieving that goal by the financial condition of the Society.

SSRC was able to raise funds to establish the journal, Social Science Abstracts, and insure its continuance for 10 years. The journal was launched in 1928 with Chapin as editor.

In 1929, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled SSRC to assist President Hoover to form the President's Research Committee on Recent Social Trends which conducted the first national study in which sociologists and sociology played a major role. William F. Ogburn was Study Director; Howard Odum was Assistant Director.


A resolution sponsored by Howard B. Woolston and Alexander Goldenweiser initiated the effort to establish the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences during the 1923 meeting. The Executive Committee of the Society endorsed the publication of the Encyclopedia and appointed a committee to carry out the program on a motion by Charles A. Ellwood. The Committee was composed of Woolston, Goldenweiser, and Ogburn.

The committee enlisted the cooperation of six other social science associations, and in 1925 a joint committee was organized with an executive committee chaired by E.R.A. Seligman. In 1926, Seligman accepted the position of editor-in-chief and within 12 months he had elaborated the plan for the publication and obtained the necessary funds for its support.

At that point, ten organizations accepted sponsorship of the Encyclopedia: American Sociological Society, American Anthropological Association, the American Association of Social Workers, the American Economic Association, the American Historical Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Statistical Association, the Association of Law Schools, and the National Education Association.

In 1928, Harry E. Barnes, Chair, Committee on the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, reported, "It can be said without extravagance that this Encyclopedia, when it is complete after four or five years, will be far and away the most important work of its kind that has ever been prepared, and that it will, I hope, redound to the credit of American scholarship." The first volume of the Encyclopedia was published in 1930.


The Society became an early supporter of humanistic studies in this country by becoming one of the original members of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1919. ACLS was not incorporated until 1924.

Through its participation in ACLS, the Society played a part in the founding of the Dictionary of American Biography which was underwritten by Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, in 1924. ACLS began working on the idea of a dictionary in 1922. The first edition was published in 1928.

In those early years, grants from the Carnegie Corporation enabled ACLS to conduct a survey of learned societies and a survey of research in humanistic and social sciences. The latter study, published in 1928, was conducted by F. A. Ogg, a sociologist.

In addition, ACLS conducted a study of the linguistic and national stocks in the 1790 population of the United States, produced a directory of American societies, institutes and other organizations devoted to the humanistic and social sciences, financed a press bureau for the 1927 joint meeting of the associations in sociology, political science, history and economics, and began a fellowship program.

Social Studies

The participation of the Society in the movement to redefine the status of social science in the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools began indirectly in 1913 with the appointment of a Committee on Sociology in the Training of Teachers composed of John M. Gillette, Frederick B. Clow, and Reuben McKitrick.

Working with the National Education Association, the Committee was able to hold a session at that organization's meeting in 1914 which resulted in an NEA committee beginning an investigation into "the place of sociology in normal schools." During the 1918 meeting of the Society, Clow reported the investigation was then being carried on by the U.S. Bureau of Education.

In 1919, the Committee on Teaching of Sociology in Grade and High Schools of America urged sociologists and economists to lend their active, organized support to the movement and presented a recommended "program of social studies" that was based on reports and recommendations made by all the organizations participating in the movement. The program recommended greater attention to the economic and social aspects of human existence in all courses; a general social science at the 12th grade level that emphasized economics and sociology; and the inclusion of sociology courses in the training of teachers. The report was accepted and the formation of a Joint Committee with the American Economics Association was approved to pursue the matter.

At the 1920 meeting Ross L. Finney, Committee Chair, reported that the NEA Committee on Social Studies had passed a resolution recommending that a program of social studies, "approximately as set forth in our last year's report", be required of all schools.

Finney said, "This resolution is significant not only because of the radical innovation it recommends, but also because of the close affiliation between this committee of NEA and the Federal Bureau of Education, and also because this program represents, as stated last year, the consensus of opinion of all the committees at work on the problem, including that of the American Historical Association whose program the schools have been following for the last twenty-five years."

Besides Finney, the committee was composed of E.S. Bogardus, C.A. Ellwood, Cecil C. North, Dwight Sanderson, Walter R. Smith, and A.J. Todd.

In 1921, a joint Commission on the Presentation of Social Studies in the Schools was formed by six associations. In 1922, the Society authorized the appointment of one of its members to the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of Social Studies.

Alpha Pi Zeta

In 1923, the Society endorsed the formation of a national honorary social science fraternity upon a motion by H.B. Woolston and F.H. Giddings. In 1926, Ellwood, reporting for L.L. Bernard, Chair of the Committee on a National Social Science Fraternity, stated that Alpha Pi Zeta "has now been organized and incorporated" under the laws of Illinois. Chapters had already been organized at five universities.

Civil Service

In 1924, the Committee on Personnel Classification in the Federal Government acting in concert with other associations presented "briefs regarding the proper classification of scientific positions in economics, sociology, and statistics to the President of the United States, the Civil Service Committees of the two House of Congress and to the Federal Personnel Classification Board."

This action was taken because "the budget for the fiscal year 1925 had revealed that the Personnel Classification Board had generally classified scientific government positions in the fields of economics, sociology, and statistics as being in the Clerical Administrative and Fiscal Service as defined in the Classification Act of 1923, and not in the Professional and Scientific Service as defined in that Act."

The Committee formally protested the action of the Personnel Board on the grounds "that it is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Classification Act and that it is against the interests of the country which requires more complete and intelligent application of the social sciences."

The Committee believed the lower classification would adversely affect the application of the social sciences because it would not attract competent personnel to gather the data on which government decisions and the work of social scientists depends.

The Committee was composed of Carl Kelsey, Robert R. Kern and Mollie R. Carroll.

American Yearbook

In 1927, the Society joined with forty-nine other national learned societies as sponsors of The American Yearbook which recorded significant events in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and public affairs. The Society's representative prepared the article on sociology. The Yearbook was published by the New York Times.


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