American Sociological Association

Rhoades History Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Issues and Problems Emerge

When the American Sociological Society was created in 1905, one of its founders urged his colleagues to "keep the machinery of their society as simple and as inexpensive as possible."

Over the next 25 years the Society found it increasingly more difficult to follow that advice as it attempted to pursue "the encouragement of sociological research and discussion, and the promotion of intercourse between persons engaged in the scientific study of society."

The development of the discipline and the nurturance of the profession proved to be more complex than their conception.

Membership in the Society increased from 115 in 1905 to 1530 in 1930; the budget expanded from $2,127 in 1912 to $9,160 in 1930; the number of committees rose from three to ten; the scope of the Society enlarged from the national to the international level; and a deficit began accumulating even though membership dues increased from $3 to $5.

Issues appeared concerning the teaching of sociology, especially the introductory course; the promotion and standardization of research; the application of sociological knowledge, and the protection of academic freedom and tenure.

Problems appeared concerning the governance structure; the fragmentation of the Society into sub-units called Sections; the format of the Annual Meeting; and the availability of publications.

Many of the problems and issues that surfaced in the first 25 years of the Society were to continue through the next 50.



Teaching was the first issue addressed by the Society. The issue arose during the 1909 Annual Meeting because the program included the first session held on the teaching of sociology and featured a paper by James Q. Dealey, Brown University.

At the Business Meeting, Jerome Dowd, University of Oklahoma, made a motion, that carried, to "have a committee of ten appointed, including the President of the Sociological Society, to make a report to the next meeting of the Society, consisting of: first, a statement of the subject matter of first courses now given in the colleges of the country; and, second, a suggestion of the subject matter for a fundamental course to serve as a guide to sociological teachers and as a basis for advanced work."

Dowd said, "There are two reasons for this motion: first, in taking rank as a science and in attaining to that dignity and respect which the importance of the subject and the wide interest in it demand, it seems to me desirable that sociology should standardize its fundamental courses in the same way that the fundamental courses of other sciences are standardized. For illustration, when a student takes Chemistry 1, Physics 1, Biology 1, Economics 1, or Law 1, such course stands for a definite subject matter, and enables the student to find an easy adjustment in going from one institution to another, and it forms a solid basis for advanced work."

"Second, I believe that the concrete statement of the subject matter of a fundamental course would harmonize and crystallize our views as to the scope and field of sociology to an extent that no amount of theoretical discussion could possibly do."

The Committee of Ten was composed of Charles H. Cooley, University of Michigan; Charles A. Ellwood, University of Missouri; H.P. Fairchild, Yale University; Franklin H. Giddings, Columbia University; Edward C. Hayes, University of Illinois; Edward A. Ross, University of Wisconsin; Albion W. Small, University of Chicago; Ulysses G. Weatherly, Indiana University; Dealey, and Dowd as Chair.

At the 1910 meeting, F. Stuart Chapin, Columbia University, reported the results of a survey of "some 400 colleges, universities, theological schools, and state normal schools." Of the 145 responding institutions, 128 indicated that sociology was being taught there.

Chapin concluded that "the majority of institutions place emphasis upon theoretical subject matter including the historical and psychological, as opposed to the practical subject matter. This same general conclusion represented the suggestions for a fundamental introductory course."

Historical subject matter included anthropology, ethnology, social institutions, and social evolution. Psychological subject matter included social psychology, association, and imitation. Practical subject matter included population problems of congestion and housing, social problems, poor relief and pauperism, charity, philanthropy, crime and criminology, and education.

At the 1911 meeting, the Committee of Ten reported its conclusions regarding the fundamental course: "We believe that a general agreement upon the subject matter of a fundamental course, and a comprehensive arrangement and unification of the material can be brought about most expeditiously and satisfactorily by a spontaneous assimilation of the best thought and experience, following discussion and the leadership of competent teachers and institutions of rank.

"We find ourselves in substantial agreement upon the scope of a fundamental course, but we have individual preferences in the coordination and unification of the material. Any detailed outline proposed by the committee would not represent the practice and convictions of all the members, and such an outline, with the weight of our endorsement, would probably be less effective in promoting the object desired than a statement by the Committee limited to giving the practices and view of individual teachers." The remainder of the report contained course outlines used by each member of the Committee.



The Society began its efforts in relation to research in 1912 with the appointment of the Committee on Investigation and Research. In 1913, the Committee recommended that a joint standing committee be formed with representatives from the American Statistical Society and the American Economics Association "to formulate general plans for such investigations, and to stand ready to advise with organizations or private individuals intending to make social investigations of any kind." The Committee felt such a program would require "a permanent office and a competent secretary on salary to give continuity to the services."

No action on this recommendation was taken and the Committee became inactive because of the death of its chairman, C.R. Henderson, University of Chicago.

In 1917, Lucille Eaves, a member of the original committee, requested that the Committee be revived "for the purpose of securing the cooperation of its members in country-wide investigations" and "to correspond with college teachers and other members of the society interested in such research."

The Committee was reconstituted as the Committee on Standardization of Research with J.L. Gillin, University of Wisconsin, Chair. In 1920, the Committee made the following report:

"What we need is the organization of those interested in research in sociology to map the field, discuss methods, work out a plan of cooperation and secure money to promote research. Perhaps the last is the most important. Teachers are so swamped with teaching and administration that they have little time or energy to devote to promoting careful and intensive study of little known fields. Sociology must finally drive for the appointment of research professors.

"We must also interest rich men in providing money for the prosecution of research until we have shown niggardly boards and legislatures the importance of finding out the facts bearing upon questions of social theory and social policy. Great foundations like the Russell Sage should be interested in promoting studies of social processes, social organizations, and social ideals. The endowment of research must come if sociology is to be relieved of the charge that it is a pseudo-science. That is as true of applied as of theoretical sociology."

Lamenting the fact that "the philosophical method rather than the method of science has characterized the work of most sociologists", the Committee stated that "two things are necessary in the development of sociology. The one is a determination at all costs to apply the scientific method to social phenomena of all kinds. The other is to standardize research."

The Committee may have had doubts about the standardization of research for it later stated that "it is not so much standardization of research we need as research."

In 1924, the Committee on Social Research began publishing the results of surveys "to determine the nature and extent of research being done by the members of the Society." It was the only Society to do so.



The application of sociological knowledge to the problems of society surfaced as an issue during the 1920 Business Meeting when Rev. S.Z. Batten, Philadelphia, presented the following resolution:

"In view of the fact that sociology is concerned with human well-being and the progress of society; and in view of the fact that there has accumulated a vast body of knowledge of social facts and progress: Resolved, that the ASS appoint a committee of five to consider ways whereby this body of knowledge may be thoroughly socialized and interpreted to the people in such a way as to lead to necessary changes in our educational system and to bring about conscious social action; this committee to report at the next annual meeting of the Society." The motion was referred to the Executive Committee for action. No record of the committee report is published in the Proceedings.


Academic Freedom

In 1913, a Joint Committee on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure was formed by the Society, the American Political Science Association, and the American Economic Association "to examine and report on the present situation in American educational institutions as to liberty of thought, freedom of speech, and security of tenure for teachers."

Reporting in 1914, the Committee said it had "investigated several cases of alleged infringements of academic freedom. As a result it became apparent that the subject bristled with complexities of such a character that your committee feels itself in a position at present to make only a preliminary report." No other reports were published.


Governance Structure

The governance structure of the Society began emerging as a problem in 1921 when the Executive Committee was requested by the Business Meeting "to prepare and report on a new plan for the election of officers of the Society."

In 1924, the Nominations Committee was informed that presidential nominations need not go to the first or second vice president; that the Committee should present, at least, two names for each office without stating a preference; and that the practice of renominating presidents for a second term should be dropped. The first five presidents served two terms.

In 1925, it was decided that Past Presidents could not serve on the Executive Committee for more than five years and that the Secretary-Treasurer should be elected by the Executive Committee rather than the Business Meeting.


Formation of Sections

The formation of Sections began in 1921 when Dwight Sanderson, Cornell University, Chair of the Rural Sociology Group, informed the Executive Committee that his group wanted to become a Section of the Society. The Secretary of the Social Research Group also requested Section status.

The Executive Committee decided to extend an invitation to the rural sociologists "to become a Section in the Society, and its program, after consultation with the President, to be incorporated in the general program." The same invitation was issued to the Social Research Group. Both accepted.

In 1923, the Executive Committee empowered the President and the Secretary "to grant recognition to groups wanting to be Sections." The Committee also allocated three pages in the Proceedings for each of the Sections.

In 1924, the Business Meeting approved the creation of a Committee on Sections "to coordinate in the program both the general and special interests of members of the Society." The Committee became a Standing Committee in 1925.

The program for the 1930 Annual Meeting listed the following Sections: Rural Sociology, Social Statistics, Educational Sociology, Teaching of Sociology, Community, Sociology of Religion, Family, Sociology and Social Work, and Sociology and Psychiatry.


Annual Meeting

Until 1921, the Annual Meeting program was the "undivided responsibility" of the President. In that year, Hayes introduced "three marked departures" in the organization of the program:

1. The afternoon and evening sessions were divided into three sections. Previously, the meeting was arranged around a single topic.

2. A system of committees was placed in charge of the various subdivisions of the program. Committee members were "to act as scouts to discover the important work done anywhere in the country" in their division and to have that work reported at the Annual Meeting.

3. The morning sessions were devoted to a series of roundtables revolving around a discussion of the practical application of sociology.

Albion Small responded to changes made by Hayes in the following manner: "In a word, let us afford all the latitude required for groups of specialists within our field to cultivate their particular interests; but for the safe anchoring of each of the specialties let us at the same time magnify the importance of the plenary sessions, the committee of the whole, the congress of congresses in which we preserve the habit of surveying all the special problems of society in the perspective of the largest outlook which our combined vision commands."

A move toward integration and unification came in 1930 when program policy was changed to reduce the number of sessions and section meetings going on at one time. An attempt was also made to increase participation by limiting each individual to the presentation of one "major paper." And an emphasis was placed on the need to hold the Annual Meeting in conjunction with the meetings of other social science societies.



The publication problem was handled in the early years by adopting the American Journal of Sociology as the official journal of the Society and by the publication of the Proceedings.

In 1919, however, the Business Meeting instructed the President to appoint a committee of three "to consider the advisability of issuing the American Journal of Sociology monthly instead of bimonthly or of establishing a new publication."

In 1920, the Committee on Advisability of Issuing a New Publication, chaired by Hayes, reported that the University of Chicago Press was losing $1.72 per subscription from Society members. Hayes reported the Press had covered $50,000 in deficits up to that time. The situation had become "intolerable."

Hayes said, "The same conditions (high cost of publications and deficit per subscriber) which have thus affected the publication of the Journal have also caused the publication of the AnnualProceedings to become an unprecedented drain on the treasury of the Society."

He continued, "In the opinion of the Committee, the American Sociological Society and all who are interested in the advancement of sociological science may fittingly express deep appreciation of the cooperation which has thus far received from the University of Chicago in support of the American Journal of Sociology."

Plans for a new journal were dropped and the remittance to the University of Chicago Press was increased. New publications, however, began appearing because the Society arranged for the publication of Annual Meeting papers in book form. By 1930, three publications appeared: The City, Personality and the Social Group, and The Urban Community.

Each of the books produced badly needed royalties for the accumulated deficit in 1930 stood at $500.


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