American Sociological Association

Rhoades History Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Pressures for Change

Major social change occurred in the American Sociological Society as well as American society during the turbulent decade of the 1930s.

To some extent the pressures producing change in our subsystem reflected the pressures pressing for change in the total society.

At both levels, there were economic and employment problems; public relations concerns, international entanglements, constitutional considerations, democratic pressures and organizational change.

And, at both levels, decisions were made to seek new means for getting the work done rather than to curtail expansion and services to members.

This article will cover the economic and employment problems confronted by the American Sociology Society in that period as well as its public relations concerns and international entanglement.

The next chapter will deal with organizational changes in the Society that stemmed from Constitutional revisions, the founding of the American Sociological Review, relationships with regional sociological societies, the scope of the Society's research mission, and pressures for participation.



The Society began to experience small deficits as early as 1918. By 1925, the growing problem lead the Finance Committee to state that it "is inclined to the belief that the activities of the Society cannot be adequately carried on with the present income of the society. It therefore respectfully recommends that the Secretary-Treasurer be authorized to send out an appeal to the members for next year, or that the Executive Committee give thought to the question of raising the dues."

In 1926, Maurice J. Karpf, Finance Committee Chair, reported that "the generous response on the part of the membership to the request for contributions last year is at least some index of the many friends which the Society has. Your Committee is confident that there are a number, of members who will be willing to pay a larger annual fee in order to make it possible for the Society to function as it should." Total amount raised: $726.50.

A new dues structure was established: $5.00 members, $10.00 subscribing member, $25.00 contributing member, $100.00 life member, and $6.00 for joint membership.

The problem, however, worsened. By 1932, the debt stood at the all-time high of $2,648.85. Contributing to the crisis were rising costs for publications, clerical assistance and postage plus a declining membership. In 1931, membership stood at 1567. It tumbled to 996 by 1937 before rebounding to 1034 in 1940.

In 1934, President F. Stuart Chapin instructed the Finance Committee to develop a plan to retire the debt. Up to this time, the University of Chicago Press carried the debt for the Society interest free. It now wanted five percent interest effective April 1935.

The Finance Committee was composed of Arthur J. Todd, Chair; E.W. Burgess, Earle Eubank, John L. Gillin, M.J. Karpf, E.D. Tetreau, and R. Clyde White.

In May 1935, the Committee developed a plan to sell members non-interest-bearing Certificates of Indebtedness in $10.00 denominations. These Certificates were to be issued in order of purchase, with the agreement that they would be retired serially, at the rate of 20 per year, beginning with the 1936 fiscal year. Eventually, 135 Certificates were sold raising $1,350.

In 1938, Dwight Sanderson, Finance Committee Chair, reported, "We are glad to report that the financial condition of the Society is in excellent shape and that it has a good surplus over all its obligations." By that time, 65 Certificates had been redeemed.



In 1933, W.C. Reckless asked the Executive Committee to establish a committee "to study the opportunities for trained sociologists in non-teaching fields." The Committee on Opportunities for Trained Sociologists was formed in January 1934. It was composed of Wilson Gee, Charles C. Peters, Joseph Mayer, Maurice Parmelee, Ernest B. Harper, Clifford R. Shaw, M.C. Elmer, and Reckless as Chair.

During that same month an articles appeared in the American Journal of Sociology by F. Stuart Chapin entitled, "The Present Status of the Profession," calling attention to the danger of overproduction of PhD's in sociology. Hiring by colleges had been curtailed by the Depression.

In 1935, the Committee reported that although there had been "a marked increase in the use of social scientists in public service" sociologists did not benefit from it as much as economists, political scientists, lawyers and social workers.

The Committee explained, "The main reason for this is that the administrators of practical affairs do not know what delivery a sociologist can make nearly so well as they know what can be expected of an economist, a commerce student, a political scientist, a lawyer or a social worker."

"By way of further explanation, it is undoubtedly true that sociology has maintained a greater degree of academic isolation than have its flanking disciplines, that sociology has been almost exclusively preoccupied with the training of teachers of the subject, and that until recent years it has shown a conspicuous lack of practical and applied research work-research that would be of immediate value to public administrators."

Even when sociologists are hired, the Committee reported, they are "called to minor positions" because "leaders in public affairs look upon sociology mainly as an academic discipline which does not possess men capable of coming to grips with concrete problems, and all this despite the Recent Social Trends study."

In 1936, the "Opportunities Committee" recommended the creation of "a permanent committee for the promotion of the professional interests of sociologists" because "heretofore, the American Sociological Society has functioned primarily as a learned society, providing an outlet for contact, meetings and papers and promoting fellowship and research. But it finds that the Society has not come to grips in any thorough way with the promotion of professional interests lying outside the fostering of an academic discipline."

The Committee urged the Society to promote the professional interests of sociologists by pursuing "the most fruitful lines of endeavor" listed below:

1. To get sociological training and field experience recognizes as a qualification or substitute qualification for certain Federal and state civil service positions.

2. To study ways of gearing the graduate training program in sociology to meet the need for equipping students for technical positions in Federal bureaus and administrations and in state and local agencies.

3. To see to it that sociology gets a stake and protects its interests in the development of original and state planning commissions, in the reorganizations of state welfare set-ups, new Federal administrations, etc.

4. To establish a chairman of a sub-committee on publicity, whose job it will be to send releases to the press and periodicals, covering items on important contributions and developments within sociology and the Society.

5. To move wisely and expediently against the practice of hiring persons without any graduate training in sociology as teachers of sociology in American universities and colleges.

6. To take cautious steps toward opening up sociology in large university centers which persist in suppressing it.

The Committee concluded, "The Opportunities Committee in its three years of work has been impressed by the fact that sociologists in America not only have been defenseless professionally but also have not been organized to participate very extensively in recent Federal and state developments."

"The record is clear, even in cursory inspection of Federal civil service specifications, as to which professional groups have been equipped to look after their own interests. If sociology as a profession is to have any status and growth, it appears to the Opportunities Committee that the parent Society needs to take steps to promote and protect the professional interests of sociologists in America."


Public Relations

Public relations concerns were first addressed by the Society with the formation of the Committee to Consider Means for Disseminating Important Sociological Research Findings in 1932. M.C. Elmer presented reports in 1933 and 1934 before the Committee was disbanded.

In summer 1938, however, President Frank H. Hankins appointed a Press Relations Committee for the purpose of "making available to the press information regarding the society's thirty-third annual convention."

The Committee was composed of Alfred McClung Lee, Chair; Read Bain, Frank H. Hankins, Robert E. Park, Harold A. Phelps and Malcolm M. Willey.

In 1939, the Committee made some specific recommendations regarding the press relations of the Society, and prefaced them with the following remarks:

"Social scientists, and especially sociologists, have been slow to emulate the physical scientists in this respect. The reasons for this-and weighty reasons they are-are readily discernible. After all, the subject matter and theories of social scientists are more controversial, less easily interpreted in a professionally desirable fashion, and more readily distorted by prejudice and emotion, than are the subject matters and theories of the physicists, chemists and biologists.

"On the other hand, for the theories of social scientists to gain wide acceptance, they must finally reach the columns of popular periodicals, the speeches of popular leaders, and the discussions of Everyman. Or, if you will, since we are so fortunate as to live in a democracy, and since many of us draw our salaries from governmental units, our facts and theories are subject to popular scrutiny whether they are ready for such scrutiny or not. In fact, to a large degree, the future of our science and of our profession depends upon the sort of personality-stereotype popularly held of the sociologist and the sort of institution-stereotype popularly held of sociology."

The Committee recommended the following:

  1. A Press Relations Committee of technically-trained newspapermen-sociologists, i.e., of sociologists who have had newspaper and public relations experience, should become a continuing service agency of the American Sociological Society.
  1. The work of such a Committee should be extended to include the interpretation of features of the year-long program of the Society other than the Annual Convention. We refer particularly to the American Sociological Review.
  1. A more adequate appropriation.

In 1938, the Committee was allocated $50.00. In 1939, it requested $150.00.



The Society expanded its scope to the international level in 1918 when the Business Meeting authorized President Charles H. Cooley to send "a message of greetings" to Rene Worms, Secretary, International Institute of Sociology, as well as to sociological societies "in the nations recently our allies in arms, with a view to establishing a better understanding in our common labor."

In 1924, the Society took another step into the international arena by approving "honorary memberships for distinguished scholars." By 1940, those so honored included Rene Worms, L.T. Hobhouse, Leopold von Wiese, Ferdinand Tonnies, Marcel Mauss, Charles Bougle, Victor B. Branford, G.L. Duprat, Franz Oppenheimer, Maurice Halbwachs and Eduard Benes.

In 1935, the Society initiated a move that was to generate controversy through the remainder of the decade. It appointed a committee composed of Earle Eubank, Robert Park, and Pitirim Sorokin to study the question of affiliation with the International Federation of Sociological Societies and Institutes.

The Federation was organized in 1933 by Duprat as part of the International Institute of Sociology founded by Worms in 1893. In 1909, the Institute was incorporated under the government of France, from which it received a small subsidy. The Federation published the Archives de Sociologie. The Federation and the Institute were "the only authentic international sociological organizations in existence" at that time.

In 1936, the Committee recommended that the Society affiliate with the Federation provided that certain changes were made in its by-laws. In 1937, the Federation made the specified changes.

During a meeting of the Executive Committee later that year Burgess made a motion, seconded by H.P. Fairchild, to affiliate with the Federal Federation on the additional condition that steps be taken during the next International Sociological Congress to separate the Federation from the Institute.

L.L. Bernard offered a substitute motion, seconded by Dorothy Thomas, to delay the affiliation for one year to see if the separation actually took place. The substitute motion was defeated and the original motion passed. Bernard also attempted to delay the action during the Business Meeting, but the action to affiliate was approved.

In 1938, Parmelee presented a resolution during the first Business Meeting requesting "that the Society rescinds every decision of the Executive Committee and of the Society concerning affiliation" with the Federation. He was concerned about the number of delegates the Society would receive in addition to the separation problem. The motion was tabled for further deliberation.

During the second Business Meeting, Eubank read a letter from Rene Maunier, Federation President, stating that the separation would take place. The motion was then referred to the Executive Committee for a report at the next Business Meeting.

At the third Business Meeting, George Lundberg moved that all previous actions regarding the Federation be rescinded. A motion by E. Faris to postpone action on Lundberg's motion until the next annual meeting passed.

In 1939, Parmelee reintroduced his motion during the first Business Meeting. A substitute motion referred the issue to the Executive Committee for its report.

During the second Business Meeting, the motion by Parmelee was reintroduced. Lundberg moved that it be approved. A motion by Faris, however, delayed action on the motion indefinitely.

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