Henry Pratt Fairchild was born in Dundee, Illinois, received the A.B. degree from Doane College, Nebraska, and the Ph.D. from Yale University. He began his long teaching career at The International College, Smyrna in 1900. After serving on the faculty at Bowdoin College, he went to Yale University (1910-18) where he taught courses in economics and the science of society. During World War I he held an administrative position in War Camp Community Service.
Fairchild’s major teaching appointment was at New York University where it extended over a period of 26 yeas, from 1919 until his retirement in 1945, and where he became chairman of the Department of Sociology in the Graduate School. During the years 1929-31 he was president of the American Eugenics Society, and from 1934-38, president of the Population Association of America. He was one of the leaders in the planned parenthood movement in the United States. In his presidential address as the 26th president of the American Sociological Society (1936), he pointed out how governing the people of the United States involves the organization and co-ordination of many diverse social elements, and yet in the national government “an almost negligible part of the responsibility is entrusted to sociologists.” In this same address, which was entitled “Business as an Institution,” he discussed a favorite theme of his, namely, the relations of sociology and economics. After defining business as an organization of social elements for the production of goods and services, he contended that the sociologist’s role is to analyze the integration of social elements in the business process, while economics analyzes the productive aspects. Thus, it is essential that sociologists and economists work side by side at closely related aspects of the same process instead of simply speaking “to each other politely when they casually meet.”
Fairchild was the author of a number of books, for example, his Greek Immigration to the United States (1911) and Immigration (1913) were supplemented by Race and Nationality (1947). His General Sociology appeared in 1934, but he is most widely known for the Dictionary of Sociology (1944), of which he was the editor. Of his sixty major articles about one-third were on immigration, one-fourth on population, and others related to the family, social work, and world organization. He lectured widely and served on “innumerable borads,” because he considered that one of the functions of a sociologist is to make the findings of sociology intelligible to the general public. Always an independent thinker, he did not hesitate to speak forthrightly on leading social and economic problems.
Emory S. Bogardus