American Sociological Association

George E. Howard

George Elliot Howard

George Elliott Howard

October 1, 1849 - June 9, 1928

George E. Howard was born October 1, 1849 in Saratoga, New York, the son of Isaac Howard and Margaret Hardin. After moving to Nebraska with his brothers in 1868, Howard graduated from the Peru State Normal School in 1870. He received an A.B. from the University of Nebraska in 1876, from which point he traveled to Munich and Paris to study history and Roman law for the next two years. Howard married classmate Alice May Frost of Lincoln, Nebraska in 1880; they had no children.

In 1879, Howard accepted a position as the first instructor of history at the University of Nebraska. He spoke before the Alumni Association of the University of Nebraska on June 11, 1889 on his Evolution of the University: First Annual Address. Howard’s passion for history also led him to found the Nebraska State Historical Society for which he served as secretary for several years. He believed that equal education for men and women was the crucial step needed to achieve political and economic liberation for all Americans. Howard promoted the role of the university as the means through which humanity could rise beyond their environment. At the request of two female university students, he campaigned passionately for post-graduate education. In 1883, the Board of Regents gave the History department permission to initiate courses leading to a master’s degree.

Howard focused on the importance of history in the evolution of society while other period scholars maintained more ahistorical orientations. In 1889, Howard’s “An Introduction to the Local Constitutional History of the United States: Development of the Township, Hundred, and Shire” appeared in the Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Howard made a significant contribution to the understanding of the inner workings of society and law in his “On the Development of the King’s Peace and the English Local Peace-Magistracy” University Studies. His ardor for history and education also led him at this time to write “The Study of History in Schools” Educational Review.

In 1891 Howard left the University of Nebraska as one of the original fifteen professors to organize the department of history at the new Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, California. He delivered Stanford’s second commencement address in 1893, The American University and the American Man: Second Commencement Address. In this speech Howard advocated the new American universities that were emerging as products of a nineteenth-century renaissance. He argued that these fresh institutions should sustain the free differentiation of departments, include in their curriculums the study of families, marriage and divorce, and work for the advancement of society. A social Darwinist in thought, Howard’s insights portrayed modern humanity as closer than their ancestors to the ideal form of society. He believed in a pragmatic vision that through education, individuals would take an active and self-reflective role for the betterment of society. Howard received his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in 1894 and went on to publish “British Imperialism and the Reform of the Civil Service” Political Science Quarterly in 1899.

Howard resigned his position from Stanford in 1901 in dissent over the discharge of sociologist Professor Edward A. Ross. Ross was dismissed from his position for his public stance against the use of Chinese labor in railroad construction. Professing this a violation of academic freedom, Howard instead took a position as a professor of history at Cornell University in the summer of 1902. He later went on to teach as a professorial lecturer in history at the University of Chicago from 1903 to 1904. There he published his three-volume endeavor on marriage and divorce, History of Matrimonial Institutions: Chiefly in England and the United States with an Introductory Analysis of the Literature and the Theories of Primitive Marriage and the Family (1904). As with his theories on individuals, Howard believed that the modern family would evolve for the progression of society. He countered the then-popular argument that women’s roles in the public sphere were a threat to the nation, expressing his concern for the need for equal education and economy. Howard followed up on these thoughts through several encyclopedia articles, including “The Problem of Uniform Divorce Law in the United States” The American Lawyer and “Social Control and the Function of the Family” Congress of Arts and Science.

In 1904 Howard moved back to Nebraska to become a professor of institutional history at the University of Nebraska. There he performed a sociological examination of the American Revolutionary War from both the British and American perspectives, entitled “Preliminaries of the American Revolution 1763-1775” The American Nation: A History. Howard once again employed his knack for organizing and influencing the academic community in 1906 when he headed the new department of political science and sociology at the University.

Howard was the seventh President of the American Sociological Society in 1917. His Presidential address, delivered at the 1917 Annual Meeting was entitled, Ideals as a Factor in the Future Control of International Society. While President, Howard published two articles that fully encompassed his social concerns: “The Social Cost of Southern Race Prejudice” American Journal of Sociology and “Alcohol and Crime: A Study in Social Causation” American Journal of Sociology. Howard is widely recognized as one of the great foundation stones of American social science. His achievements and record as a social historian, a social feminist, and a true advocate of human welfare led him to receive an honorary vice presidency from the Institut International de Sociologie of Paris. Howard died in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1928.

For more information on George Elliott Howard, you may find the following sources useful:

  • Frese, Pamela R. 2000. “Howard, George Elliott.” American National Biography Online. Retrieved March 14, 2003 (
  • Todd, Arthur J. 1929. “George Elliott Howard, 1849-1928.” American Journal of Sociology. 34:693-699.
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. 2000. “Early Contributors to Graduate Education at UNL.” Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Retrieved December 27, 2002 (