American Sociological Association

Howard W. Odum

Howard W. Odum

Howard W. Odum

May 24, 1884 - November 8, 1954

Howard W. Odum served as President of the American Sociological Society in 1930. His Presidential Address, "Folk and Regional Conflict as a Field of Sociological Study," was delivered at the organization's annual meeting in Cleveland, Ohio in December 1930.

Upon his death, Howard Odum's papers were donated to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for preservation. A detailed finding aid of the Odum papers is available online. The UNC Archives provides the following biographical summary of Dr. Odum's life and work:

Howard Washington Odum was born May 24, 1884, on a small farm near Bethlehem, Georgia, the son of William Pleasants and Mary Ann Odum. In 1900, Odum began his studies at Emory College, and graduated four years later. Odum then moved to Mississippi, where he taught school and attended the University of Mississippi at Oxford. He also earned a master's degree in the classics at Mississippi.

After Odum received a Ph.D. degree in psychology from Clark University, he entered Columbia University. Under the direction of Franklin Henry Giddings, Odum completed the requirements for his second doctoral degree, this one in sociology. In 1910, his dissertation, "Social and Mental Traits of the Negro," was published in part by Columbia. Odum then worked at the Philadelphia Bureau of Municipal Research as a research expert, and later as a professor at the University of Georgia. He returned to Emory in 1919 as the dean of liberal arts.

In 1920, Odum arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to direct the School of Public Welfare and Department of Sociology. A few years after his arrival, Odum established the Institute for Research in Social Science, and founded the journal, Social Forces. While at the University of North Carolina, he began to demonstrate the variety of talents and great energy that his peers found remarkable. Odum toiled constantly to improve race relations, the quality of education, and living conditions in the South.

During the 1920s and through the Great Depression, Odum authored three novels, served as Assistant Director of Research for President Herbert Hoover's Research Committee on Social Trends, and chaired the North Carolina Emergency Relief Administration. In addition, Odum was president of the American Sociological Society, chief of the Social Science Division of A Century of Progress at the Chicago World's Fair, and head of the North Carolina Commission for Interracial Cooperation.

In 1944, Odum was one of the five founding members of the Southern Regional Council. He also became president of the North Carolina Jersey Cattlemen's Association during World War II. Along with Odum's skill as organizer and social reformer, he was a prolific writer. From 1909 until his death in 1954, he wrote more than twenty books and 200 articles reflecting his concern for race relations, education, the social sciences, and regionalism.

Odum received at least three honorary degrees; the College of the Ozarks, Harvard University, and his alma mater in Georgia bestowed honors on him. He also received the O. Max Gardner Award from the University of North Carolina.

In 1909, Odum met Anna Louise Kranz. They were married the following year and had three children: Mary Frances, Howard Thomas, and Eugene Pleasants. Odum died 8 November 1954, shortly after his retirement.

Upon his death in 1954, an obituary was published in the American Sociological Review (see ASR 20:237). An extensive article on Dr. Odum's life and work was published in Social Forces (33:203-217).