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Albion Woodbury Small

Albion Woodbury Small

May 11, 1854 — Mar 24, 1926

Albion Woodbury Small was born on May 11, 1854 in Buckfield, Oxford County Maine to Reverend Albion Keith Parris Small and Thankful Lincoln Woodbury. The family moved to Bangor, Maine and then to Portland, and Small attended public schools in each of these cities. Small grew up in a strict religious household; his family’s moral standards had a powerful influence on his ideals and ultimately on his vision of sociology as an ethical science.

After graduating from Colby College in 1876, Small pursued work in the Baptist ministry at the Newton Theological Institution (1876-1879). He graduated but was never ordained. Following an interest in German thought, Small went on to study history, social economics and social politics at the universities of Berlin (1879-1880) and Leipzig (1880-1881). He also spent some time at Weimar and at the British Museum in London. His experiences in Europe subsequently shaped his writings as a sociologist. Small married Valeria von Massow in Germany in 1881, and they together had one child.

Small went to Colby College in 1881, teaching courses in history and political economy. At the time these were not considered “proper college subjects”, and as a result his teaching load was restricted. With his newfound spare time, Small began to pick up readings in the newly developing field of sociology and began to pursue advanced studies in economics and history at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1889. The title of his dissertation, which today can be found in the special collections at the University, was “The Beginnings of American Nationality: The Constitutional Relations between the Continental Congress and the Colonies and States from 1774 to 1789.” Small was named President of Colby College in 1889. He replaced the traditional moral philosophy course with one on sociology, one of the first three sociology courses in the United States. Small also privately published a textbook, Introduction to a Science of Society (1890), consisting of extracts from German social thinkers and philosophers.

Small left Colby in 1892 to become the first professor of sociology at the new University of Chicago, the earliest position of its kind in the United States. At the University, he founded the first accredited department of sociology in an American university, foremost in the world to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Under his leadership as department head, it became the major center for sociology during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. He also served as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. It was during this time that Small helped institute the American Sociological Society. He created the American Journal of Sociology in 1895, the first such journal in the United States, serving as its initial editor and frequent author until 1926. In 1905 Small was appointed Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Literature at the University and served the position until 1925. Small was an instrumental figure in the founding, developing and securing of sociology as a legitimate field of academic study in the United States.

Small was particularly interested in the discipline of sociology itself, as well as the interrelations between the various social sciences. He wrote An Introduction to the Study of Society with George E. Vincent in 1894, the world’s first sociological textbook. In his first major work General Sociology (1905), he explained the focus of sociology as the process by which groups come into conflict and subsequently resolve the divergence through adjustment and social innovation. In "Adam Smith and Modern Sociology" (1907), Small endeavored to interpret the moral and philosophical meaning of Smith’s Wealth of Nations. His The Meaning of Social Science (1910) became an extension of the earlier General Sociology, clarifying his ideas of values, society and group organization. Small delved further into social theory in "The Cameralists" (1909), a detailed analysis of the theory behind Germany’s public economic policies from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Origins of Sociology (1924) again examined Germany through its series of academic controversies that provided the basis for modern methodology in social science.

Small served as the fourth President of the American Sociological Society for the years 1912 and 1913. His Presidential Address in 1912, entitled "The Present Outlook of Social Science," was delivered at the organization's Annual Meeting in Boston. His presidential address in 1913, entitled "A Vision of Social Efficiency," was delivered at the organization's Annual Meeting in Minneapolis.

Small retired from the University of Chicago in 1925. Although he had been in failing health for several months, his academic fervor did not diminish. Small passed away in Chicago on March 24, 1926.

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