February 2008 Issue Volume 36 Issue 2

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Forty-five Years as an ASA Member

by Craig Schaar, ASA Membership Department

Mary Alice Ericson recently received an honorary lifetime membership from the American Sociological Association for her long-term commitment to the organization. Having been an active member with ASA since 1961, Ericson was thrilled to receive the recognition.

Ericson, 94, resides in Cedar Rapids, IA, by herself. Her daughter, who lives in the area, checks on Ericson daily.

Ericson’s first professional interest was to become a social studies history teacher. However, she earned her bachelor’s degree in geography at Wellesley College and a master’s degree in geography from the University of Chicago. Next she received a teaching assistant fellowship and a PhD in sociology in 1940 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC). She became interested in sociology when she took a course in family and marriage as a graduate student.

Ericson had three professors who served as mentors. Lee Brooks’s introductory courses helped Ericson appreciate sociology as a discipline. Rupert Vance was another positive influence for whom Ericson provided statistical graphics to his book. She jointly published an article with another mentor, Margaret Haygood, in Social Forces.

Ericson went where her husband’s job as an English history professor took them since his positions paid more. Her first job was a state statistician with the North Carolina Public Works Administration. Later she taught a statistics course to nursing students at UNC. In 1947, Ericson taught geography courses at Mount Holyoke College. Her first teaching position in sociology was at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

When Ericson’s husband was battling a serious illness, the couple agreed to move. She sought a new job through the ASA Employment Bulletin and was hired to teach at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA. Since the college only had a two-person department for sociology and anthropology, she taught cultural anthropology for five years until the university hired a full-time anthropologist. Shortly after she started at Coe College, she became a member of the American Sociological Association. Ericson worked at Coe College from 1960 until her retirement in 1978.

Ericson fondly remembers when she took a sabbatical to serve as the social science supervisor of students at a university in San Jose, Costa Rica, in the late 1960s. She worked in field studies in various locations throughout Costa Rica.

During her teaching career, Ericson made a lasting impression on her students. “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a tenured female professor explaining birth control methods to football players in a Marriage and Family class,” recalled Libby Gotschall Slappy during a public tribute to Ericson. Slappy credits Ericson’s course in demography as the starting point in her pursuit of a professional career with Planned Parenthood.

Ericson has taken leadership roles with the Midwest Sociological Society (MSS), including serving on the board of directors, organizing the MSS annual meetings, and leading the Iowa chapter of the association.

Ericson considers her continued involvement with the MSS as “sacred.” For several years, she was president of the Iowa Sociological Association. She also attended many ASA annual meetings when she was a faculty member. In addition to teaching, Ericson contributed more than 40 articles reviewing major sociological papers. Ericson is still active in several volunteer groups such as the United Nations Association, Amnesty International, National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, and her church, which publicly recognized her for her efforts in promoting social justice in the community.

“She has been a devoted mentor and loyal friend to countless persons whose lives she has touched and inspired,” said Allen Fisher, current chair of the sociology department at Coe College. small_green


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