Some Pioneer American Sociologists

Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California

This discussion of pioneer American sociologists is limited to those men whom the writer regards as his main sociology teachers.[1] Inasmuch as six sociologists will be considered, the treatment of each will be limited to sample sociological ideas taken from my class notes or that my memory suggests. As an introduction to the sociological thought of these pioneers, a brief reference may be made to the personality and methods of teaching of each.[2]

As a frame of reference for considering these sociologists, the history of American sociology may be divided into three periods, with a fourth now being inaugurated.[3] At least five of these six men belonged chiefly to the first or founding period of American sociology, and all six were certainly pioneers. The founding period got under way in the Nineties, and extended to the beginning of World War I, approximately. The second or expansion period is generally dated from 1918 to 1941, or to the years between the two World Wars. The third period extends from 1945 to the beginning of the current Sixties, and may be described as being experimentally scientific. The fourth period, beginning with the Sixties, cannot be labeled as yet, but it is emphasizing teamwork among sociologists in the development of a scientific sociology.

Attention will be given first to Albion W. Small who founded the Department of Sociology and the American Journal of Sociology at the University of Chicago in the Eighteen Nineties. He gave sociology a healthy start in the very heart of the virile Midwest.

At all times and under all kinds of circumstances Small was a gentleman and a scholar. He was always well poised even when under severe criticism from colleagues who were unwilling to admit the new discipline of sociology to the fraternity of the social sciences. He did a great deal to put sociology on the scholarship map, for he was well versed in the thought of the most advanced German scholars.

As my major professor, he was kindly, thoughtful, and most generous of his time. He was easy of access for advice. He gave encouragement when it was most needed and where it meant everything to candidates for the doctorate in sociology. He not only taught courses in sociology, but was head of the Department of Sociology, dean of the Graduate School of the University, and also editor of The American Journal of Sociology.


He had a superb sense of humor with which from time to time he lightened a heavy discussion of the theories of German social philosophers like Gumplowicz, Ratzenhofer, and Schmoller. As in the case of European scholars, he often wrote his lectures beforehand, and read them to a graduate class, pausing often to answer questions.

Now, fifty-three years later, I recall many of his ideas and concepts. Only a few representative sociological concepts can be cited here. The concept of social process stands out prominently in my memory. Small often referred to "the ongoing of the social process." By the social process he meant the process of human association. Our knowledge of the ongoing of this process begins with the history of civilization-a process that marches boldly up to the vast one hundred-ring circus of current events around the world.

The process of human association is motivated continuously and everywhere by six sets of interests that find expression in varying degrees in every person's daily living. Small. defined interests as unsatisfied energies seeking satisfaction. He defined six major interests as follows: health, wealth, knowledge, sociability, esthetic, and ethical. As a result of their universal expressions through persons, the social process operates chiefly in the form of two subprocesses, conflict and cooperation. At times, conflicts manifest violent expressions of energy between individuals and between groups. Likewise, cooperation may assume expressions of great human depths.

The basic conflict in the world, said Small, is between the knowledge interest and the other five interests. A new advance in knowledge in the field of any one of the other five interests calls for a revision in the status quo of that interest, and a conflict ensues between the new knowledge and the established beliefs.

The sociological point of view was often emphasized by Small. In my college days at Northwestern University, I had engaged in debates and had concluded that every question had just two sides, an affirmative and a negative. On occasion I might admit a broader interpretation, similar to the current continuum of five divisions: extreme left, left, middle, right, extreme right. But, as Small repeatedly remarked, the sociological point of view considers any question from all sides, from left and right, from various points between, from above and below, in short, from the viewpoint of every person involved who has a distinctive reaction to the given issue at stake. In short, no one is truly competent to discuss a social problem accurately until he has studied it from every conceivable angle thoroughly.

( 27)

Small gave a number of lectures on "the unity of social science" and against "the disunity of the social sciences." He anticipated present-day discussions by half a century when he argued for "an organic body of social science." He stated that to be well educated one should not study the meaning of human experience from the standpoint of one social science only, but from the viewpoints of all the social sciences.[4]

Another pioneer who introduced me to fascinating studies in sociology was William I. Thomas. I can see him now as he would come into class each day, and as soon as seated, take out of his coat pocket a specially designed wallet which contained a sheaf of perhaps fifty sheets of paper approximately four by six inches in size (in having the paper cut he used the metric system). The buff-colored sheets contained the main data, the emerald green sheets carried bibliographical references, and the white were used for miscellaneous items, such as questions to which answers were to be found. Each sheet had one point or one illustration only typed on it. This system permitted a new idea or new illustration to be added conveniently at the proper place in the collection of materials on a given subject. It permitted, also, an easy means of reorganizing the materials on given themes. A large number of sheets of paper are not bulky or expensive, as would be the case if cards of equal size were used.

This system of note-taking appealed to me and I adopted it, and still use it. It is amazing how much material one can type on a single 4X6 inch sheet of paper, single space with elite type. A cabinet with drawers for 4X6 inch sheets of paper accommodates my notes, carefully classified and gathered over the decades.

"Social Origins" was the title of the first course that I had with Thomas. It referred not only to the ways of doing and believing of pre-literate peoples of yesteryear or of today, but also of civilized people of the present century. Since new ways of acting and believing are being discovered or created today, the subject of "social origins" maintains a continuing and current importance.

The relation of Thomas' four "wishes" for security, new experience, response, and recognition to Small's six "interests" furnished graduate students a basis for interesting discussions. At the same time (1909), William McDougall's seven or more major "instincts" were compared with the "wishes" and the "interests."

Thomas' three major personality types, the Philistine with set attitudes, the Bohemian with changing attitudes, and the Creative type, with reflective attitudes stimulated other lively discussions between graduate students. The concept of "defining the situation" that Thomas referred

( 28) to repeatedly involved Small's "sociological point of view," for it meant seeing a social situation not only from one's own position, but learning what each person involved finds of value to him in the given situation.

The emphasis that Thomas placed on personal letters as sources of research concerning the nature of personality and "defining the situation" was new to me. In letters, individuals often include items of personal information that throw intimate light on the nature of attitudes.[5]

Thomas' concept of "life history" was also new to me. It seemed to be of revolutionary importance as a means of understanding the origins, nature, and growth of a personality.[6] The research method of obtaining life histories was a forerunner of what more recently has been called the securing of "depth interviews," whereby a person uncovers, as it were, one layer of experience after another until he reaches the earliest sources of his basic attitudes. To Thomas, social psychology was the study of attitudes.

To be a member of the classes of George H. Mead at the University of Chicago was a unique experience because of his social-psychological ideas and his methods of teaching. He was accustomed to come to class without any notes or books. As he lectured, he would draw a geometric design with a piece of chalk on the desk before him. The graduate students who could take down his lectures in shorthand were fortunate, not that he spoke rapidly, but profoundly. It was necessary to write down what he was saying the best that one could, and then ponder over the notes afterward. The books that bear his name were published after his death ; the materials in them were put together to a considerable degree from the shorthand notes of some of his students.

Mead's theory of language appealed to me. He defined language as "a conversation of attitudes and their appropriate responses." Gestures are the beginnings of acts. Pantomimic gestures are silent beginnings of acts. Spoken gestures are vocal beginnings of acts. Written gestures are silent, symbolic, recorded beginnings of acts. Every gesture, pantomimic, vocal, written, is a cut-off act, "truncated act," Mead called it. It is cut off at the point where the individual to whom it is addressed is believed to have caught its meaning, that is, to have perceived the whole act of which the given gesture is the beginning.

Mead's distinction between "I" and "me" involved an interesting introduction to his system of thought. Reduced to simplest terms, your "I" is what you think of yourself, whereas your "me" is what you think that others are thinking of you. Room for errors abound in your "me" concept, for you may misinterpret what another person is thinking of

( 29) you, that is, you may misinterpret his gestures involving you. Here is a twofold source of misunderstanding, for the other person may misinterpret your responsive gestures.

Mead's "generalized other" was propounded at length. It cannot be explained simply. In one of his lectures on that subject, he used the illustration of a player in a baseball game. The player thinks of each of the other players on the field and what each will do under different playing circumstances. The integration of what each will do is the "generalized other," which is very important, for it indicates in a sense the role that the given player will play, and hence to a degree his concept of himself.[7]

My acquaintance with Franklin H. Giddings relates chiefly to the first semester of the academic year, 1925-1926, when I enrolled as an auditor in his two graduate courses, while on sabbatical leave from the University of Southern California. He impressed me, although past his prime, as being a person of rugged traits of character. He seemed sure of himself and his ideas. He enjoyed to lecture. He was forthright, scholarly, and dignified. The outstanding graduates in sociology were not known as "Columbia men" but as "Giddings men," such as Odum of North Carolina, Lichtenberger of Pennsylvania, Hankins of Smith, Chapin of Minnesota, Woolston of the University of Washington.

In class Giddings presented an elaborated form of his most famous concept, the "consciousness of kind," and its role in the development of group life. This recognition of similarities "converts mere gregariousness into society." Awareness of differences as well as of similarities leads to a consciousness of kind.

Giddings pointed out how consciousness of kind and of "unkindness," or of differences, leads to different social classifications, ranging from the nonparticipating, nonsocial persons; the antisocial persons ; the normally participating social persons; to the pre-eminently social persons who perform social undertakings far beyond what normally might be expected of them and who give their life energies in behalf of the common good without thinking of what they may receive in terms of money, position, or power.

I was impressed by Giddings' concept of the dualistic social structure of democratic nations, by which he meant the private organizations and government organizations that seem to duplicate each other's functions. For example, there are privately supported institutions of higher learning and state-supported institutions, performing similar educational functions. There are private power companies and government power companies.

( 30) Giddings recognized the duplications of activities involved in this duality, but supported it on the ground that competition between private and public agencies in given fields would produce an increase in efficiency and a development of new ideas and techniques that would more than offset a certain degree of wastefulness, and hence would be superior to a monolithic organization of functions in a totalitarian society.

Another concept that Giddings discussed at length was that of "pluralistic behavior." In fact, he thought of sociology as being the study of pluralistic behavior, which he defined as the variety of reactions of a number of persons to a given stimulus. Further, young persons respond to novelty more freely than do the older members of society who react more faithfully to the status quo. To Giddings, sociology attempts to factorize pluralistic behavior by statistical methods, and then to discover the origins, functioning, integration, and differentiation of the behavior factors or acts, keeping continuously in mind the variations in stimuli and the resemblances of persons to one another.[8]

Edward A. Ross was another pioneer sociologist whose most important work was done in the founding period, but who still was very active in the Twenties when I registered as an auditor in his courses given during a summer session as a visiting professor from the University of Wisconsin at Colorado State College in Greeley. His insatiable hunger for social data and for their significance was impressive. He carried a small notebook and a stubby pencil when on his data-hunting safaris. He was an expert questioner who fearlessly sought answers to innumerable questions that he put with equal felicity to persons of both high and low estate in various parts of the world, for he was a world traveler. He was equally fearless in proclaiming his reactions to adverse social conditions.

I was interested in his concept of "social control," with custom and tradition being control agents for old ideas, and fashion in a broad sense being the control agent for the new. His reason for social control was that population increases faster than the increase in the community spirit of people.[9]

Ross' discussion in class was dramatic concerning what today is called "the population explosion." The countries with the lowest economic development had the highest birthrates. He expressed great regret because no one seemed to be especially interested in his ideas as expressed in lectures on "standing room only."

Ross' classes were conducted in terms of "social psychology," which was the title of his book that was published in 1908. To him, social psychology was the study of social ascendancy as distinguished from

( 31) individual ascendancy or leadership. To him, the two main agents of social ascendancy are law, which tends to resist change, and public opinion whose weakness is fitfulness.

A special Rossian concept was "criminaloid," that is, the person who in high places in society is not known as a criminal, but some of whose acts are like those of a criminal. He also outlined the nature of "social sinning," or the ways that some persons in authority exploit the public for personal gain. These ideas indicate how Ross was a forerunner of Sutherland's analysis of "white collar crime."[10]

As a lecturer in class, Ross often spoke in metaphors. He did not hesitate to coin words or phrases. Never a lecture passed without something distinctly Rossian being spoken. Many of his figures of speech were broad and stimulating, for example, "The valuable new is, in fact, but a slender fringe along the vast expanse of the valuable old," or "The greatest pain to human nature is the pain of a new idea."[11]

In one lecture, Ross pointed out that one of the main functions of sociology is to locate the causes of social problems and the factors that make possible so much injustice in the world. To mention one problem only, Ross asked: "Why do so many hard-working people have so little of this world's goods while other people, without working, have so much?"

Robert E. Park of the University of Chicago was my informal teacher when he organized and acted as leader of the Pacific Coast Race Relations Survey, 1923-1925. He was the pioneer in the study of race relations sociologically, and under his directions I brought together seven or eight graduate students at the University of Southern California for the purpose of gathering "life history" materials of the second generation Americans of Japanese ancestry. Park gave us instructions in methods of making life history studies, and later met with us to hear our reports, to criticize our methods, and to make new suggestions. After a few sessions he would leave and direct similar studies at Stanford University and the University of Washington. Then, he would return to listen to our latest life history materials and to make new proposals to us as members of this informal research seminar.

Park was an inspiring teacher because of the new slants on research methods that he would suggest at every research session. He defined sociology as the study of collective behavior. He was the founder of human ecology and emphasized the ecological approach to the study of race relations.

In Germany Park had studied under Georg Simmel, from whom he had learned about the social distance concept. He asked me to work up a social distance scale, indicating that social distance measures the influence

( 32) that persons have on each other. He urged me to apply the social distance scale to the study of race relations, for it would give a statistical basis for the life history materials. Hence, social distance studies, inaugurated under the suggestions of Park, became my major research project for years.

Park impressed me as a rigorous research leader. Every class hour turned out to be an exercise in research exploration. If he was hard to please, it was because he was "so much farther ahead" of his students. Every research finding suggested new research problems. He declared more than once that what we thought to be important race relations findings to be only hypotheses to be tested by further research.

In our research group sessions he made startling research statements, not that lie wished to be startling, but he was startling because his statements were so far ahead of our thinking at the time that they seemed amazing. At one of our research-discussions he asserted that "Sociology is not interested in social facts." When asked to explain, he added, "He who knows only social facts, knows nothing-sociologically." Upon further questioning, he added, "Unless he knows what the social facts mean to each of the persons involved in them."

The pioneer American sociologists whose work has been noted in this article established sociology in large universities, which gave it status. Its acceptance as a standard subject for college and university study would have been slow if it had started first among some of the smaller colleges. The large universities in the Middle West had a favorable climate for the rise of sociology. Curricula in the East as a rule were more rigid and less subject to the admission of a new field such as that represented by sociology.

These pioneer sociologists worked largely as individualists. Each developed his own system of sociological thought. Each developed sociological concepts more or less independently of the concepts developed by other sociologists.

They fought for and made for sociology a place among the social sciences. They overcame the sturdy opposition of some economists and other social scientists who saw no academic functions for an upstart sociology to perform. A part of the opposition was due to the impression given by some sociologists that sociology aimed to be an over-all social science.

They created a considerable number of sociological concepts. They defined these and gave to sociology theoretical bases. They made many sociological generalizations which have since been restated as hypotheses and tested by empirical research.


  1. This paper is a digest of an address given at the May meeting, 1962, of Alpha Kappa Delta at the University of Southern California. It has been written by special request.
  2. The classes in sociology of the first three sociologists that are considered here were attended by the writer when a candidate for the doctoral degree during the academic years 1909-1911.
  3. For one of the main classifications of the major periods in the history of American sociology see Leon Bramson, The Political Context of Sociology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961).
  4. These lectures were published under the title of The Meaning of Social Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1910).
  5. For examples of Thomas' use of letters as research sources see W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1927).
  6. For Thomas' use of life histories, see Thomas and Znaniecki, op. cit.
  7. Of the other professors at the University of Chicago whose ideas would be reviewed here if there were space, I would mention Charles R. Henderson who suggested the subject of my doctoral dissertation, The Relation of Fatigue to Industrial Accidents, and who gave me help in gathering basic data. James R. Angell, head of the Department of Psychology, gave me the necessary assistance in devising a new piece of apparatus that would simulate factory conditions in which industrial accidents occur.
  8. Some of these concepts by Giddings are fully explained in his Studies in Theory of Human Society (New York: The Dryden Press, 1949).
  9. For an elaboration of this concept see E. A. Ross, Social Control (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1901).
  10. E. H. Sutherland, White Collar Crime (New York: The Dryden Press, 1949).
  11. These quotations may he found in E. A. Ross, Social Psychology (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908), pp. 85 and 236 respectively.

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