Albion Woodbury Small

Thomas W. Goodspeed
University of Chicago

This sketch is the result of both suggestion and autosuggestion. On Dr. Small's death, long-time admiration and affection determined me to prepare a biographical sketch of him. This purpose was almost immediately followed by a request from his colleagues in the Department of Sociology to write for this number of the Journal the brief account of his life which follows. It is therefore an outline story only, which will be filled out in much greater detail in the fuller sketch to appear later in the University Record.

Dr. Small was born in the village of Buckfield, Oxford County, Maine, May 11, 1854. His father was Rev. A. K. P. Small, D.D., a Baptist minister who began his ministry in Buckfield and became one of the outstanding pastors and preachers of the state. The father's mother was Mary Adams, of whom Dr. Small says: "In my childhood I was told that she was of the Quincy, Massachusetts, Adams family, but I have never verified this statement." His mother was Thankful Lincoln Woodbury, descended from the Lin-coins of Hingham, Massachusetts, who were "descended from one of the progenitors of Abraham Lincoln."

The Smalls have been in Maine for nearly three hundred years, having settled in the southwestern county of York in 1632, and

(2) owning at one time, by title from the Indians, all the northern part of that county. There they remained down to the time of our Dr. Small, for the most part tillers of the soil. The historian of the "clan," Lauriston Ward Small, calls them the "whimsical Smalls," and tells many interesting stories of their whimsicalities. Albion says, "The epithet fitted every member of the clan of whom I have any tradition or knowledge. There was a chastened remainder of it in my father."

In 1858 the father, having established a church in the little village of 225 people, which remains to this day, had won such recognition that he was called to one of the important churches of the state, and settled in the city of Bangor. He had been seven years in Buckfield, and remained ten years in Bangor. There the little family was increased by the addition of a daughter, now Mrs. Sidney B. Payne, of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, and another son, now Dr. Charles P. Small, of Chicago, who was nine years younger than Albion. Both parents were unusually devout. The father was a little above six feet in height, while the mother was a tiny little woman who never weighed more than 100 pounds, and of so gentle a manner that her son never heard her raise her voice so that she could be heard thirty feet away. The observance of Sunday in this family was as rigid as that which is popularly supposed to have alienated many young men from religion. Small makes this illuminating statement about the religion of his father and mother: "They took their religion seriously as a high-minded manner of life." This boy was not set against religion, although it was of a strict type. The beauty of true religion was so illustrated in the characters of his father and mother, in the daily inspiration of their love and cheerful faith, that they made it attractive to him, and in due time, while still a boy, he naturally and inevitably gravitated into that same "high-minded manner of life" and adorned it to the end.

When he was fourteen years old, in 1868, his father, after ten years in Bangor, became pastor of the Free Street Baptist Church in Portland, the largest city in Maine. There the boy found the ocean and became familiar with the infinite variety and beauty of that wonderful seacoast which, to one of his eager and inquiring

(3) mind, was a new element in his education. There he entered high school, and through four years of study prepared for college. There he had one of the great adventures of his life. All life, indeed, was an adventure to him. The blood of pioneers was in him and the element of adventure always had a peculiar appeal for him. To ascend Mount Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire, little more than fifty miles from Portland, was at that time a mighty challenge to the high-spirited boys of New England. With nine other boys Small, in the last year of high school, determined to make the ascent, 6,293 feet. Starting out on a fine May morning, they were overtaken by a blinding blizzard. As they did not return, an alarm was sent to Portland. A public meeting was called to concert measures for a thorough search, when a message was received that they had been found alive and rescued. This well-nigh fatal experience seems to have clothed the White Mountains with a kind of fascination for Small which was life-long and made the region a favorite vacation resort even down to old age. During the summers of his high-school career he earned his board by working on the farm of a relative he calls "Uncle Sam," in the old, original settlement of the Small family in York County, only a few miles from the famous Sebago Lake. Uncle Sam and the boy spent much time together on long rides about the country where the uncle's affairs called him, and the conversation of the old farmer was so intelligent and enlightening as to make the boy's vacations intellectually profitable.

The father early discovered his son's superior mental gifts and decided to give him the best educational advantages he could. When he had completed his high-school course in Portland he was sent to Waterville, Maine, to take his college course in the college of which his father was an alumnus. It was a small college, but there were very few large ones in 1872. It had gone through a long struggle as Waterville College. When in that year, '72, Small entered the Freshman class, it had partly emerged from this struggle as Colby University, and is now Colby College, with greatly increased assets and many more students. During Small's college course the attendance averaged about 150 students, although his own class numbered only nine at graduation. He graduated in

(4) 1876, at the age of twenty-two. Dr. Julian D. Taylor, who has been professor of Latin in Colby since 1868 and knew Small as student, colleague on the faculty, and president, says of his career in college: "He was easily the leader of his class from his Freshman year, and in his Senior year the outstanding figure in the student body."

Whether he expected to become a preacher and pastor may be doubted. He seems to have done some school teaching while in college. In a recent address Dr. Nathaniel Butler, who was one of the first men to enter the service of the University of Chicago on the teaching staff in 1892, told the following story: "Dr. Small was my personal friend for more than fifty years. My first intimate contact with him was on the occasion of our presenting ourselves, while still in college, to be examined for teaching positions by the school committee of the city of Portland. The examination was set and the papers presumably read by Dr. Shaíler, grandfather of Dr. Shaíler Mathews. Small told me with great glee that Dr. Shaíler told his father that the papers we wrote were of low quality, but that he thought it well enough to give the boys a chance." When this took place Small had only just left the high school. His glee showed his connection with the "whimsical Smalls." He was always laughing at himself because he would not take himself or life too seriously.

Though he may not have expected on leaving college to become a clergyman, he entered Newton Theological Institution in Massachusetts, where some new influence inspired him with an increased love of learning and led to his choice of teaching as a profession. At any rate he found there Dr. E. P. Gould, professor of New Testament interpretation, who was breaking away from traditional views so that his classroom become electric with a new intellectual life. A spirit of inquiry was awakened that helped to make at least two members of the class of 1879 students and investigators—Small and Charles Rufus Brown, later a professor in Old Testament interpretation in Newton for life. Brown became one of the most cherished friends of Dr. W. R. Harper and of Dr. E. D. Burton. He and Small were drawn together in an enduring friendship while they were students, and both were so smitten with

(5) the love of learning that they decided to go abroad together for further study. They went, first to the University of Berlin for the year 1879-80, and then to the University of Leipzig for 1880-81. Small spent some time also at Weimar and in the British Museum.

In 1874 Small's father had been called to the First Baptist Church of Fall River, Massachusetts, one of the large and strong churches of that state. He was, therefore, better able than ever before to afford his brilliant son whatever educational advantages he desired, and his affection for, and pride in, him were such that he was ready to make any sacrifice for his welfare. He was thus able to plan a three years' period of foreign study in history and political economy. While he was at Weimar, however, he met Miss Valeria von Massow, the daughter of a German general, and they were married June 20, 1881. He had not pursued his studies in the German universities long enough to secure the coveted Ph.D. degree, and he hastened his marriage and his return home, apparently, because he had been called to the chair of history and political economy in his Alma Mater, Colby University. This decided his career. He was thenceforth a teacher for forty-three years. Professor Taylor, speaking of the return of the former student, after an absence of five years, as a member of the faculty, says, "He had greatly matured, and gave evidence that no lesson from the five years of wide and varied experience had been lost upon him. His work as a teacher of classes was highly successful, and he was, undoubtedly, the most popular member of the faculty, commanding the esteem of his colleagues as well as the enthusiastic admiration of his students." Dr. Shailer Mathews was a Sophomore in Colby when the new professor was appointed, and has this to say of him:

When Small began his work in Colby he was about twenty-seven years old and full of the characteristics which were always his. His entire personality radiated vigor . . . . I did not enter his classes until 1882. At that time he had already adopted his method of giving his classes material he himself had prepared . . . At first this was written out or hectographed, afterward, printed . . . . I think it was during these years that he acquired that remarkable ability to concentrate his thought and that mastery of expression which were so strikingly his as he grew more mature. I owe a great deal to these years of study with him .... His personality was so stimulating and his zest in life so irrepressible that he opened up the world as nobody else did.


He had added to his other work instruction in public speaking. Meantime, he had discovered Mathews and they had begun to draw together in a friendship which was life-long. Wearied by his accumulated burdens, he persuaded the trustees to appoint Mathews instructor in public speaking. Dr. Mathews says: "For this, as well as for a life-long stimulus and guidance, I cannot measure my indebtedness to Small."

During the seven years of his teaching of history and political economy Small had been feeling his way toward a new science which increasingly occupied his thoughts. In 1 888 Colby gave him a sabbatical year to devote to advanced study in Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore. Johns Hopkins was then a new university, and its establishment marked the beginning of a new era in American education. In it the graduate school first appeared in the United States, and American graduates found there what they had formerly been compelled to go abroad to secure. It was in Johns Hopkins that Small earned his Ph.D. degree, writing "a very striking thesis on the Continental Congress." At the end of this year of advanced study he was elected president of Colby. He was very young for a college presidency, only thirty-five years of age, just the age at which Dr. Harper was made president of the University of Chicago.

Professor Taylor says: "When, in 1889, President Pepper offered his resignation there was but one voice on the part of faculty and students, as well as of the trustees, as to the man best fitted to be named his successor. . . . At his accession . . . . a new spirit was at once felt in all departments, in the classrooms and on the campus as well as in the business administration. The college had a head and a policy. All its friends were filled with confidence for the future." When he was appointed president he transferred Mathews to his own former position, making him professor of history and political economy, and Dean Mathews says: "I remember that it was while we were planning our work at that time that I heard for the first time the word 'sociology.' He said he wished to teach it. I think he was the first to get out a handbook in the field, and for a number of years this little book that he got out for his classes between sessions was used as a textbook." This was,

(7) indeed, his first book on the subject, and was called An Introduction to the Science of Sociology. His study and teaching of history and political economy had awakened in his mind an interest in a science beyond these, which had already begun to be called social science and sociology. His year at Johns Hopkins had increased this interest. He read everything he could find that had been published on the subject, and his interest was intensified until he was possessed with a desire to devote his life to the cultivation and development of this new field of inquiry.

When, therefore, the new University of Chicago was founded, with its emphasis on graduate departments of study, the plan awakened in his mind extraordinary interest. President Harper was not long in deciding that he must have Dr. Small in his Faculty. As early as November, 1890, he arranged an interview in Boston. I regret that no record of it has come to my knowledge. But I have no doubt that Dr. Small revealed to the President of the new University his absorbing interest in what he believed should be developed by the University into the science of sociology. It was a new thought to President Harper. Such a thing nowhere existed. But he had an open mind. He did not hold it closed to a suggestion because it was new. The more he thought of it the more it commended itself to him. He therefore renewed the negotiation and asked Dr. Small if he would leave the presidency of Colby to organize and conduct a graduate department of sociology in the University of Chicago. The appointment was made by the Trustees, who, on January 20, 1892, elected him Head Professor of Social Science, without any positive assurance that he would accept. Two things in this call made a strong appeal to him. The University was а new adventure in education. Many educators were more than doubtful about its future. One eastern professor scouted the idea of the University's drawing graduate students. But it had an appeal for Dr. Small just because it was a great experiment. It appealed to his love of adventure and, particularly, it gave him the opportunity he wanted to join in the battle to force on the educational world the recognition of sociology as a true science. And so he accepted the call. He wrote to President Harper: "I shall enlist for the war, with the most loyal purpose of doing my

(8) utmost best every day for the common cause. I shall be as loyal to you as one man can be to another. You will never catch me sulking in my tent when there is work to be done for which I am, either by the literal terms of our contract or by the ideals of our relation, responsible." The experience of Dr. Small as an administrator led to his being drafted into service at once as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, later as Director of Affiliation, and finally, as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Literature.

President Harper and Professor Small were drawn together in a very intimate and lasting friendship which continually grew more intimate down to the last day of President Harper's life.

Dr. and Mrs. Small had one child, a daughter, whom they named Lína. She was born in Waterville, Maine, and, as Professor Taylor says, "happily combined the salient qualities of both parents." She grew up in Chicago and became the choice treasure of their hearts. There was a very beautiful relation of mutual devotion and confidence between the father and daughter. She married Mr. Hayden B. Harris, a son of Norman W. Harris, the Chicago banker. Their four children were a great joy to their grandfather Small's heart.

President Harper was so delayed in completing his first faculty that he sometimes secured the appointment of instructors without consulting the head of the department. Dr. Small accepted this unconventional method of his superior with that whimsical humor so characteristic of him. When Dr. Charles R. Henderson was appointed in this manner, he wrote to his "Chief," as he always called President Harper, as follows: "One thing is demonstrated, namely, that the Department of Sociology is bound to grow as long as I keep away from it. I had not heard of Henderson until your note came, but when I consulted the University column of the Standard I felt as the Christmas-pie boy did when he pulled out the plum. By the way, if you should hear anyone intimate that the credit of organizing the Department of Sociology belongs to any one except to the head professor, will you kindly shoot him on the spot?"

In what President Harper intended should be his first annual report, but which was never finished, he said, speaking of the plans for the conduct of the University, "An essential element is the op-

(9) -portunity of publishing results obtained in investigation. To this end it is provided that in each department there shall be published either a journal or a series of separate studies which shall in each department embody the results of the work of the instructors in that department."

Dr. Small has left on record, as a footnote in his Fifty Years of Sociology in the United States, the story of the genesis of the American Journal of Sociology. He says:

Among the appropriations in the first budget of the University of Chicago was a subsidy for a university extension magazine. Late in the spring of 1895 . ... Dr. Harper was forced to the decision that the attempt to create a constituency for such a journal must be abandoned. It was a matter which had never in any way come to my knowledge, and I was taken completely by surprise when, as I was about to leave his office after a consultation on routine business, Dr. Harper abruptly remarked: "We have got to give up the University Extension World. It would be a pity for that subsidy to be transferred to anything but publication. Are you willing to be responsible for a journal of sociology?" The audacity of ignorance to which I confessed above had never gone to the extreme of imagining that our department commanded the necessary resources for maintaining such a venture. On the other hand it was no time and place for men who would flinch at a challenge, and there was no room for doubt that Dr. Harper intended his suggestion as a "dare." After brief consultation with my colleagues, Henderson, Thomas, and Vincent, I reported to Dr. Harper that we believed there was a vocation for a journal of sociology, and that we were ready to undertake editorial charge of such a publication. When the announcement was made, shortly after, that the University Extension World was to become the American Journal of Sociology, we had not even promises of material enough to fill the first number. More than that, some of the men whom we tried to interest as contributors advised us to reconsider our purpose, as there could not possibly be in the near future enough sociological writing to fill such a journal. Nevertheless, we issued the first number in July, 1895, while it was still uncertain whether material for a second number, the following September, could be obtained. Without the prompt and hearty cooperation of Lester F. Ward, followed closely by Professor Ross, the enterprise would scarcely have survived the first year . . . . But something persuaded the Trustees not merely to transfer the previous subsidy of the University Extension World to the proposed journal of sociology, but to increase the amount by the sum of $800.

The Journal was a new venture—for Dr. Small, a new adventure. It was the first journal of sociology published in the United States, and, I suppose, in the world. He was the protagonist of a

(10) new science, which was not generally recognized to be a science at all, but in the future of which he enthusiastically believed. He proposed to devote his life to the work of finding for it a place in the sun and forcing on the educational world its recognition as a true science, co-ordinate in rank with the other social sciences, history, anthropology, political economy, and political science. He had before him a tremendous conflict, and the Journal of Sociology gave him the arena in which to wage his battle. For that purpose it was incomparably superior to the obscure and narrow limits of the classroom. The audacity and courage of editors and writers soon won recognition for it. As a man and an associate, its editor-in-chief was singularly irenic, all his life on terms of frank cordiality and fraternal understanding with his colleagues, radiating friendliness and cheerfulness wherever he was. I was with him on the University staff, in the Quadrangle Club, and in the Hyde Park Baptist Church for more than thirty years, and his cheerful, affectionate greeting always lifted me up in spirit and made the world seem a better place to live in. But as the strong man of peace is often the bravest warrior when battle is forced upon him, so it was that when Small was forced to do battle for his specialty he didn't merely defend his position. He was often the assailant, carrying the war into the enemy's country. He came to have many associates. The sociologists became an army, and may fairly be said to have won their fight. Departments of sociology have been established in the universities and many of the colleges of the country and it has been admitted by universal consent into the circle of the sciences.

As I have already intimated, the first department of sociology in any university was the one which Small organized in the University of Chicago. He began his teaching of sociology in Colby University in 1889-90, preparing at the same time a handbook for the use of the Senior class, which was "privately" printed and which lies before me as I write. There had been a class in sociology two or three years before this in the Indiana University. In the same year, 1889, in the University of Kansas, Professor F. W. Blackmar also began to teach sociology, although (as he writes), "it was largely overshadowed by history and political economy." Profes-

(11) -sor F. H. Giddings also had classes in Bryn Mawr about the same time, perhaps the same year. These are believed to mark the beginnings of regular instruction in sociology, of which there has since been so great a development. In a letter to Professor Small, Professor Giddings, now of Columbia, writes: "You speak of a syllabus of sociology which you prepared at Colby, and you vainly cherish the hope that it is the only one in existence. I beg to assure you that my copy of it is intact and that you could not buy it of me if you tried." This hope he expressed, that his own copy was the only one in existence, illustrates the attitude he came to assume toward all his early teaching of sociology, whimsically condemnatory of the immature views of those days and of the large and egotistical plans and expectations of the young and eager sociologists of a third of a century ago. They were on their way toward a great and inspiring goal, and it must be acknowledged that they have made extraordinary progress. They made mistakes. They sometimes followed false trails. No one was more ready to admit this than Dr. Small. He confessed it in his whimsical way, saying, "This criticism of others is at the same time a confession. For years I was one of the sinners, and one of the most convinced sinners in this respect." And in another place, "This confession is in the nature of a purgatorial experience in qualifying for salvation."

It cannot be doubted that he was an able and inspiring teacher. With the aid of able associates he placed the department at the head of departments of sociology in this country. By the consensus of educational opinion it has been assigned the first place. So far from attracting no graduate students, this department alone draws to Chicago annually more than two hundred students and teaches every year more than three hundred undergraduates. It has sent out 68 Doctors of Philosophy and 107 Masters of Arts, and 73 are now working with approved, subjects for these higher degrees. There are nine courses of undergraduate, and forty of graduate, instruction. Limits of space make it impossible to permit his students to tell their estimate of him as a teacher.[1]

For more than thirty years Dr. Small led in Chicago a very busy life. He began by taking on, in addition to the work of his de-

(12) -partment during the period of organization, the deanship of the College of Liberal Arts. For ten years or more he served as Director of Affiliation. In 1904 he was appointed Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Literature, and continued to administer that school for twenty years. Meantime he had launched the Journal of Sociology, of which he served as editor-in-chief for nearly thirty years, and for which he wrote voluminously. He wrote many books, chief among which were General Sociology (1895) ; Adam Smith and Modern Sociology (1907) ; The Cameralists (1909) ; The Meaning of Social Science (1910); Between Eras, from Capitalism to Democracy (1913) ; Origins of Sociology (1924). His books, however, were the smallest part of his literary activity, as reference to the bibliography prepared by Professor House[2] will demonstrate. He was a forcible and popular public speaker and was in great demand for addresses on all sorts of topics. He wrote papers without number. He was vice-president of the Congress of Arts and Sciences at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904. He was the fourth president of the American Sociological Society, serving two years, 1912-13. He was president of l'Institut International de Sociologic of Paris. For many years he was the university faculty representative on the Intercollegiate Conference on Athletics. He had a genuine and enduring interest in athletics. He loved to see professional baseball. I used to laugh at him for liking to see hired men play ball, but his interest was so real that if the evening paper did not contain the scores for the day he would make an errand to the drug store to find out. He couldn't wait till morning.

Dr. Small was a member of the Hyde Park Baptist Church for a full generation, serving as trustee and deacon, liberal in his gifts to all the enterprises of the church, faithful, devout, depended on by his minister, trusted and loved by the people. He belonged to the liberal wing of theologians, but his Christian experience was essentially like that of his father and the apostle Paul.

A great bereavement came to him in 1916, after thirty-five years of married life, in the death of Mrs. Small. It is one of the tragedies of our world that such men as Dr. Small, who so glorify

(13) humanity, grow old and die. The first time I took real note of his mortality was at the time of the "big snow" in Chicago, in the winter of 1917-18, when great drifts blockaded the streets. He walked from his house to the University and told me later that he barely survived the effort and exposure. It was a reminder that thereafter he must go slow and care for a weak heart. He filled out seventy-one years and then, in 1924, after forty-four years of teaching, thirty-three of which he had given to the University of Chicago, retired in broken health. He was living with his brother, Dr. Charles P. Small, but in the winter of 1925-26 transferred his residence to the Hotel Del Prado to be with Mr. and Mrs. Hayden B. Harris, his son-in-law and daughter. More and more frequently his failing heart warned him of the approaching end, but he kept up the same undaunted front, maintained the same cheerful spirit, and tried still to work. To please his daughter he began on September 30, 1925, to write the story of his life. He wrote only an introductory chapter devoted to telling something of his ancestors, a chapter full of vitality and interest. He was not able to go farther. He continued able to walk, but sitting down became more and more difficult. When his friends called on him he would see them comfortably seated, but he himself would walk about the room and talk in the same old cheerful way they had known so long. His son-in-law, Mr. Harris, writes me this:

During the last few months of his life he had frequent very painful attacks of the disease which took him, an average of one an hour, but never once did he utter a word of complaint. The last day of his life he registered to vote in the precinct to which he had recently moved. During that day he explained to his oldest grandchild, N. W. Harris II, the details of voting and something about municipal politics. The afternoon before the night he died he wrote out methodically the precise directions as to what to do in the event of his death and inclosed it with a note to me [as also to his brother, Charles], saying: "You may have use for this presently." His courage never wavered for an instant and there was never a word of sentimentality.

He retired to sleep as usual. The next morning they found his dead body. The great soul had departed.

The funeral was held two days later, March 26, in Mandel Hall, when President Emeritus H. P. Judson, Dr. Nathaniel Butler, Vice-President J. H. Tufts, and his minister, Dr. C. W. Gilkey,

(14) spoke. His ashes were deposited in the cemetery at Newton Center, Massachusetts, where his father and mother and wife had been buried.

When his will was read it transpired that he had left what will eventually amount to $2 5,000, practically his entire estate, to the University, the fund to be known as The Albion W. Small Publication Fund, to be used for the support of publications within the field of social science. The University was also given all the books, pamphlets, and papers of his working collection in the Harper Memorial Library. In making his will Dr. Small showed how profoundly he believed in the faith in which he had lived and the work to which he had devoted his life, saying:

The longer I have studied human experiences the more convinced I have become that people can live together with satisfactory and reciprocal advantages only in the degree in which they learn to maintain a consistent Christian attitude toward one another, and it is my hope that this fund will have a part in converting the world to the same belief.


  1. 1 See the article by Annie Marion MacLean elsewhere in this issue.
  2. 2 P. 49, below.

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