American Sociology
John M. Gillette

Howard Odum

Still another of the presidents of the American Sociological Society who lived and worked beyond the eighty-year mark was John M. Gil-

( 145) -lette, the eighteenth president in 1928. Like Sumner, Small, Hayes, Weatherly, Gillin, Lichtenberger, he came into the field of sociology from the ministry, and like many of the others the span of his life coincided with the rise and development of sociology following the Civil War and moving on up to the mid-point of the twentieth century. Born in Missouri in 1866, he received an M.A. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1895 and a Ph.D. at Chicago Theological Seminary in 1899. He had been ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1895 and had preached in rural churches in Kansas and later in the frontier town of Dodge City. After receiving his degree at the Chicago Theological Seminary he transferred to sociology at the university where he received his Ph.D. two years later. For six years after that, he was president of the Academy for Young Women in Illinois and professor of psychology and the social sciences at the Valley State Teachers College in North Dakota. Then in 1907 he went to the University of North Dakota and the following year established the new Department of Sociology which he headed for forty years.

And like most of his contemporaries his life reflected a wide and varied experience. Besides being vice-president and president of the American Sociological Society, he was an associate member of the Internationale Institute of Sociology and an advisory member of the Academy of Agriculture of Czechoslovakia. He was, at home, a member of the North: Dakota State Welfare Commission, and of the advisory committee of the National Child Labor Committee and of the National Committee on Prisons and Prison Labor, as well as of the advisory committee of the State Workmen's Compensation and Unemployment Insurance Division. Still nearer home, at Grand Forks, he was vice-president and president of the Charity Organization Society and the City Council. As indicating public recognition he received two honorary degrees, the Doctor of Laws from Park College and the Doctor of Humanities from the University of North Dakota. Gillette blazed new trails not only in a frontier American society itself but in rural sociology. James M. Reinhardt points out in tributes in the American Sociological 'Review and Social Forces, Fall, 1949, that he "was often referred to as the dean of rural sociology because of the formative influence that his pioneer works in the field had in this and other countries. A review of college catalogue offerings in sociology for a considerable period following the appearance

(146) of his Constructive Rural Sociology in 1913, and the first edition of his Rural Sociology in 1922, reveals the pre-eminence of his position in this expanding field, over many years. His early works in rural sociology attracted wide attention throughout the world, and translations of his books were used in various European universities and in the Imperial University of Japan."

Reinhardt continues, "Dr. Gillette's intellectual interests ranged far and wide. In addition to his work in rural sociology, he wrote books in such related areas as general sociology, education, the family, and social problems. He also published numerous articles and pamphlets on a variety of subjects, including anthropology, regionalism, and weather. His intellectual activity and mental acuity showed no signs of impairment right up to the time of his death. His outstanding investigations showing a definite scientific relation between variable weather conditions and the economic status of a people, as well as a number of other researches, were done after his 80th year." In fact, "He was actively engaged during the last year of his life on several projects including a sociological interpretation of the life and times of the Great Plains during his 83 years."

His main books include Vocational Education, in 1910; Constructive Rural Sociology, in 1913 and revised in 1916; Rural Sociology, in 1922 and revised in 1936; with James M. Reinhardt, Current Social Problems, in 1933, revised in 1937. From his main field of endeavor, rural sociology, we may gain an idea of his concept of sociology. Thus from pages 6 and 7 of his Rural Sociology, he says, "If by sociology is always meant a rigidly scientific attempt to account for group phenomena, and if, further, the attempt must be dissociated from utilitarian motives, then the title `rural sociology' is incompetent to express the scientific import of sociological studies of rural communities."

Gillette's presidential address, "Urban Influence and Selection" was published in Volume XXIII of Papers and Proceedings of the Twenty-third Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Society. In this address he pointed out that, as creators and centers of culture, cities dominate greater and greater areas of outlying populations, due to multiplication of kinds of cultural goods and increase in agencies of distribution. The psychosocial effects of this urbanization are seen in the molding and directive influences which urban centers manifest. Psycho-physical effects appear in population movements and redistribution in quantity and quality. The city is accumulating more educated leaders as well as pathological and subnormal classes. The rural areas have a larger proportion of normal but unexceptional persons.


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