American Sociology
Lester F. Ward

Howard Odum 

We begin with Lester Frank Ward as the first president of the American Sociological Society in 1906 and re-elected for a second term in 1907. Like the other three he lived to a ripe age exceeding the three score years and ten, having been born in 1841 and living up to 1913. About Ward, as about the other pioneers, we write briefly the story of his part in American sociology within the general multiple framework of his background and how he came into the field of sociology; of his ex-officio positions and varied activities and influence upon students and sociology in general; of his approach and methods and what he produced; of the general rating of his sociology as it appears in the contemporary scene. The theme of his presidential address and some of his specialisms are logical components of the story.

Often called the "Nestor of American sociology," Ward has also been


( 79) described as the typical American with a boyhood background in the rural Middle West from which point, long without formal education, he worked his way to the top. Like many another American, Ward's life was consistently and paradoxically both ordinary and exceptional in that he followed the pioneer trail westward, moved back eastward; worked his way up from the farm, moved quickly from the farm to teaching, study, then to scientific endeavor. With little schooling for either science or social science, he attained distinction in both; with little financial backing of any sort and no fellowship or endowment, he achieved a rare mastery through the long, hard road of year-by-year progress. He was representative of the American struggle in other ways, one of which was that he married, went to war, was wounded, came back to set himself to work again in the fields to which his love of nature on the prairies and his early reading of a few books had pointed the way.

He was in still another way both consistent and paradoxically American in that he became a governmental worker earning his necessary livelihood for forty years yet equipping himself with rare distinction through scientific study and the reading of great books in philosophy which would become basic to his future work in sociology. Thirty-five years after he entered government service he acted as a special agent for the United States Bureau of Education in a report on "Sociology at the Paris Exposition in 1900," as told by James Q. Dealey in Chapter III of Howard W. Odum's American Masters of Social Science. His Washington connections also gave him opportunity to follow another American custom, namely, to do part-time study in evening classes, achieving, besides the bachelor's degree, a diploma in medicine, a law degree, the master's degree and the honorary doctor's degree. Alongside all this preparatory work he was a considerable "joiner"of many societies and, strangely enough, became president of the Institut International de Sociologie from 1900 to 1903, to be followed then by his election as first president of the American Sociological Society.

This amazing record of preparation and action was paralleled only by the extraordinary output of scientific talks and articles followed, then, by the large and impressive number of volumes that he produced with-out university support or research assistance. In some ways, Ward appears suddenly to the new sociological world as a full-grown sociologist and becomes a professor of sociology in a department prepared by James


( 80) Q. Dealey who was to be not only his colleague in Brown University from 1906, but also a fellow president of the American Sociological Society seven years after Ward's death. Dealey was thus his successor as well as his predecessor at Brown University. Ward's two presidential addresses were representative of his approach and general methods and were both published in The American journal of Sociology. His first address, "The Establishment of Sociology," was published in Volume XII, March, 1907; it discussed the value of sociology and its progress as a science in the face of obstacles. His second address, "Social Classes in the Light of Modern Sociological Theory," was published in Volume XIII, March, 1908. In this address Ward held that classes and castes are based to a large extent upon military conquest of one race by another. But this does not necessarily mean that the conquered group is inferior. There are "natural inequalities of men" but these do not correspond to existing classes. It follows that artificial inequalities (classes) are a hindrance and should be abolished.

Ward's main books were Dynamic Sociology, 1883; The Psychic Factors of Civilization, 1893; Outlines of Sociology, 1898; Pure Sociology, 1903; Textbook of Sociology (with Dealey), 1905; Applied Sociology, 1906; Glimpses of the Cosmos, 191318. This last work, according to Dealey, on pages 70--71 of Odum's American Masters of Social Science, originally planned by him to be issued in twelve volumes, was "reduced to six after his death owing to lack of funds for publication. This series is rather unique in that it presents a chronological arrangement of every-thing Ward ever published, `great and small, good, bad, and indifferent,' exclusive of books and large illustrated memoirs and monographs. Ward's thought was that by such an arrangement the development of his intellectual life might best be traced, from the callow productions of early youth to the matured reflections of later manhood."

Ward's methodology and approach was consistent with that of Giddings and Small of his contemporaries and with the European sociologists before him. That is, although he had done distinctive work in the natural sciences, when he came to study sociology, it was rather through the avenue of reading great books than through any field work or empirical research. And although he had been librarian of the United States Bureau of Statistics, he made no special use of the statistical method; Dealey, writing of him on pages 6768, as above, described him


( 81) as "an intellectual worker . . . the very embodiment of order and system. From 1860 to the time of his death he kept a diary, writing down scrupulously at the end of every day its chief events, especially those that bore upon his literary life. He kept a careful record also of the facts respecting his numerous writings and in addition a complete scrap-book system of twenty-three volumes, classified under the headings, Reviews and Press Notices, Autograph Letters and Biography. . . . he read systematically, noting important passages or thoughts and indexing them with cross references in his filing system, for, in order to be able to locate any item easily, he made a thorough card index of every name, subject, or important key work contained in his diaries or scrapbooks, or noted in his reading. A series of supplementary letter files systematically arranged completed his filing system. Whenever possible he worked standing at a high desk and in doing his literary work he used the pencil or the pen, not a typist or a typewriter, these being made use of only in official business. In Glimpses of the Cosmos he explains the methods he used in writing each of his several sociological works ..."

Dealey pointed out further, on page 72, that "Throughout this period of formal education he had no scientific studies of any value and his interests were largely in the field of philosophy and education. He started the next decade (18711881) with a clear conviction that education was the great panacea for human progress and began systematic reading in philosophy, religion and the sciences, being especially attracted by the works of Francis Bacon, Kant, and Draper, and of Agassiz, Lyell, Haeckel, Comte and Spencer. Meanwhile, he devoted himself to the study of botany, and later of anthropology and geology, and during the whole decade devoted himself to the preparation of the manuscript that ultimately became Dynamic Sociology. In Washington itself he was in contact with a large intellectual and scientific circle of kindred minds and in this cultural atmosphere, through discussion and the presentation of papers at literary and scientific gatherings, he broadened out in his attainment and in his world view of life."

Finally, Ward's sociology stands the test of the contemporary 'scene in many ways. His concept, which foreshadowed social planning, was a pioneer construct; his thesis that woman can make a new contribution to mankind's progress still challenges; his emphasis upon education was paramount to America's major outlines of progress. His faith in the


( 82) technical and artificial was prophetic of what has happened but inconsistent with the newer construct of balance between the natural and technical. Yet these and other limitations are but commensurate with the magnitude of Ward's efforts and with the limitations of all students and writers who undertake the task of social analysis and direction.

Perhaps Dealey's appraisal will not overestimate Ward's place in American sociology. What Dealey says on pages 90-91, as above, is that "In due time the blunders he made will pass into oblivion but the truths he taught should place him in Comte's list of the immortals. In his system of sociology it is obvious that his conclusions are not usually based on personal studies of concrete facts. In his scientific studies of some thirty years his work was almost entirely of that sort, as shown in his botanical and geological monographs. In his generation, however, comparatively few inductive studies had been made in the field of social phenomena and to some the methodology of those few seems defective in these days. Nor had he the time nor the inclination to make such studies himself. To Ward it seemed more important in his day to master the best thought of the time, including the newer scientific teachings of the nineteenth century, and then to synthesize all into a coherent whole, supplemented by his own thought-contributions wherever he found gaps or defects in this synthesizing philosophy. These contributions he was able to make because of his marvellous grasp of the several fields of science in their interrelations, a grasp much broader and deeper than that held by his immediate predecessors, Spencer and Comte, and also be-cause of his keen, logical intellect and his deep insight into the inner unity of this monistic universe. He is the first great sociologist to indicate scientific bases for sex equality, for democracy and racial unity; the first to mark out the roads to social meliorism and progress, and the first to stress the place of psychic factors in a civilization becoming telic."

Finally, on pages 91-92, Dealey estimates that Ward's teachings which, in their original form, Dynamic Sociology, have been before the reading world for over forty years, have now become common property. ... numerous authors have taken his ideas, often unconsciously, and elaborated them, sometimes thereby gaining credit for the thought itself. His works are a treasure house of living thought and this will survive, perhaps long after the books themselves have grown musty on neglected shelves. Yet in future years, when another generation with a larger per-


( 83) -spective estimates the scientifically based social philosophies of the past and passing generations, Lester Frank Ward will surely be ranked high among America's masters of social science."

Notes

Notelist