The Founding of DCSS Part Two: Organizing

By Patricia Lengermann and Gillian Niebrugge

This article is part of a larger work in progress on the history of sociology in Washington, DC, a history shaped not by the presence of a major University Department of Sociology, as in Chicago, but by location, the center of government in the United States.

Other topics we hope to share with The Sociologist readership include

  • Visits of Harriet Martineau and Alexis De Tocqueville in the 1830s
  • Life and work of Anna Julia Cooper, after whom a circle in Le Droit Park is named
  • Lester Ward’s work and time at the U.S. Geologic Survey
  • E. Franklin Frazier’s DCSS presidency
  • C. Wright Mills’ years at the University of Maryland
  • Talley’s corner then and now
  • Jessie Bernard’s years in retirement in Washington, DC

This report on the founding of the DCSS is being published in installments, of which this is the second.  The first installment (The Sociologist February 2015), which we reprise briefly here, dealt with the social context framing that founding in 1934.  That context we saw in terms of three major events:  the Great Depression, F.D.R.’s “New Deal,” and the growing division in the sociological community over its organization, orientation to society, and methodology.

While most readers have a general familiarity with the first two, the divisions in sociology, complex and less well-known, may need some re-statement.  These divisions were partly fueled by assertions of the University of Chicago Sociology Department’s long-standing organizational dominance of the profession, on the one hand, versus challenges to that dominance, on the other.

By 1934 sociology was being practiced out of several other significant universities, most notably Columbia University. In the stress of shrinking resources and intensified competitiveness resulting from the Depression, University of Chicago became the object of calls for organizational decentralization, increasingly expressed in the formation of semi-autonomous regional and local associations. DCSS was both a part of this trend and an anomaly within it.

Suspicion and resentment of Chicago grew dramatically after 1927 when William Ogburn became Chair of the Department and rejected that program’s long-standing tolerance of multiple orientations and methods, insisting instead on a radical scientism which scorned reformist policy engagements by sociologists in favor of a rigidly objective pursuit of “pure science.”

The Ogburn faction seized upon the growing sophistication of large-scale quantitative methods, claiming it as part of the practice of pure, value neutral social science. One mark of the extent of the resentment this created is a reflection by L.L. Bernard on the founding of the American Sociological Review, “I . . . appointed the committee which recommended the substitution of the American Sociological Review for the American Journal of Sociology and pushed the resolution through . . . .  I took these steps because the department of sociology at the University of Chicago under its leader at the time [Ogburn] had become arrogant and was suspected of making the interests of the American Sociological Society subsidiary to those of the Chicago department” (Odum 1951: 410).   Part I of this article ended with the claim that DCSS was created as a challenge to the Ogburn position, an attempt to rescue quantitative method from its coupling with the “pure science” rejection of reform and policy activity by sociologists.

Part II: Organizing DCSS

Charles Camic, the leading scholar on sociology’s role during the Depression has claimed (2007) that the profession remained curiously (and all but fatally) disengaged from any intellectual curiosity about the social causes and consequences of the Depression and failed to mount a full-fledged pursuit of the career and professional possibilities opened up by the voracious demand for social science expertise created by the New Deal bureaucracy.  In so doing, he laments, sociology ceded the world of public policy to economists, in particular, but also to political scientists and lawyers, an outcome that would have long term negative effects on the profession.

The question of whether Camic’s portrait is true of all parts of the sociological community calls for further study.  (We believe that at least a part of the issue here is a narrowing of the definition of what constitutes that community to the members, and even more to the elites of the American Sociological Society.)

In the case of DCSS, locating sociology as a significant player in New Deal policy work was a central project.  Moreover the initiative for such a project came from major Chicago players, especially Ernest Burgess, an eminent presence at Chicago and in 1934 the President of the American Sociological Society (ASS) and Stuart Rice, then Assistant Director of the Census Bureau, who had taught at Chicago, worked closely with Burgess on the ASS Special Committee on the Scope of Research (Rhoades, 1981) and would be the so-called “Chicago candidate” for ASS President in 1936 (an election he withdrew from rather than face what seemed certain defeat by the highly mobilized anti-Chicago forces who were advancing the candidacy of Henry Pratt Fairchild of New York University (Lengermann, 1979).  Burgess and Rice were joined in the DCSS initiative by local academics, community leaders, and sociologists working in the New Deal agencies.

Collectively this group of about 50 players created DCSS in five months, May to September 1934, not, like so many of the new regional and local associations in a quest for autonomy from ASS, but as an accredited chapter of the national association. The creation of DCSS was monitored by the local press, the then-dominant Evening Star (1934a, 1934b, 1934c) and The Post (Baker, 1934; Post, 1934). The reporting on the three meetings that formed the Society (all held at the Admiral Inn 1640 Rhode Island Street), reveal much about its membership and purpose.

Invitation to the Admiral Inn

May 1, 1934—Plans were announced to form a sociological society in Washington, DC and to seek chapter status from ASS.  Only a few names are given in the reports—D.W. Willard of the George Washington University, Earl Bellman of the University of Maryland, and Elwood Street, director of the Washington Community Chest had drawn up an organizational plan and preliminary constitution. Ernest Burgess spoke on “The National Opportunity for Sociologists” and Stuart Rice called for the creation of a coordinating committee for sociologists in the various government agencies in a talk titled “The Opportunity for National Service by Washington Sociologists.”  Both talks show clearly that the driving motive behind the formation of DCSS was a desire to again link sociology to the solution of contemporary social problems.

May 27, 1934—Much had been accomplished in a few weeks under the guidance of a planning committee consisting of Rice, Willard, E.D. Tetreau of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Theodore Manny of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Paul Furfey (see photo) of Catholic University, Earl Bellman of the University of Maryland, Dorothy Thomas of FERA, and Carl Taylor of the Division of Subsistence Homesteads at the Department of Agriculture.   A preliminary executive had been formed with Willard as President pro tem, and Conrad Taeuber of FERA as vice-president; a constitution and bylaws were adopted by those attending, and plans made for further activities.  A petition for chapter status was forwarded to ASS, (an unusual action for a regional association, the news report (Star 1934b) states) and a Nomination Committee was formed to seek candidates for election to a permanent executive.  The attendees heard talks by Howard R. Tolley of the Department of Agriculture, Leon Truesdell of the Census Bureau, Lawrence Westbrook of FERA., and Gutzon Borglum, a well-known sculptor who throughout the 1930s worked on creating the Mount Rushmore portraits of U.S. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Paul Furfey, second from left, at Fides Settlement House with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1941. Source:

Paul Furfey, second from left, at Fides Settlement House with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1941. Source:


September 27, 1934— DCSS was formally inducted as a chapter of ASS by Burgess.  Elected officers were Rice, President; Willard, vice-president; Frederick Stephan of FERA, secretary-treasurer, and a board made up of Elwood Street, Emma Winslow of the Children’s Bureau, E.D. Tetreau of FERA and Joseph Mayer, Library of Congress.  The full membership of the Society on this date is given in Table 1, which also includes a few names of people who had participated earlier but are not named in the September listing of “charter members.”

Works Cited

  1. Baker, Morgan. 1934. “The Federal Diary” The Washington Post May 4, p. 5.
  2. Camic, Charles. 2007. “On Edge: Sociology during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Pp. 225-280 in Sociology in America: A History edited by C. Calhoun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Lengermann, Patricia. 1979. “The Founding of the American Sociological Review: The Anatomy of a Rebellion.” American Sociological Review 44:185-198.
  4. Odum, Howard. 1951. American Sociology: The Story of Sociology in the United States Through 1950. New York: Longman and Green.
  5. Rhoades, Lawrence J. 1981. A History of the American Sociological Association, 1905-1980. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. Retrieved Dec. 24, 2013
  6. The Evening Star. 1934a. “Sociology Chapter to Be Formed Here.” May 1, p. 23.
  7. The Evening Star. 1934b. “Professor D.W. Willard Heads Sociologists.” May 27, p. 38.
  8. The Evening Star. 1934c. “DC Sociologists Organize Chapter.” October 6 p. 13.
  9. The Washington Post 1934. “Willard Elected by Sociological Chapter Here.” May 28, p.2.

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