Edward Alsworth Ross

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Edward Alsworth Ross
Edward Alsworth Ross.jpg
From the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)
Edward Alsworth Ross

(1866-12-12)December 12, 1866
DiedJuly 22, 1951(1951-07-22) (aged 84)
Known for
  • Social Control (1901)
  • The Principles of Sociology (1920)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorRichard T. Ely
Doctoral studentsC. Wright Mills

Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866 – July 22, 1951) was a progressive[1] American sociologist,[2] eugenicist,[3] economist,[4] and major figure of early criminology.[5]

Early life[edit]

He was born in Virden, Illinois. His father was a farmer. He attended Coe College and graduated in 1887. After two years as an instructor at a business school, the Fort Dodge Commercial Institute, he went to Germany for graduate study at the University of Berlin. He returned to the U.S., and in 1891 he received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in political economy under Richard T. Ely,[6][4] with minors in philosophy and ethics.[7]

Ross was a professor at Indiana University (1891–1892), secretary of the American Economic Association (1892), professor at Cornell University (1892–1893), and professor at Stanford University (1893–1900).[8] He was then a professor at University of Nebraska (1900–1904) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (1905–1937).

In the field of economics, he made contributions to the study of taxation, debt management, value theory, uncertainty, and location theory.[4]

Ross affair and departure from Stanford[edit]

In Stanford's "first academic freedom controversy",[9] Ross was fired from Stanford because of his political views on eugenics.[10][11] He objected to Chinese and Japanese immigrant labor (on both economic and racial grounds: he was an early supporter of the "race suicide" doctrine and expressed his wish to restrict entry of other races in strong and crude language in public speeches[12]) and Japanese immigration altogether. In the speech that was the catalyst for his potential firing and ultimate resignation, he was quoted as declaring, "And should the worst come to the worst it would be better for us if we were to turn our guns upon every vessel bringing Japanese to our shores rather than to permit them to land."[13] In response, Jane Stanford called for his resignation.[14]

In Ross' public statement as to his resignation, he wrote that his friend David Starr Jordan had asked him to make the speech. Jordan managed to keep Ross from being fired, but Ross resigned shortly after.[15] The position was at odds with the university's founding family, the Stanfords, who had made their fortune in Western rail construction, a major employer of coolie laborers.[citation needed]

Ross had also made critical remarks about the railroad industry in his classes: "A railroad deal is a railroad steal." This was too much for Jane Stanford, Leland Stanford's widow, who was on the board of trustees of the university. Numerous professors at Stanford resigned after protests of his dismissal, sparking "a national debate... concerning the freedom of expression and control of universities by private interests."[8] The American Association of University Professors was founded largely in response to this incident.[16]

Nebraska, Wisconsin, and later life[edit]

Ross left for the University of Nebraska, where he taught until 1905.[17] In 1906, he moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he became Professor of Sociology, and eventually chairman of the department. He retired in 1937.[7]

His understanding of Americanization and assimilation bore a striking resemblance to that of another Wisconsin professor, Frederick Jackson Turner. Like Turner, Ross believed that American identity was forged in the crucible of the wilderness. The 1890 census's proclamation that the frontier had disappeared, then, posed a significant threat to America's ability to assimilate the mass of immigrants who were arriving from southern and eastern Europe. In 1897, just four years after Turner had presented his frontier thesis to the American Historical Association, Ross, then at Stanford, argued that the loss of the frontier destroyed the machinery of the melting pot process.[18]

In 1913, the State of Wisconsin passed its first sterilization law.[19] Ross, who lived in Wisconsin at the time, was a reserved proponent of sterilization and indicated his support for the measure.[19][20] He qualified his support by contrasting it with the greater harm of hanging a man and advocated its initial use "only to extreme cases, where the commitments and the record pile up an overwhelming case." Involuntary sterilization remained legal in Wisconsin until July 1978.

Ross visited Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He endorsed the revolution even as he acknowledged its bloody origins. He was subsequently a leading advocate of US recognition of the Soviet Union. However, he later served on the Dewey Commission, which cleared Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him by the Soviet government during the Moscow Trials.[21][third-party source needed]

From 1900 to the 1920s, Ross supported the alcohol Prohibition movement as well as continuing to support eugenics and immigration restriction.[22] By 1930, he had moved away from those views, however.

In the 1930s, he was a supporter of the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1940, he became chairman of the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union,[23] serving until 1950.[7]

He died in 1951.


Selected articles[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weinberg, Julius (1972). Edward Alsworth Ross and the Sociology of Progressivism, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  2. ^ Hertzler, J. O. (1951). "Edward Alsworth Ross: Sociological Pioneer and Interpreter," Archived March 23, 2014, at the Wayback Machine American Sociological Review, Vol. 16, No. 5, pp. 597–613.
  3. ^ "The findings of the eugenicists quite naturally gave support to the opponents of further immigration. One of the most widely read books on this controversial issue was The Old World in the New, by Edward A. Ross [...] he believed in the conventional myth of Nordic supremacy and the need for a program of positive eugenics in order to preserve our Anglo-Saxon Americanism against pollution through immigration [...] [ending] with a chapter showing how 'Immigrant Blood' was slowly polluting the purer 'American Blood', as 'beaten members of the beaten breeds' swarmed over the beloved land of his own pioneer ancestors. Somewhat obsessed with race, Ross was of course convinced that 'the blood being injected into the veins of our people was sub-human'; the newer immigrants were 'morally below the races of northern Europe'; and that it all would end in 'Race Suicide'." — Baltzell, E. Digby (1964). The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. Random House, p. 105.
  4. ^ a b c Spellman, William E. (1979). "The Economics of Edward Alsworth Ross". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 38 (2): 129–140. doi:10.1111/j.1536-7150.1979.tb02871.x. ISSN 1536-7150.
  5. ^ Rafter, Nicole H. (2009). "Edward Alsworth Ross: The System of Social Control, 1901," in The Origins of Criminology: A Reader, Routledge, p. 320.
  6. ^ Ross, Dorothy (1992). The Origins of American Social Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 230. ISBN 9780521428361.
  7. ^ a b c Encyclopedia of World Biography on Edward Alsworth Ross
  8. ^ a b "Edward A. Ross, President 1914–1915". Archived from the original on July 10, 2010.
  9. ^ Casper, Gerhard (1995). Die Luft der Freiheit weht - On and Off. Stanford University, Office of the President.
  10. ^ Mohr, James C. (1970). "Academic Turmoil and Public Opinion: The Ross Case at Stanford". Pacific Historical Review. 39 (1): 39–61. doi:10.2307/3638197. JSTOR 3638197.
  11. ^ Riley, Naomi Schaefer (2011). The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For. Lanham, Maryland: Ivan R. Dee. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-56663-886-9.
  12. ^ Lovett, Laura (2007). Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890–1938. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807868102.
  13. ^ Stanford University. The Independent (New York). 1909.
  14. ^ Burns, Edward McNall (1953). David Starr Jordan: Prophet of Freedom. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804706179.
  15. ^ The Argonaut. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum and Historical Society. 1900.
  16. ^ Samuels, Warren J. (1991). "The Firing of E. A. Ross from Stanford University: Injustice Compounded by Deception?". Journal of Economic Education. 22 (2): 183–190. doi:10.1080/00220485.1991.10844707.
  17. ^ Keith, Bruce (1988). "The Foundations of an American Discipline: Edward A. Ross at the University of Nebraska, 1901–1906," Mid-American Review of Sociology, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 43–56.
  18. ^ Weinberg, Julius (1967). "E. A. Ross: The Progressive as Nativist," The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 242–253.
  19. ^ a b "Wisconsin".
  20. ^ Vecoli, Rudolph (1960). "Sterilization: A Progressive Measure?". The Wisconsin Magazine of History. 43: 190–202. For my own part, I am entirely in favor of it. The objections to it are essentially sentimental, and will not bear inspection. Sterilization is not nearly so terrible as hanging a man, and the chances of sterilizing the fit are not nearly so great, as are the chances of hanging the innocent. In introducing the policy, the wedge should have a very thin end indeed. Sterilization should at first be applied only to extreme cases, where the commitments and the record pile up an overwhelming case. As the public becomes accustomed to it, and it is seen to be salutary and humane, it wil be possible gradually to extend its scope until it fills its legitimate sphere of application.
  21. ^ Dewey Commission Report
  22. ^ McMahon, Sean H. (1999). Social Control and Public Intellect: The Legacy of Edward A. Ross, Transaction Publishers.
  23. ^ "40th Anniversary Issue" (PDF). ACLU San Diego.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]