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Edward Alsworth Ross

One of the foremost developers of modern sociology, E.A. Ross, a Coe graduate of 1886, made a lasting impact on the study of social sciences in America. Ross was born in Illinois, but after he was orphaned at the age of 10, he was taken to Iowa to live with relatives in Marion. As a teenager, he attended Coe Academy, the preparatory school, and quickly made it into the college. In his autobiography, Seventy Years of It, Ross  praised his alma mater: “Coe’s professors were not masters of their subjects, still less builders, but they were men of parts who put a good text into our hands and saw that we mastered it. Competing later at Berlin and Johns Hopkins with crack graduates of old and renowned American colleges, never once did I feel myself at a disadvantage.”

Classroom education was not the only molding experience for Ross at Coe: “I belonged to the Alpha Nu literary society which required each member to take some part in the Friday evening session. Quickly it built up my power to express myself by tongue and pen, to declaim, to think on my feet, to debate, and to preside over an assembly.” This more social form of learning would become critical in Ross’s life.

After graduating from Coe, Ross continued his education in Berlin and at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his doctorate in economics in 1891. He taught at Indiana University and Cornell for one year each, and then accepted a position at Stanford University, where his Populist-Progressive views on  social issues soon brought him in conflict with influential conservatives in California. In 1900, Ross was forced to resign his position as professor of administration and finance, and he became a sort of martyr as many public and academic leaders criticized the university for dismissing a scholar because of his political views. The January 20, 1922, issue of the Cosmos recalls that because of Ross being dismissed from Stanford, “he raised such a rumpus that a committee of 18 political science professors condemned his dismissal, and seven professors resigned from the Stanford faculty. The 'Ross case' gave rise to the establishment of the principle of 'academic freedom' in American colleges and universities."

Ross eventually was hired in 1906 by the University of Wisconsin, where he launched a sociology department. Serving as chairman of the department until his retirement in 1937, Ross often managed to cause controversy. In 1910, when the anarchist Emma Goldman appeared on the campus to speak, Ross supported her right to free speech, a position frequently criticized by those withinand without the university community. In his autobiography, ross recalls taking Ms. Goldman around the campus. “Promptly the newspapers shrieked that I was an anarchist.”        Despite his many beneficial contributions, Ross is perhaps most famous for his racist views. Speaking at a 1922 convocation for the chapel service at Coe, he argued against the goal of a world state: "With a world state we would see a disappearance of clear cut nationalities. Is it to the interests of humanity that a people who have become more advanced should be flooded and diluted by a people less advanced and of a duller race? That is the last thing we want to see." Before his arrival on campus, students had already had a chance to hear Ross' views in the January 20, 1922 issue of the Cosmos, where an interview of Dr. Ross was reprinted. "Possessed of all sorts of mental backgrounds, 20,000,000 European immigrants came to this country in the last half century, the Wisconsin sociologist told the interviewer. Their traditions do not blend with American traditions and the result is great difficulty in realizing any moral or economic standards." The interview concludes: "An opponent of almost every 'ism,' including capitalism, socialism, anarchism, and militarism, his lectures and books have stirred to action many legislatures and courts to rectify such sins as franchise grabbing, food adulteration, ballot frauds, wholesale bribery, speculation, and other evils."

As the author of ten books on sociology, in addition to his autobiography, Ross’s beliefs and theories were studied in classrooms across the country. His Foundations of Sociology, published in 1905, was “the first book in American sociology to stress the importance of social processes as a sociological concept,” according to the Encyclopedia.

Ross retired from the University of Wisconsin in 1937 at the age of 70. He died on July 22, 1951.


Additional Researcher's Note on E.A. Ross:

Cosmos, 14 April ‘22
Ross on campus.  Speaks against H. G. Wells vision of a World State. 

“A raising of the barriers on the part of perhaps twenty-five nations against any great migrations’ is coming in the future, declared Eward Alsworth Ross, ’86, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, speaking in chapel Friday morning, March 31.”  Ross said “that the diffusion of the ability to read and the new modes of transportation and communication has brought about restlessness among those peoples less fortunately situated on the earth.”

“’With a world state we would see a disappearance of clear cut nationalities.  Is it to the interests of humanity that a people who have become more advanced should be flooded and diluted by a people less advanced and of a duller race?  What is the last thing we want to see.’”

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